February 24, 2010

O'Toole 66 Saves Shy of NLL Career Record

by Craig Rybczynski | Rochester Knighthawks

Depending on what part of the country you are from the No. 66 means different things to different people. To hockey fans former Penguins star Mario Lemieux comes to mind. To baby boomers it is the famous route in the U.S. Highway System, which once ran from Chicago to California. To Rochester Knighthawks goalie Pat O’Toole it is the number of saves he is away from goaltending immortality.

"To break the record, if I am lucky enough to do so, is something I would definitely like to do but it is for sure second in my mind to winning each game,” said O’Toole. “To start off the beginning of this year with a couple of shaky outings, trying to get my game back on track and helping this team win games is first on my list. As for the record, just being mentioned with other great goalies like Dallas, Bobby (Watson), ‘Chugger’ (Steve Dietrich) is an honor in itself. To be on the top of that list for saves would be awesome.”

The 16-year pro enters this week’s game against the Edmonton Rush just 66 stops away from passing National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame netminder Dallas Eliuk as the all-time saves leader. Eliuk recorded 6,356 saves during his 18 seasons in the league. O’Toole now has 6,290 following a stellar 34-save performance at Philadelphia on February 20th.

O’Toole tries not to think about the milestone, despite the constant reminders. More important to the East York, Ontario, native is the fact that the Knighthawks are 5-3 and are one-half game behind the Toronto Rock for first place in the East Division with a big home game this Saturday.

“This game against Edmonton is a big one for us. They are a much improved team from past years and are coming off a big win against Toronto,” said O’Toole. “They are coming into our barn, and we need a win. We need to keep some of this momentum going and put some consecutive wins together to claw our way back to the top of our division and in a playoff spot.”

O’Toole began his career with the New York Saints back in 1995 and spent the next three seasons with the Buffalo Bandits. In 1999, he reached a turning point in his career. He was released by Buffalo, a team that he led to the 1996 MILL title, and was waiting at home for someone to call. That call came from the rival Knighthawks.

“After getting cut from Buffalo I didn't know what to do. It was like all lacrosse was done for good. Then the call came in from Rochester when ‘Chugger’ blew his knee out. At first I was just happy to be able to play again. Then I came to the first game and was treated great by everyone in the organization. You could tell right away, it was a first-class operation and something I was glad to be part of,” said O’Toole. “We had great players, great fan support and the success on the floor followed quickly. Success on the floor has continued throughout the years, we still have great fans and fan support and best of all we have great players that I love going to battle with every game.”

The rest they say is history. O’Toole has had a Hall of Fame career in Rochester. In his 12 seasons, he has led the team to 11 playoff berths, four NLL Championship Games and one title (2007). He is also the franchise’s all-time leader in wins (101) and saves (5,580). Additionally, he is a three-time team MVP, two-time NLL All-Pro and the 2003 league Goaltender of the Year. He has quite the collection of memorable moments, having been a part of 12 of the 16 seasons of Knighthawks lacrosse.

“Most memorable moment thus far would have to be winning the Championship. We come in every season with that as our goal. After a couple of disappointing Championship loses, to finally put it all together in 2007 and win the Championship with a lot of the guys that were there for the losses too was an unbelievable feeling,” he said.

The 37 year old has enjoyed his career and so as his family. His wife, Lynne, and his kids Connor and Kayla often travel to games from their home in Brampton, Ontario, to watch No. 39 play in goal. It is a family atmosphere for the O’Toole’s with Lynne’s brother, Mike Hasen, serving as one of the Knighthawks assistant coaches.

“Having my family around has been great and probably the reason I am still playing today. It would be really hard to leave your family behind every weekend to go play. It would be incredibly hard for my wife if I left every weekend. I don't know how she does it as it is,” said Pat O’Toole. “But for them to be able to come to 10 or 11 games a season, for all their support and just being together is great. Mike being my brother-in-law and his family coming to the games as well has allowed our families to see each other a lot more and make it a family event. Even our parents drive to the games together.”

O'Toole has not only endeared himself to his family but to the fans of Rochester, as well. That is evident when he makes a big save. Everyone in The Blue Cross Arena yells, “Toole Time” after the public address announcer asks them, “What time is it?”

O’Toole is so popular because he represents the blue-collar mentality of the diehard fans with his day-to-day working with steel at Metal Supermarkets to his pregame meal of burgers and fries. O’Toole is not the embodiment of the spoiled modern athlete, but quite the contrary. He knows the importance of the fans and how they impact the sport he loves. O’Toole even delivered cheesesteaks to members of the fan club, the Knighthawks Krew, on a recent road trip to Philadelphia.

“Our fans are definitely loud and supportive. They get our team pumped up for every game. Some have even become good friends,” said O’Toole. “Whether it is getting loud for our introduction, the famous ‘Sucks’ chant after visiting introductions or going absolutely nuts for Junior’s overtime winner vs. Buffalo to send us to the finals. We hear them and appreciate their support.

The fans will have a chance to root on their favorite player as the Knighthawks play a season-high four games at home from February 27th to April 3rd. During one of those contests, O’Toole will make that 66th save and he will join Eliuk as one of the greatest goalies in NLL history.

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