Coach ready to Rock

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

Brad Watters believes in Terry Sanderson's Rock.

Tonight, the team president and his hand-picked general manager/coach will begin to find out whether a new-look roster can return the lacrosse squad to championship form.

After an off-season of change, the Rock begins its 2004-05 National Lacrosse League campaign tonight in Buffalo against the Bandits, the same team that hammered Toronto 19-10 in last season's East Division final. Prior to last season, the Rock won four championships in five years.

At least six players will make their Rock debuts tonight. Thirteen players on the 23-man roster played for Sanderson in Brampton for the major Excelsiors this summer.

Make no mistake, this is Sanderson's team.

"People are underestimating this team," Watters said. "This is a better team than last year by a long shot. We had some fans express concern, but to keep your team at a championship level you have to make changes. A guy like Josh Sanderson is going to be a fan favourite by the second game."

Terry Sanderson acquired Josh Sanderson, his son, defender Phil Sanderson, his nephew, and forward Rusty Kruger from the San Jose Stealth this summer for defenders Steve Toll and Darryl Gibson and goalie Anthony Cosmo.

FANS ALARMED

That trade, along with a deal sending defender Pat Coyle to the now-defunct Vancouver Ravens, alarmed many Rock fans. But Sanderson, in the final year of a two-year contract after leaving his post as a Bandits assistant midway through last season, has a vote of confidence from Watters.

"Once the season gets going, we're going to start talks about an extension," Watters said. "I don't think we have that much to do. Terry has done exactly what we've asked.

Still, the Rock is picked to finish third in the East by many observers, behind the Bandits and the Rochester Knighthawks.

"The media and the so-called experts may not expect us to (win the division), but we think we've got a very good team," said Sanderson, who led the team to eight consecutive wins last season before the playoff collapse. "I know the type of people we have. At the end of the year, we'll see where we are."

Tonight, however, Sanderson may not have the services of defending NLL MVP/captain Jim Veltman (hamstring), who will determine his fate after a morning shootaround.

"I would say 50-50 is better than what I think," Sanderson said.

But no matter what happens tonight, Veltman thinks Sanderson and the Rock can get the job done this season.

"You hate to see a good thing being broken up," Veltman said. "Four championships is a good run, but change can bring new energy and Terry has injected that in this team."


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