Rock win gives Toronto a champion

Toronto Rock goalie Bob

Toronto Rock goalie Bob "Whipper" Watson denies Stealth forward Paul Rabil during the first period. (Jack Boland /QMI Agency)

 Margaret Sheridan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:12 AM ET

Toronto sports fans have gotten used to a certain amount of disappointment when it comes to their teams not making the playoffs.

Winning a championship? Perish the thought.

But following a win over the Washington Stealth in the National Lacrosse League championship game Sunday at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Rock look appears primed to change that and deliver the hungry masses a steady diet of titles.

“Toronto is a city that’s starving for champions,” Rock goaltender Bob Watson said. “It’s been a while. It was 2005 for us and I believe the other team before that was the Argos (2004).

“Toronto’s a great sports city and they like their winners — and it seems that lately they come few and far between.”

Few and far between, yes, but the Rock are poised to make the city a lacrosse powerhouse once again. At the very least, that’s what the players are expecting of themselves.

“Two championship games in a row, I’d love to continue this streak,” said second-year Rock forward Garrett Billings. “We weren’t expecting to host the game because Calgary had the tie-breaker on us, and we never had it in our minds that we’d be hosting at the end of the year.”

In a rematch of the 2010 Champions Cup, the Rock were out for more than retribution against the team that had bested them in Washington the previous year — they were keen on helping Watson, who’d been with the club since its first season in Toronto, end his prolific career on a high note.

“This was kind of a monkey off our backs. You don’t want to lose two championship games in a row to the same team,” explained Billings, who netted two goals and an assist Sunday. “And (Bob) was trying to deflect the attention off himself all week long, which, if anybody knows Bob, he’s not the kind of guy who points at the name on the back of his shirt. He’s more interested in the name on the front.”

The Rock gave fans the opportunity to say goodbye to the goalie prior to their final regular season home game against the Buffalo Bandits last month. But the game, dubbed ‘Final Denial,’ fell flat when the Rock wound up losing 11-8.

“Looking back on it now it’s kind of funny to think that his last tribute game didn’t go that well for us and that’s what we had all the hype for,” Billings said with a laugh.  “But then the game that really matters, he comes out and puts it all on the line and has an amazing game.”

But Watson sees the championship win in a different light — a game won on the back of some amazing defensive plays and the core of youth on the current squad.

“They certainly have youth on their side as a young team,” Watson explained. “Their coaches demand winning — they’re there to win every year (and) I do believe they’re capable of it.

“There’s no such word as ‘rebuilding’ in Terry’s vocabulary,” Watson said, referring to Terry Sanderson, the Rock’s GM and assistant coach.

And as a club that has previously won back-to-back championships, they know better than most that while this year may have been a success, it doesn’t guarantee they’ll follow it up with another Cup.

In fact, it may make the road that much tougher.

“Any time you’re trying to defend a championship it’s really tough,” Billings said. “Everybody’s gunning for you and there’s no surprising anybody. It’s going to be tough game-in, game-out next year and especially trying to fill in for Bob.

“But I think we’re back where we used to be.”


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