Tempting game plan

DAVE FULLER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

They may be the new kid in town, these Toronto Nationals, but don't sell them short.

In fact, they may have hit on the million-dollar formula for building a successful franchise in a saturated sports market.

First, take everything the Argos, Maple Leafs, Blue Jays and Raptors do, and toss it out the window.

Second, coax the city into lending you a refurbished, 9,000-seat stadium in trendy Liberty Village.

Third, offer your fans reasonably priced tickets (a family flex-pak of four tickets to three games in gold seating is $249).

Fourth, strike a deal with Hooters Restaurants, where they bring the food, the beer and the girls and run your concession stands.

Fifth, cheap beer.

Sixth, build a championship team, which the Nationals already have done. Last year, the first of its existence, the Toronto field lacrosse team won the Major League Lacrosse championship, knocking off the Denver Outlaws 10-9 in the title game.

The Nationals launch their 12-game 2010 season this Saturday in Chicago against the Machine, then play their home opener at new-improved Lamport Stadium the following Saturday.

"It is going to be an absolutely fabulous place for us to play," Nats coach Dave Huntley promised during the team's media blitz Thursday at, where else, Hooters on Adelaide St.

"I've seen some of the artist renderings of what the field will look like. So, for those of you who may be going: 'Oh, Lamport, I've been there -- it looks like a concrete jungle,' well, you're in for a big surprise."

Huntley, who is also head coach of Canada's national field lacrosse team -- and headed to Manchester, England, in July to defend the world title Canada won in 2006 at London, Ont., -- has renovated his Nats lineup, too.

There aren't as many Toronto Rock players on the team this year. In fact, while the Rock helped out the Nationals in 2009, the indoor team was subsequently sold. Now the two lacrosse teams are separate entities.

Nats general manager Stu Brown says it's for the better. Rather than toil in the Rock's shadow, Brown now plans to out-entertain them.

To that end, the Nats acquired 2008 NLL rookie of the year Kevin Huntley in the off-season, giving them arguably the best long-range shooter in the league.

As in basketball, a long-range goal is worth more. in this case, any goal scored from 16 yards out counts as two goals.

Huntley is also the coach's son and plays for Dave with the NLL's Philadelphia Wings.

Huntley joins returning goalie Brett Queener, scoring machine Dan Dawson, Brodie Merrill and another key newcomer, Mark Steenhuis, as leaders on the team.

Dave Huntley wants his team to be forever evolving.

"A lot of people talk about defending and repeating championships," Huntley said. "That's something I kind of reject. I don't really spend a lot of time looking in rear view mirrors. It's an easy way to crash a car. It's easily a way to crash a team.

"The 2009 team was a great team. Our team this year is a very different team, hopefully an improved team."

Meanwhile, the Nats are bringing in 1,700 minor lacrosse players for their home opener on May 22, against the Washington/Chesapeake Baycats, taking advantage of the fact the Ontario minor lacrosse championships are in Brampton that same weekend.

"The big thing for us is to get a big crowd in for that first game," Brown said, "because the fan experience is going to be awesome."

For more ticket info, go to nationalslacrosse.com.


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