They are billing it as the quest for six in 2006, but the road to another championship will not be easy for the Toronto Rock.
The five-time National Lacrosse League champion begins training camp today at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena in Oshweken on the Six Nations reservation secure in the knowledge that the league's 10 other teams will be gunning for them every single night.
"You always have that bull's-eye on you when you are the defending champs," general manager and head coach Terry Sanderson said.
"There's not a lot of love lost for the Toronto Rock because of our success."
The NLL schedule-makers certainly haven't done the Rock any favours. The team will open their season on January 7 against the Arizona Sting, the defending West Division champion.
The next week, perennial contenders Rochester and Buffalo will be the opponents on back-to-back nights. The Rock also will have to play at home against Rochester on Feb. 10 before heading to Edmonton for a game the next night.
Reigning NLL MVP Colin Doyle said that quirk in the schedule will be the ultimate test.
"Usually if we're traveling like that it's maybe to Philadelphia, or more likely Buffalo or Rochester on a bus," Doyle said.
"Edmonton is an expansion team and everything, but going in there on a Saturday, after a Friday night home game against Rochester, instantly makes that game that much tougher."
Since the Rock's 19-13 championship victory, played in front of a record crowd of 19,432 at the Air Canada Centre, Sanderson's charges have lost veteran defender Glenn Clark and talented forward Ryan Painter.
While admitting that losing Clark's leadership will hurt, Sanderson said he expects new additions such as Matt Giles, rugged Scott Campbell and Brad MacDonald, who came to the Rock from Calgary in exchange for a 2006 first-round pick, to make his squad younger and grittier.
"Hopefully these young guys that are taking peoples' places that have moved on are going to be able to do the job," Sanderson said.
"You hate to lose people like Glenn Clark, (but) Brad MacDonald is going to be every bit as good a player in this league as Glenn was."
This year Sportsnet, taking over from The Score, will air all Rock home games, along with a number of road contests. In addition, thirteen of the team's regular-season games will air live on The Fan 590. Both Sportsnet and The Fan will air the NLL all-star game. The broadcast schedules for the complete 2006 regular season will be announced soon.