Test time for Rock

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

The Toronto Rock has been the National Lacrosse League's biggest surprise so far this season, but the club's sizzling 5-1 start could quickly be forgotten if it fails to show up against a pair of solid opponents this weekend.

Toronto is full of confidence after running over Philadelphia and Buffalo last weekend, but Friday's opponent at the ACC, the Edmonton Rush, currently sits in second place in the West and the defending champion Calgary Roughnecks will be at home, waiting for the Rock on Sunday (6:30 p.m., TSN2).

Edmonton (3-2), a league doormat for much of its existence, had a makeover in the off-season, most notably the addition of 2009 transition player of the year Brodie Merrill, considered by some to be the loop's top player.

Rock head coach Troy Cordingley and general manager/assistant coach Terry Sanderson certainly know what to expect from Merrill, a player they coach in the summer with the Brampton Excelsiors.

"Brodie is a phenomenal defender who pressures the ball well, and transitions the ball better than anyone in the league," Cordingley said in a conference call.

"He's a very smart defensive player, a good leader."

Cordingley added that the Rush, coming off of a loss, will be anxious to take it to the Rock, but Merrill certainly isn't taking the Rock lightly.

"They'll be ready to go and prepared. We have to be ready to match that," Merrill said.

"We're going to try to limit the guys around Colin (Doyle).If he goes off on one of his one-goal, eight-assist games, we're in trouble. We have to try to shut him down and limit the guys around him."

That might be easier said than done for the Rush. Only the 6-0 Washington Stealth has scored more times than the Rock, who boast four of the NLL's top eight scorers, including top goal man Garrett Billings.

The Sunday matchup could well be a classic.

PHYSICAL CONTEST

Despite being in separate conferences, the Rock and Roughnecks traditionally play their most physical contests of the season against each other.

Cordingley and Sanderson left the champs to be closer to home and Calgary (2-3) has stumbled a bit without them.

Not that the two ex-Calgary coaches agree with that assumption.

"Records only say so much. In my opinion, Calgary is still the best team in the league," Sanderson said in a release.

"I thought (the 2009 edition) was the best lacrosse team I've ever been on and they are only getting better from last year with their new additions. I still think they are the team to beat."

Doyle joined John Tavares and Gary Gait as the third NLL player to collect 1,000 points with an assist in Saturday's 14-10 win over the Bandits in Buffalo. The Rock will honour him for the achievement before the game against Edmonton.

Thursday, Cordingley, a highly successful player with the Bandits before becoming a coach, was named one of six nominees for the NLL's 2010 hall of fame class. Voting will take place over the next 10 days and the top three vote-getters will comprise the 2010 class.

RYAN.WOLSTAT@SUNMEDIA.CA


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