Rocks of the league

TY PILSON -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 11:41 AM ET

The Calgary Roughnecks versus the Toronto Rock has always been one of the best Canadian rivalries in the National Lacrosse League. Now, it's the only one left.

When the Vancouver Ravens folded up shop in December, the Riggers and the Rock became the last two NLL clubs north of the 49th.

The 4-2 Roughnecks take to the floor tonight against the 3-2 Rock at the Air Canada Centre (5:30 p.m., Ch. 27). Calgary head coach Chris Hall said it's a shame only two Canadian franchises remain in the 10-team league.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed that we haven't found a way to create a better environment for the game in Canada in the major cities," said Hall.

The Ravens' tombstone sits alongside the Ottawa Rebel, which folded in 2003, and the Montreal Express, which went dark in 2002 before moving to Minnesota this off-season.

According to the league, more than 70% of the players in the NLL are Canadians. All of the 12 players announced as starters Thursday for the all-star game are Canucks.

Indoor lacrosse -- or box lacrosse as it's also called -- is considered a Canadian game while Americans prefer the outdoor version, known as field lacrosse.

That makes the loss of three Canadian clubs in three years that much tougher to swallow, said Rock captain Jim Veltman.

"It seems kind of strange -- box lacrosse is definitely a Canadian sport," said Veltman, last year's league MVP. "As box lacrosse players, we'd like to see the game grow more in Canada. It would be great to see a few more teams in Canada in the future."

Toronto head coach Terry Sanderson was the bench boss in Montreal when the ship went down and then Ottawa a year later when the Rebel folded up the tent. The Orangeville, Ont., resident echoed Veltman's thoughts.

"There's nothing better than going into Canadian cities to play," said Sanderson. "We do have the best players in the league coming from this country and it's a shame we don't have more (teams). Hopefully, one day we will."

There were myriad reasons for the failures of Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver, from unstable ownership to poor attendance.

The Roughnecks and Rock, however, have been succesful and enjoy good attendance. Between the two clubs, they've won four of the last five NLL championships, the most recent last season when Calgary won its first NLL title.

Hall said that shows the league can be prosperous in Canada.

"I think all of us have a passion for the game and think it's the best game going and a great spectator sport," said Hall. "So I think the only thing we can do is do what we're doing in Toronto and Calgary and that's putting our best foot forward, trying to have a great product and I think both places have obviously shown it can happen in Canada."

However, there's little love lost between Toronto and Calgary once the whistle blows.

Veltman said the Rock has its work cut out tonight against the Riggers.

"The standard is always set by the defending champion," said Veltman, whose Rock won 15-9 over the Minnesota Swarm last night. "And they're setting a pretty high standard so far.

"They have a pretty powerful team so it will be a good test for us."


Videos

Photos