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2016 NLL Season Preview: Toronto Rock

2015 season record: 14-4 (first in division; lost to Edmonton in the Champion’s Cup final)

Team Acquisitions

  • (D) Mike Grimes (acquired from Georgia; placed on Protected Player List)
  • (F) Turner Evans (2015 draft)
  • (F) Dan Lintner (acquired from New England)
  • (D) Luc Magnan (2015 draft)

Team Losses

  • (F) Kevin Crowley
  • (D) Nick Diachenko

Offense:

Leading the charge will be captain Colin Doyle, who missed much of last season due to injury. Doyle had five points in his one regular season game after putting up 72 points in 18 games in 2014. His return to regular duty is a welcome addition as the Rock recently learned Josh Sanderson may not return to lacrosse. Sanderson has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list as he contemplates his future with the game and whether he is healthy enough to continue playing.

Sanderson’s 102 points and league leading 83 assists will be missed, but his absence, along with that of Kevin Ross (also on the PUP recovering from wrist surgery) will give Turner Evans and Dan Lintner more opportunities to prove themselves in their rookie seasons. Both are coming off successful summers in the MSL, where they played alongside current NLLers, so it won’t take long for them to adapt to the higher speeds of the pro league. Evans, in his rookie season, made it to the Mann Cup with the Peterborough Lakers while Lintner, a sophomore, led a very young Brooklin Redmen team in a rebuilding year.

Kasey Biernes, Rob Hellyer, Brett Hickey, and Stephan Leblanc will round out the forward corps. All are capable of producing over 60 points a season and work well together, spending both the summer and winter seasons playing together.

Transition:

Jesse Gamble and Brodie Merrill return on transition. Gamble, at 5’9”, is on the smaller side for a professional athlete but his speed more than makes up for any height disadvantage. Gamble doesn’t put up a lot of points but is great on the fast break and can create opportunities for his teammates. Merrill had 32 points in 2015 and led the team with 151 loose balls, his first season in Toronto where he was reunited with brother Patrick.

Although he is primarily a defenseman, Brock Sorensen will also add to the transition effort. At 6’6”, he’s quickest up the floor after using his long reach to scoop up loose balls, of which he had 73 last season. He only had eight goals but Sorensen is great at recognizing which of his teammates has the best chance of scoring and knows exactly to whom to pass the ball to start the possession.

Damon Edwards starts on the PUP as he continues to rehab from knee surgery, stemming from an injury sustained while playing for Oakville in the summer.

Defence:

Defensively, Toronto is in good shape heading into 2016. They gave up the third fewest goals in the league last season and their defense is relatively unchanged. Everyone of note is coming back and the team adds Luc Magnan from the draft.

Magnan is coming off a successful four year career at Robert Morris University, where he finished fifth all time in caused turnovers and was captain in his senior year. He also played the past summer for the Brampton Excelsiors of the MSL, making appearances in 15 games.

Tough guy Billy Hostrawser returns to keep the peace for the Rock (or stir it up?), looking to improve upon his league leading 90 PIM in 15 games from 2015. Hostrawser isn’t the tallest or heaviest guy on the team but he is the most willing to be physical. Patrick Merrill was right behind him at number two but he doesn’t pose quite as physically intimidating a threat as Hostrawser, and Merrill’s 73 PIMS were taken more in terms of preventing goals than intimidation.

Veterans Glen Bryan, Sandy Chapman, Jeff Gilbert, Bill Greer, and Rob Marshall round out the defense.

Scott Johnston will begin the season on the Injured Reserve.

Goaltending:

Goaltending is set as both Brandon Miller, finalist for goaltender of the year, and Nick Rose return. They’re a bonafide tandem and split time in net last year nearly equally, finishing third and fourth in GAA. If the forwards and defense falter, the last line of defense for the Rock is about as stable as it gets.

Practice Roster:

Toronto currently has four players listed on their practice roster. Defenseman Bradley Kri, who most recently played with Vancouver and also won a Mann Cup this summer with Victoria, was signed on December 29. Released from the active roster after training camp were F Jordan Robertson, F Kyle Aquin, and G Steve Fryer.

Robertson was drafted in 2014 but did not play last season. Aquin was drafted in 2015, while Fryer has been around for awhile and is available when needed, and served as Rose’s backup with Oakville this past summer.

Season Outlook:

With a largely unchanged roster from last season—only additions, no important subtractions—the Rock are in perfect position to contend again. Jamie Dawick (GM) and John Lovell (head coach) have been able to keep the pieces of their almost-championship team together with just a few tweaks. They’re gambling on staying the course with the players they have. We’ll know in a couple of months whether this was a wise decision with other teams significantly improving through trades and free agent signings. So, the Rock have to be even better than they were in 2015 if they want to stay ahead of other Eastern teams. The leadership believes they will be, as they believe in a team that grows together. The fact that many of the Rock also play together in the summer in Oakville helps straighten their cohesion on the floor.

Overall, the Rock have high expectations this season, from themselves and their fans. Anything less than a second consecutive trip to the league final will be seen as a disappointment for this young, energetic franchise and its dedicated staff and players.

First Game: Saturday, January 9 at Georgia

Home Opener: Thursday, January 14 vs Rochester

Not-to-be-missed Game: Friday, March 25 vs Saskatchewan and Saturday, March 26 at Saskatchewan in a rematch of last year’s final

(Source: Anna Taylor – http://inlacrossewetrust.com/2016-nll-season-preview-toronto-rock/)

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