Without Les Bartley calling the shots early in Colin Doyle's career, the Toronto Rock star might have become just another out-of-shape, unemployed ex-lacrosse player.
But under the long-time Rock coach's watch, Doyle developed the good habits he needed to earn the National Lacrosse League's highest individual honour yesterday.
Doyle, 27, was named the NLL's MVP for 2005 yesterday, following in the footsteps of teammate Jim Veltman from last season. The Kitchener native and first-year assistant captain paid tribute to Bartley, who has colon cancer and is too ill to attend the NLL final tomorrow between the Rock and the Arizona Sting at the Air Canada Centre.
"Les was a big influence on my career in terms of how to be a professional and how to elongate my career," said Doyle, who became the first Rock player to win the NLL scoring title (111 points in 16 games) this season. "He taught me about the importance of nutrition and working out. Those were never really concerns for me before I entered the league. It came so easy. It was just go out and play. It came so easy."
One of four remaining members of the inaugural Rock team (the Ontario Raiders in 1998), Doyle earned NLL rookie-of-the-year honours that season before his production dropped the next two years. During those early years, Doyle didn't pay much attention to staying healthy. He partied hard, even on back-to-back weekends, and ate badly.
"The first couple of years, I think his meal of choice was McDonalds," Rock defender Dan Ladouceur said.
"I just enjoyed myself and worried about the consequences afterward," Doyle said. "But I had to clean up my act."
One of the turning points came in the summer of 2001 when Doyle played lacrosse and worked out in Coquitlam, B.C., with Rock teammates Dan Stroup and Glenn Clark, two respected veterans in Bartley's dressing room.
"I've always been into fitness and I tried to get him going in that direction, too," Clark said.
Coquitlam won the Mann Cup in 2001 and Doyle led the Rock in scoring in 2002 and 2003, winning championships both years.
"We watched Colin grow into a man," one-time Rock assistant coach Ed Comeau said.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Doyle, who still enjoys a night at the bar but understands his limits, is the most complete power forward in the game today. He has thrived under coach Terry Sanderson and his more offensive-minded philosophy, but he doesn't forget his roots.
"The older I get," Doyle said, "the more I realize what (Bartley) taught me was true."