Edmonton's Manning ready to Rock Rush

GERRY MODDEJONGE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:16 PM ET

It still means something to play in Rexall Place.

Although it's a different sport than the one that made the venue famous in the 1980s, Blaine Manning is still inspired by the building that housed an unforgettable Edmonton Oilers dynasty.

"I'm a huge Oilers fan; I watched (Wayne) Gretzky and the boys win some Cups when I was younger," he said.

"To go back there and play at Rexall Place and see the banners and play in front of friends and family, it's really special for me."

Born and raised in Sherwood Park, Manning is returning home for the first time this National Lacrosse League season when the Toronto Rock visit the Edmonton Rush this afternoon at 1:30.

"I've got two brothers still living there, as well as my parents," said Manning, one of four Rock players currently among the top five in National Lacrosse League scoring.

"I always get back to Sherwood Park a couple times a year to see everybody.

"I'm very excited about it. There aren't too many guys in the league from Edmonton, so it's always special when one of us can get back there."

Manning and the Rock are gunning to return to form after missing out on playoffs the past two seasons.

"Last year was a really disappointing year from a team standpoint as well as individually," said Manning, who was held to less than 70 points for the first time in his eight NLL seasons.

"We've made a lot of changes in our whole team this year, but especially in our offence.

"This year, the ball moves around quite a bit and that's a little more conducive to my style of play.

"I've definitely been able to benefit from the new guys we have in the lineup. Guys like Colin Doyle, who is a great feeder and can carry the ball when you're open. It's definitely been a big help for me."

Of course, having Bob Watson guarding the goal with his league-best 7.55 goals-against average doesn't hurt either.

"Especially with our goaltending, as well as our defence, we're really strong on our back door and we play with limited offensive guys," said Manning.

"Usually there's only six or seven of us in the lineup. We know we can go out and not be afraid to take shots or take chances because our defence and our goaltending are very good."

Although Toronto defeated the Rush handily in their first meeting of the season last week, Manning sees a much improved Edmonton squad.

"I was telling everyone before the season that I think Edmonton's put together one of the best rosters in the league," he said.

"I know they definitely didn't have their best game against us last Friday but (head coach) Derek Keenan has done a great job bringing in new guys. I think they're definitely going to be a team to beat in the West."

GERRY.MODDEJONGE@SUNMEDIA.CA


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