March 11, 2011

NLL Notebook: Steve Toll Wants One More Season; Roughnecks Update

by Neil Stevens |

Colorado Mammoth defenseman Steve Toll recently played his 200th consecutive game. Toll said he will retire after the 2012 season.

Steve Toll of the Colorado Mammoth played his 200th consecutive NLL game last weekend.

"To play in the league this long is an accomplishment so I'm proud of the streak," he said of his status as lacrosse's Ironman. "Hopefully, I'm able to continue to do it for a little bit longer."

Toll, 36, played one NLL game in 1998 for the Ontario Raiders.

"It was in the old Philadelphia Spectrum," he recalled. "We beat Philadelphia and I got an assist."

The Raiders moved to Toronto from Hamilton in 1999 and were renamed the Rock. Toll was playing pro hockey in Fayetteville, N.C., so he wasn't on board until the final game of the regular season.

"I haven't missed a game since," he said.

He even played one extra game, a 17th, in 2005 because of a mid-season trade from San Jose to Rochester. Toll, who was on four title teams in Toronto, celebrated a fifth when Rochester won the Champion's Cup in 2007. He was a free agent when he signed with Colorado just before the start of the 2011 season, and he's been as durable as ever. But all good things must end.

"I want to play one more year after this year," he said. "Next year will be my final year of lacrosse. My kids are getting older, and I want to spend more time with them. I've given the sport everything I've got, and I'll pack it in after next year."

Outside lacrosse, Toll works with special needs children for a Durham Region school board east of Toronto.

Roughnecks' status still day-to-day

The Calgary Roughnecks remain on life support.

Owner-GM Brad Banister, who issued a public plea for investors when he announced Feb. 22 that he might not be able to bankroll the club through the remainder of its schedule, revealed this week that the situation remains dire.

The only responses to his plea have been gestures by unnamed Albertans to fund the team's last and next road trips. A game in Everett, Wash., this weekend will go ahead now that expenses, believed to be in the $20,000 range, will be taken care of. A similar situation enabled the 'Necks to get to their last game, which they won in Philadelphia on Saturday.

A $100,000 league emergency fund has been tapped to compensate players for two games they hadn't been paid for prior to the trip to Philadelphia. The fund would not be sufficient enough to carry the team to the end of its 16-game schedule unless it's topped off, which is unlikely since the majority of NLL teams are losing money.

So it remains a day-to-day scenario in Calgary.

The Roughnecks are 6-3 atop the West Division, which isn't to their advantage in terms of their financial crisis because host teams in the playoffs are obligated to pay the expenses of visiting teams, and the Roughnecks are broke.

Rock home streak goes beyond one year

The Toronto Rock, No. 1 in overall NLL standings at 9-2, has not lost at home in a year.

The Rock has won eight in a row in Air Canada Centre since an 11-10 overtime setback to the Buffalo Bandits on March 10, 2010.
Despite the success, last year's Champion's Cup finalists are not getting the near-capacity crowds previous Rock lineups attracted while winning five titles between 1999 and 2005. Average attendance in 2011 is slightly more than 10,000.

"We're not in the black right now, and it surprises me, given our record, that we haven't been getting bigger crowds. But the support we've been getting from the 10,000 strong that have coming out has been great," said owner Jamie Dawick. "We'd like that number to be higher and if we could get it up to 12,000 or 13,000, it'd bring that much more electricity to the building and the guys could feed off of that.

"We've got a group of guys proud to be playing for the Toronto Rock, and the more support we can get from the fans would help in a lot of ways. A couple more thousand in the building would be enormous. That's what we're striving for. I'm not in the league because I think it's going to make me rich. I'm in it to win. At the same time, you are operating a business, and more people in the stands would go a long way towards the continued growth of the franchise. I believe we can get things where they need to be. Attendance has been higher before, and I firmly believe we'll get there again."

Toronto's next home game is April 1, when the Washington Stealth face the Rock for the first time since prevailing 15-11 in the 2010 final on the West Coast.

Ratcliff continues torrid pace

Lewis Ratcliff has to be forever grateful to the Toronto Rock for deciding to reacquire Colin Doyle.

About the Author

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime LM contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame. Check for more.

Ratcliff amassed a career-best 104 points in 2007 with Calgary, but his numbers declined after the Roughnecks traded him to Toronto. Being part of Rock lineups that missed the playoffs in 2008 and in 2009 was a bummer. He could be found in his corner stall in the team's Air Canada Centre dressing room dejectedly wondering what was going on as he digested loss after loss. He finished 2009 with 68 points, putting him 23rd in league scoring. That's not a bad total for a lot of players but, for Ratcliff, it was the pits.

Enter a new regime in Toronto. The decision was made to bring back Doyle, and the Rock relinquished Ratcliff to the Washington Stealth to get him. Ratcliff is happy again. The native of Victoria is back on the West Coast, and his points total jumped back up in a much more free-flowing offense than he'd been part of in Toronto.

He finished 2010 with 97 points and was playoff MVP as he celebrated a championship with his Stealth teammates. After another big night last Saturday, when he had four goals and five assists in an 18-10 win over Edmonton, Ratcliff is tied for first place (23g, 38a) with Boston's Dan Dawson (19g, 42a) in a scoring race that he might eventually win.

Four tied for most goals

Minnesota's Ryan Benesch, Washington's Rhys Duch, Philadelphia's Athan Iannucci and Toronto's Stephan Leblanc are tied for the league lead for most goals scored with 27 each. Benesch has the best per-game average since he's played nine games, while Duch has played 10 and Leblanc and Iannucci haved each played 11.

Dig this

Transition stars Brodie Merrill of the Edmonton Rush and Paul Rabil of the Washington Stealth have been the most successful players in the NLL in digging for loose balls with 113 each.

Boston's Kyle Rubisch is next with 92, which makes him a prime candidate to be rookie of the year.

Calgary's Geoff Snider has gained possession of 89 loose balls, Boston's Ryan Hotaling 76, Buffalo's Chris Corbeil 75 and Toronto's Stephen Hoar and Washington's Mike Grimes 72 each.

Mammoth not catching any breaks

The Colorado Mammoth's home losing streak now stands at 13.

Its last Pepsi Centre win was April 17, 2009, when Colrado edged the Edmonton Rush 10-9. Jamie Shewchuk, now with Minnesota, scored the winning goal.

The Mammoth has three home games remaining: March 26 against Boston, April 2 versus Edmonton and April 15 when Calgary is scheduled to visit.

Many of the 13 losses have been agonizingly close. Mammoth transition player Steve Toll recalled, when asked about the streak, something that the late and great Toronto coach Les Bartley told him when he played for the Rock.

"Les Bartley used to say you work hard and it pays off in wins," Toll said. "We work hard and we're still not getting the wins. We're catching no breaks at all."

Hajek makes Blazers debut

Former Wings captain Tom Hajek made his debut with Boston in the Blazers' 9-8 home loss to Buffalo on Sunday. Hajek gathered in four loose balls. The 33-year-old defenseman was a free agent when he signed with Boston last Friday. Hajek was born in Slovakia and grew up in St. Catharines, Ontario. With Jack Reid suspended for the Sunday game, the Blazers needed reinforcements.

"He's a leader and a good teammate," said Boston coach Matt Sawyer. "We're real excited to have him in our lineup."

Huge April weekend for Hawks

The Rochester Knighthawks, scrambling to land an East Division playoff berth, have six games left, and only two are at home.
Last-place Philadelphia visits March 26, and a win by the Hawks would make it tough for the Wings to catch them. After a game at Boston, Rochester has two games on the April 9-10 weekend that will likely tell its tale: at home against Buffalo on the Saturday and at Philadelphia on a Sunday afternoon.

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