Rock ready to roll to playoff berth

RYAN WOLSTAT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

Fresh off two bitterly disappointing seasons, the Toronto Rock enters 2009 hoping a full-scale revamp will take the franchise back to the heights it reached earlier this decade.

After slumping to 7-9 in 2008 and missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the team's front office decided big moves needed to be made.

"Our mandate was to improve our offence, that's where the focus has been," Rock director of lacrosse operations Mike Kloepfer said.

"We needed to have changes. We needed to score more goals."

Adding Luke Wiles, Jason Crosbie, Bill McGlone, Josh Wasson and Stephen Hoar, plus a healthy Chad Thompson should certainly go a long ways towards that end.

A full season's worth of Lewis Ratcliff won't hurt either.

Ratcliff has scored in 47 consecutive games and averaged 5.6 points per game with the Rock after coming over from the Calgary Roughnecks.

The club boasts holdovers Blaine Manning, Ryan Benesch and Kasey Beirnes and expects to get Craig Conn in the lineup at the end of January. Conn, a former 44-goal scorer, missed the entire 2008 season because of injury.

Head coach Glenn Clark gets a new right-hand man on the bench, with Jim Veltman shifting over. However, the team now faces the unenviable task of replacing Veltman in the lineup.

The Rock expects new captain Chris Driscoll, Hoar, the returning Thompson, who was making major strides prior to suffering an ACL injury, and the equally promising Rob Marshall, to pick up the slack this season.

As always, the goaltending of Bob Watson will be a key. The 39-year-old is coming off an award-winning campaign and has shown no signs of slipping.

On paper, the Rock looks like a team that can contend for the first time since winning its fifth championship in seven years in 2005.

"We raised the skill level up," Clark said. "We've become a little more physical and a little more athletic.

"We're hoping we can be a little more dangerous out in our front end."

If there is a concern, however, it is a lack of speed on the defensive side of the floor.


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