December 11, 2013

NLL East Division Preview: Toronto Rock

by Neil Stevens |

Forward Garrett Billings led Toronto with 100 points, including a team-high 70 assists, in 2013. (Photo courtesy of Toronto Rock)

2013 Record: 10-6

Playoffs: Lost in first round

Toronto won the National Lacrosse League title in 2011, got knocked out by Rochester in the East Division final in 2012 and was creamed 20-11 by Minnesota in the first round last spring -- spoiling its first-place regular season finish.

Nick Rose has been sensational goal during regular season play, but he has allowed 17 goals and 20 goals in playoff elimination games the last two years.

Troy Cordingley was fired a month after being named NLL Coach of the Year. Assistant John Lovell got the gig. Blaine Manning retired to become an assistant and former Rock defenseman Dan Ladouceur returns as defensive coordinator in place of Terry Sanderson, who relinquished that role to concentrate on general manager duties.

Toronto's highest priority for improvement?

"Our transition game," Sanderson said. "The league has been changing. Back-end guys are more involved. We drafted some guys who have an upside with their transition game based on how they performed with their summer teams."

Toronto's first two picks were Ethan O'Connor and Mike Woods, and they'll get long training camp looks.

So who is going to take Manning's place on the offense's right side?

"That's the biggest battle in camp," Sanderson said. "[Garrett] Billings and [Kasey] Beirnes have solidified their places on the right side, so we're looking for Rob Hellyer and Scott Evans to stake claims for more playing time, and we've got others pushing for rightie spots."

Neil Stevens' NLL 2014 Season Preview (in projected order of finish)

NLL East Preview

1. Rochester Knighthawks
2. Minnesota Swarm
3. Toronto Rock
4. Buffalo Bandits
5. Philadelphia Wings 

NLL West Division

1. Edmonton Rush
2. Calgary Roughnecks
3. Vancouver Stealth
4. Colorado Mammoth
» Where are the Americans? 

The "others" might wind up being free agents Sanderson can pull out of a payroll that allows for more leeway than other teams enjoy.

The Rock had the fourth-best offense and the third-best defense last year, and it was an effective combination.

"We're like any other team in the league in that we think we have an opportunity to win this thing," Sanderson said. "You've got to stay away from injuries and get a little bit of luck along the way, but we still like the makeup of our team."

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