NLL screws up title start time

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

The Toronto Rock will play for its first championship since 2005 in Everett, Wash., on Saturday night.

Too bad most of the Eastern time zone, including many Rock fans, will completely miss the game.

Citing the need to factor in the local franchise’s “ability to market the game and attract the largest possible fan base as well as league TV arrangements,” the National Lacrosse League erred badly in refusing to budge on a 10:30 p.m. EDT start time for its marquee event.

Instead of making the winner-take-all battle for the Champion’s Cup an afternoon affair, or even giving it a local start of 6 p.m., instead of 7:30,, the league has shut out its Eastern fans and media in favour of approximately 5,000 paying Pacific Northwest customers.

Yes, the league is trying to make inroads in a new market (the San Jose Stealth relocated to Everett this season), but would starting the game an hour or two earlier really have caused consternation amongst the local populace? Unlikely.

But now the Eastern media will be absent (since the game will be over long after the presses have stopped rolling for the night, making the long trip pointless) and some of the most loyal fans the NLL has — those in Toronto, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Rochester, in particular — will not get the coverage they deserve.

And that does not include the youngsters the league is trying to cater to and entice into becoming future supporters. During home games, the Rock routinely gives video feed time on the scoreboard to the children in attendance. Most of those young fans will be in bed by the time the championship match gets going.

The television excuse is puzzling, too. Versus is not airing the game in the U.S. until Sunday afternoon and TSN2 easily could have replaced woodcutting (Stihl Timbersports) if the game had an earlier start time.

It’s simply a bad call by a league that, in the past, has generally done things smartly and in an innovative way.

As for the matchup itself, well, it projects to be a good one.

The teams were the two highest scoring this season. Toronto was the only squad in the league to boast three 30-goal and 80-point scorers, while ex-Rock star Lewis Ratcliff led the NLL with 46 goals for Washington and Rhys Duch and Jeff Zywicki each had 30 or more.

Toronto has the edge in net, with five-time champion Bob Watson, and on defence. The Rock allowed 23 fewer goals in the regular season than Washington.

The coaching staffs on both sides know this likely will be a high-scoring affair and that whoever defends better — though it won’t be easy to slow down either lineup — will likely come out on top.

“You do it with great difficulty, obviously,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall when asked how to contain the Rock. “Toronto presents a difficult task to defend. It’s not where you have a right-hander or a left- hander you can focus on. They have superstars on both sides of the floor and you can’t forget that they have good support guys.”

Rock coach Troy Cordingley, who lifted the championship trophy with Calgary last season, feels the same way.

“We have a huge task ahead of us with a team that’s been the best team pretty much from the beginning of the year,” Cordingley said.

It has been a crazy season for the Rock. The team pulled off a shocking 6-1 start before losing five in a row. The Rock is 5-1 since, however, and according to general manager/assistant coach Terry Sanderson, has really found its stride.

“This has been a building thing all along. You want to peak at the right time and we feel we have,” Sanderson said.

“It’s all going to come down to one game. If you would have told us that, at the beginning of the year, we would have been more than happy with that.”


Photos