February 24, 2014

Toronto's Doyle Makes Elusive 500-Goal Club

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

One of the most prolific scorers in the NLL's history, Colin Doyle became just the fourth 500-goal club member this weekend.

TORONTO - The Rock called a timeout when they gained possession of the ball with 29 seconds remaining in the first half so they could plan a shot and Colin Doyle, as he's done so often, came through in the clutch. The captain scored his 500th goal as time expired.

Doyle had scored his 499th just 81 seconds earlier and the consecutive goals touched off an eight-goal Rock run that broke open a close game and obliterated the Minnesota Swarm on Saturday night.

''The play was designed for Garrett (Billings),'' Doyle said afterwards. ''He didn't see what he liked. The Red Sea parted for me. He made a great play to get me the ball and I just fired it as quickly as I could.''

The 36-year-old leftie joined John Tavares (793), Gary Gait (635) and John Grant Jr. (584) in the 500-Goal Club.

''Of the 500 he's scored, I've seen a lot of them and a lot of them have been clutch goals,'' said teammate Pat Merrill. ''The one he scored at the end of the first half was fitting as his 500th because the guy scores a lot of big goals. He's the best big-goal player in the history of the game in my opinion.''

Does it feel as if it has been a long time since the first one back in 1998?

''I've enjoyed every minute so, rather than a long time, it feels like a good time,'' he replied.

Will he ever come close to the record the 45-year-old Tavares keeps extending?

''There's no way I'm playing till I'm 45, I know that,'' he says. ''If we keep getting wins, I'll be happy.''

Head coach John Lovell called reaching 500 ''quite an accomplishment.''

''Typical of Colin Doyle, he was more excited about the win than the 500 goals,'' said Lovell. ''That's what makes him the leader he is.''

Doyle has helped Toronto win six NLL championships, earning Champion's Cup MVP honors three times, although he has not had continuous tenure. There was a three-year gap that Rock fans shudder to think about.

On Dec. 27, 2006, they were stunned by the announcement Doyle had been traded to the Stealth, then playing out of San Jose, California, in a multiplayer deal that brought Ryan Benesch to Toronto. Backtrack to earlier that year: the Rock, who were NLL champs in 2005, were eliminated in the first playoff round in 2006 and the ownership group fired GM-coach Terry Sanderson and installed Mike Kloepfer as director of lacrosse operations. Kloepfer then traded Doyle, who says that to the best of his memory he wasn't directly informed.

''I was in a movie theatre watching a James Bond movie when I learned of that trade,'' Doyle recalls. ''When I got out of the theatre I had like 11 new messages. I listened to one through the next and they were all about the trade.''

Benesch was good enough to be rookie of the year, the same award Doyle won in '98, but the team went down like the Titanic. The Rock were out of the 2007 playoffs in the first round and didn't qualify at all in 2008 and in 2009 _ the only years the franchise has failed to play post-season games.

Jamie Dawick bought the team in '09 and immediately hired Sanderson and Troy Cordingley away from Calgary, where they'd coached the Roughnecks to the 2009 NLL title. He had one more priority.

''Terry and Troy said, 'We've got to get Colin back.' He was the face of the franchise and the most clutch goal scorer in this league of all time,'' recalls Dawick.

On Dec. 14, 2009, the Rock reacquired Doyle from the Stealth in a multiplayer deal sending Lewis Ratcliff west. Dawick believed it was necessary to get Doyle back to the Air Canada Centre, and he was right. He knew exactly what he was getting.

''He's still doing it, too,'' says Dawick. ''Look at 500. It was a big goal. It's what we expect from him and he does it week in and week out.

''He should never have left this franchise. They were hurting when he was gone. It was priority No. 1 to get him back. We worked on it for months and got it done. We couldn't be happier that he is our captain. He's awesome.''

Doyle enjoyed his three years on the West Coast.

''It was tough to leave but in the long run it might have been really good for me because I was able to turn into a totally new player out there,'' he says. ''It was a young team and I had a leadership role kind of forced onto me.

''I grew into it. I cherish those years out there, I really do. I have great memories of it. I played with great players and we did some good things for a real young team that didn't have a lot of expectations.''

When the deal went down to reacquire Doyle, Dawick got together with Sanderson and Cordingley to spill the beans to him.

''I was pretty excited to be back,'' Doyle recalls. ''The Stealth were moving to the Seattle area and we were having another baby and I just said, 'You know, with everything that was happening (in Toronto), I said I'd like to get back if it was possible. (Stealth coach) Chris Hall got involved on the other end and made things happen. And there we go, we're playing them in the final my first year back with the Rock. That was pretty amazing.''

The Stealth won the 2010 title, then Toronto beat them to win it in 2011. Benesch was no longer on board. He'd been traded to Edmonton along with Derek Suddons for a first-round 2009 draft pick and the combination of that pick with high picks resulting from the poor 2008 and 2009 finishes put Toronto in position to draft Garrett Billings and Stephan Leblanc in the 2009 entry draft.

''It's been a fun ride ever since I came to Toronto and Colin came back,'' says Billings. ''It's been a fun five years. Obviously, guys like me grew up idolizing him. I'm not surprised he got to 500. It was pretty cool for me to get to be here when he did it.''

The Swarm outshot the Rock on Saturday but exceptional goaltending by Nick Rose frustrated them time and again. Rose shut the Swarm out for 20 consecutive minutes including all of the third quarter but preferred to talk about the captain's 500th.

''It's pretty special,'' Rose said. ''I haven't played with many guys like him. He's a great leader. He's a great teammate and, most importantly, he's a great person. I grew up watching him score goals when I was younger. I'm not surprised he hit 500. I think he'll look back at that someday and be very proud of that accomplishment. It's very much deserved.''

Teammate Jesse Gamble says Doyle is unique.

''I've had some great captains and leaders in the dressing room but I can honestly say that I've never had a leader like Colin, someone who brings a locker room together like he does _ just the way he's picking people up or making fun of someone or making the mood the way it should be.''

Rock forward Josh Sanderson was on Canada's victorious 2011 world indoor team captained by Doyle in Prague.

''Clutchest player to ever play in this league, one of the best ever,'' says Sanderson. ''He's so big to our team in so many ways.

''It's nice to see him get 500 and there's no sign he's slowing down. He's a great friend of mine and a great teammate. He can pass, he can score, he brings leadership, he can do a bit of everything. 500 is tough to do in this league. Hats off to him. I think he's earned every one of them. He's always in the tough areas. He's just an awesome player.''

Defenseman Rob Marshall was in his second Rock season when Doyle was traded away. What followed was not pleasant.

''It was a whole different ballgame,'' Marshall recalls. ''It was a struggle. Things just got away from us. We got good players back in return but the chemistry was not the same. Losing him hurt us.''

Then came Doyle's return and the Rock revival.

''He's probably the best leader out there and hands down still one of the best players in the league, one of the smartest, too,'' says Marshall.

Terry Sanderson, Josh's dad and now GM of the Rock after relinquishing assistant coaching duties, wastes no time analysing Doyle's stats.

''Is he going to put up 100-point seasons again? Probably not but you can't put his leadership on just points. There are other things to consider,'' he says. ''Things that are said (to teammates) at this stage in his career are just as important.''

The 500 ball was retrieved.

''He does all the little things off the floor to help bring a team together and then he backs it up on the floor,'' said defenseman Sandy Chapman, another of the 2011 world champs.

Doyle's next point will give him 1,300. He'll get it this weekend when the Rock travel to Alberta for games against Edmonton on Friday and Calgary on Saturday. He trails only Tavares (1,694) on the all-time points list.

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