Rock tinkering with success

RYAN WOLSTAT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

The curtain on a new National Lacrosse League season will rise tomorrow night -- along with another championship banner for Toronto's only consistently successful professional team.

The 2005 season was a bittersweet one for the Rock players and coaching staff alike. Prior to the start of that campaign, coach and general manager Terry Sanderson was blasted by media and fans for dealing Steve Toll, Darryl Gibson and Anthony Cosmo, along with two draft picks, for Rusty Kruger, Sanderson's son Josh and nephew Phil.

The Rock got the last laugh however, as those players, particularly ace setup man Josh Sanderson, helped turn the Rock into an offensive juggernaut, finish 12-4 and give Terry Sanderson his first Champions Cup.

The thrill of that victory, however, turned to crushing sadness less than 24 hours later as longtime Rock coach, GM and vice-president Les Bartley, who led the club to its first four titles, succumbed to cancer.

Sanderson has tinkered only slightly with his club since their 17-13 championship game victory last May over the Arizona Sting, tomorrow's opponent.

Seventeen players return, including league and final MVP Colin Doyle, fellow scoring stars Blaine Manning, Josh Sanderson and Aaron Wilson, key veterans Jim Veltman, Patrick Merrill and long-time goaltender Bob Watson.

Key losses include stalwart defenceman and original Rock member Glenn Clark and forward Ryan Painter.

THREE 100-POINT MEN

After leading the NLL in goals scored last season, the Rock again appears potent on the attack. Doyle, Manning and Sanderson each topped 100 points -- unique for the team considering only two other players in the entire league duplicated the feat.

Still, the Rock management team felt that the squad needed to get tougher, younger and deeper.

"We were hoping to bring in some younger kids this year and we were able to do that," Sanderson said of new additions such as offensive defenceman Brad MacDonald, tough defender Scott Campbell and hard-shooting forward Jason Henhawk.

Sanderson said his club will be able to play either a high-scoring game or a more defensive style.

"We are ready to do both," he said. "We have the guys to grind it out or to light it up."

Coming off a playoff loss in 2004, the Rock last season benefited from lowered expectations. Veltman said that won't happen again.

"I don't think this year we are going to fall under the radar," he said. "Last year we were ranked fifth and people sort of counted us out early.

"Now we're going to be the team that everyone is gunning for, but I think that makes us better. When you have everybody playing so hard and so well against you every night, it forces you to be a good team and it forces you to play well to get some wins in the win column."


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