If you’re only as good as your last game, the Rock are sitting pretty again. The Roughnecks, not so much. Toronto dominated Calgary in every single facet of the game en route to a convincing 16-11 win Friday night at the ACC. It was quite a feat for the Rock. After all, don’t you know, they’re too old and too slow for today’s NLL (please note the sarcasm). Despite finishing a league best 10-6 in the regular season last year, all folks seemed to remember and talk about in the off-season was Toronto’s 20-11 first-round playoff defeat to the Swarm. It was a brutal, ugly, horrific (insert additional negative adjectives here) loss. There’s no debating that.
However, the lop-sided loss led to an overly-simplistic analysis by some critics: big changes were needed, a total roster overhaul. The game was seen, again by some, as a classic example of today’s new NLL vs. the old: Minny was a young, very fast team built through the draft and tweaked every year to be even younger and even faster. Toronto, well they had too many aging veterans. To sum it up: blow it up.
Rock captain Colin Doyle, now in his 17th season, scored two big goals and had four points in the win over the Riggers. He said while the players didn’t fixate on what was being said about them in the offseason and through training camp, they couldn’t help but hear it.
“Obviously we read everything that happens over the summer,” said Doyle. “Like you said, people were pretty negative on us. And rightly so for that game. It was horrible. But it was just one game.”
“It certainly took it’s toll,” he admitted. “10-6 and then one bad night and all of a sudden we can’t play? It certainly stuck with us.”
Head coach Troy Cordingley was shown the door after the playoff loss, with John Lovell named Toronto’s new head coach. But instead of the major overhaul some expected, GM Terry Sanderson merely tinkered with the lineup. The retirements of Blaine Manning and Cam Woods opened up a few spots on the roster, but just three new players grace the Rock bench this season.
Despite the naysayers, Doyle said the players never lost confidence in themselves and their ability to win in the NLL. However, he did admit that as with every new season, there are always jitters.
“I don’t think any of us really knew what to expect,” he explained. “The start of each year is always hard. You think you’re good but you don’t know how you’ll stack up against another team. That’s why you play the games, I suppose? Obviously, starting with Calgary is a great measuring stick, one of the best if not the best right off the hop. So I think we’re really happy with how things panned out, to get those two points against one of the teams I consider to be one of the best in the league. The way we did it was even better.”
While Garrett Billings (1+9), Stephan Leblanc (5+2) and Rob Hellyer (3+1) led the charge offensively, the play of Doyle and fellow veteran Josh Sanderson (2+3) stood out in the attacking zone. Both players created chances, scored timely goals and showed they’re still integral to the club’s success.
“Obviously, for as long as I play from here on out, I’ll be hearing I’m too old and too slow to play,” said Doyle. “And there’s a few other guys on the team probably in the same shoes.” He said both himself and Sanderson want to not only just play but continue to be important cogs in the team’s offence.
“We’re certainly still going to play a large role,” said Doyle. “When you’re one of these five or six guys on offence now (in the league with smaller rosters) there’s nowhere to hide. It was a great start for us. I know Josh has put a lot of focus on fitness and really getting fit and in shape to play. I’m the same way. We want to prove we still belong. The kids these days are extremely fit and strong and fast and if you’re not careful, overnight you can stand out like a sore thumb.”
QUICK STICKS: I can count on one hand how many goals I remember Curtis Dickson scoring when he started with the ball high from the shooter position, which happened a lot in Calgary’s loss to Toronto. His game starts from the low post, ‘goal-line extended’ area of the floor. That didn’t happen Friday. My ilindoor.com colleague Marty O’Neill hit it on the head, saying Dickson looked lost on the floor … Hard to tell if John Grant Jr. was tossing some ‘bad’ passes Saturday or if he’s just thinking the game a few seconds ahead of everyone else, as great players tend to do. Likely the latter. Despite his obvious frustrations in the game both passing and shooting (he was held to just one goal), I’m sure the come-from-behind victory over the Stealth soothed his vexation … Ok, Dillon Ward has to be the Mammoth’s new starter now. For the second game in a row Tye Belanger started, struggled and was yanked with Ward replacing him. It’s not all on Belanger, who allowed four goals on 13 shots before taking a seat for the night. The team didn’t play strong in front of him. That said, Ward — the team’s 2013 first-round pick — made 30 saves on 38 shots and looked very comfortable and confident between the pipes. He’s earned the start in my mind … Sean Pollock doesn’t get a lot of attention or ink given his spot on the Mammoth’s offensive deep chart. His hat-trick Saturday night was arguably the biggest reason for Colorado’s win. He scored clutch goals at crucial points in the game … I tweeted Friday night Josh Sanderson doesn’t get enough credit for his off-ball play. Still one of the game’s most lethal offensive players, he was diving around the offensive zone Friday saving possessions and getting new 30s … Cody Bremner was held to just one goal on eight shots in his NLL debut (he also collected eight loose balls). But he seems ready to step right into the NLL and make some noise. I expect big things from him this season … Rhys Duch is extremely fun to watch. That is all … Six games this weekend = Awesome. Feels like the season is truly underway now.The assistant managing editor of the Calgary Sun, Pilson began covering the NLL when the Roughnecks started in 2000. The longtime lacrosse player has been contributing to Inside Lacrosse ever since. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to CalgarySun.com.
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