The Rock are getting on TRAC

The Toronto Rock are the envy of the rest of the NLL. Owner Jamie Dawick is putting the finishing touches on a new facility that he hopes will put Oakville on the map of Ontario lacrosse hotbeds, along with Orangeville, Peterborough, and Six Nations. After years of practicing at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena (ILA) in Six Nations, 100 km southwest of Toronto, the Rock now hold their practices at the brand new Toronto Rock Athletic Centre (TRAC). The TRAC, located near Trafalgar Road and the 403 in Oakville, is only 30 km from the ACC and is a state-of-the-art lacrosse facility. The Rock’s head office is also in the building, as is the gym run by their official strength coach, so as Dawick put it during the Toronto Rock Town Hall meeting back in December, the only thing the team doesn’t do in that building is play their actual games.

The TRAC just opened in December, but is already packed almost every night of the week. The Rock hold a practice once a week, but Rock players come and go frequently. Some Minnesota Swarm players also practice there once a week, Troy Cordingley and Pat Campbell run youth lacrosse clinics, and there are Masters and youth league games there all the time. There are even floor hockey leagues and everyone from local rugby teams to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have held events there.

On January 24, Jamie Dawick invited me for a tour of the TRAC, including the Rock dressing room, meeting and training rooms, and his own office overlooking the carpeted floor. Many thanks to Jamie for the offer and for showing me around this fabulous lacrosse facility.

And when I say “lacrosse facility”, I mean lacrosse facility. There are two rinks in the building, one with brand new carpet (identical to the brand new carpet on the floor of the ACC this year) and one with a concrete floor, but no ice-making facilities and no Zamboni. It was built specifically for lacrosse, though a local floor hockey league plays on the uncarpeted rink during the week (they were playing when I visited, see picture below). The carpeted rink was being used by Troy Cordingley’s lacrosse clinic, with Troy running drills for 30 or 40 kids, and Pat Campbell running goalie drills. If you’re a young lacrosse player, can you imagine learning the game from an NLL coach who’s been named Coach of the Year and has won three championships, and goaltending skills from a 14-year NLL vet?

The TRAC is also home to The Box Lacrosse Store, owned by Troy Cordingley and Rochester Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen. This is the biggest, and possibly only, lacrosse store in the area. As Dawick said, up to now anyone in the Toronto area would have to drive to Whitby, Orangeville (where Terry Sanderson owns Source for Sports – I wonder how he feels about his coach owning a competing store), or Six Nations in order to find a decent selection of lacrosse equipment. Despite the name, I did spot some field lacrosse equipment as well – though admittedly, an eight-foot-long lacrosse shaft isn’t overly hard to spot.

After the jump are some pictures from my visit. Click on any of them for a larger version.

Nick Rose's locker

Nick Rose’s locker, with a goalie stick that’s clearly illegal. I don’t see the Reebok logo anywhere on that stick.

Massage tables A couple of massage tables just off the Rock dressing room, next to the “coach’s room” where Troy, Terry, and Jamie watch game film for hours.
Conference room The main conference room, with windows overlooking the carpeted rink.
Jamie's office Jamie’s office
The Dynamic Athlete The Dynamic Athlete, a strengh training facility run by Sean Holmes, strength coach of the Rock. The turf at the left was just put down earlier in the day.
Goal scoring competition Looks like Holmes (a two-time Mann Cup winner himself) has still got it.
Carpeted rink The carpeted rink, where Troy Cordingley is running his lacrosse camp
Troy talking strategies “This is what we call the pressure defense, kids. Learn it. Live it. Love it.”
Paddy teaching the goalies Pat Campbell teaching some future NLL goaltenders
Uncarpeted rink The uncarpeted rink, hosting a local floor hockey league
Rock logo Brand new Rock logo, just above the stands overlooking the carpeted rink
IMG_2289
IMG_2290
A lacrosse ball shaped hole in the wall, twenty feet off the ground. Considering the mesh behind the net, someone had to work pretty hard to put that there.

This balcony comes off of the main conference room, pictured above.

Head selection

Pretty good head selection at the Box Lacrosse Store

IMG_2291 Fancy Rock-coloured mesh on the nets. Likely not allowed in the NLL. The shooters probably prefer the black mesh anyway but these still look cool.
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Game report: Minnesota 12 at Toronto 13

In last week’s Rock home opener, the Rock had a three-goal lead in the fourth quarter but then allowed Philly to score the last four goals of the game to come back and win it. Friday night was a complete turnaround, in which the Minnesota Swarm had a four-goal lead in the third quarter but allowed Toronto to score the last five goals of the game to come back and win it. About the Rock’s 8-7 loss to Philly, Rock owner Jamie Dawick tweeted that he was “disgusted”, though later admitted that that term was a little harsh. But he said the other day that he’d rather lose 20-0 than have defeat snatched from the jaws of victory like that. I imagine Dawick’s first thought at the final buzzer on Friday was “That’s more like it”.

Friday’s game was one of momentum, I thought. The first quarter was back and forth and nobody really dominated for most of it. The Rock scored the last two goals, within 35 seconds, to take a 4-2 lead and with Doyle’s goal, it looked like things were swinging the Rock’s way. But in the second quarter the momentum shifted, as the Swarm scored two within 22 seconds to tie it up and then two more over the next 3 minutes. Again the Rock tied it and it looked like if they scored the next goal, they’d be off and running. Instead, the Swarm again swung the momentum back their way, this time scoring six of the next eight goals to take a 12-8 lead. They even chased Nick Rose from the game for a few minutes and giving Zack Boychuk his first taste of NLL action. The Rock pecked away at the lead at the end of the third, and made it a brand new game in the fourth as Josh Sanderson scored his fourth of the game and Garrett Billings tied it less than a minute in. There was only one goal the rest of the way, Stephen Leblanc’s winner.

Both goaltenders were very good, though not outstanding like last week; there were goals on both sides that probably shouldn’t have been. Both defenses also played very well, and it was evident why Brock Sorensen was drafted as high as he was. He’s a big solid guy who not only made it difficult for the Rock forwards to even see the net, but he can put the ball in the net himself, as we saw with his beautiful behind-the-back goal in the third. John Grant couldn’t have made that look any nicer.

The Rock defenders, on the other hand, aren’t huge as a rule, but for the most part they managed pretty well to keep the Swarm forwards off-balance.  That said, the first goal of the night was from Kiel Matisz and at 6’5″, this may be the way he will score a great many of his goals. He was standing to the left of the net with his back to it, and Chris White in between him and Rosey. He stepped backwards into White and then stopped, as though testing how much resistance he was going to get. Evidently he decided “not enough”, and then plowed backwards, pushing White out of the way, and dove across the crease, depositing the ball over Rosey’s left shoulder. Pretty goal, and the power behind it was unreal.

There are games where if you end up losing, nobody would blame you for not playing hard. Last week’s game was like that – the Rock really should have put the Wings away but Brandon Miller didn’t let them. It’s not that the Rock gave up or didn’t work hard, but it just didn’t happen. But if you have a game like that and end up winning it, the phrase that’s come up in recent years is “character win” and that’s exactly what we saw on Friday. There were times when those in the crowd thought the game might be over even though it was only the third quarter, but the team never did.

Other game notes:

  • Callum Crawford had a couple of nice goals, but rather than plowing through the defense like Matisz, his were more of the get-open-and-fire-a-bullet type.
  • There were at least two Air Gait attempts by the Swarm and one by the Rock, none of which worked. On one of them, Boychuk already had his arm across the crossbar before the shot, so it looked like he had practiced preventing such goals. I’ve got mixed feelings about this play. While it looks spectacular, it’s kind of a cheap goal.
  • From my seat, I had a great angle of Garrett Billings’ tying goal in the 4th. Leblanc got him the ball and he fired a laser into a tiny little triangle in the top corner. It’s not obvious from the TV angles, but the space he had to hit was barely bigger than the ball. Pinpoint accuracy.
  • With a little over two minutes left in the fourth, the Rock scored a weird goal and Joe Sullivan threw the challenge flag. After a couple of minutes of watching the video, the goal was waved off. Once the replay was shown, it was immediately obvious that the Rock player was in the crease when the ball crossed the line. There was no question, so why did the review take so long?
  • I missed the anthem last week because of traffic, but I remember this anthem singer from last year. How does such a skinny little guy like that generate so much power with his voice? His body was shaking so much during some of the notes I thought he was going to explode.

Week 4 picks

This just gets better and better. After an 0-1 opening weekend and a more positive 2-3 week 2, I was 0-4 last weekend. Maybe it’s time to start flipping coins. The comments on these picks keeps getting harder and harder too – for every reason I can come up with why Team A will beat Team B, I can come up with another for why Team B will win. Plus even if team A has a far better offense than team B, Team A’s offense may have a bad game. Or Team B’s defense may have an exceptionally good game. Or a couple of the players have a cold and while it doesn’t take them out of the game, they may be less effective. Or a whole host of other reasons. Trust me, I can come up with a whole bunch of excuses reasons of why I’m not predicting 100%.

There are a whole bunch of games this weekend, and the only way I can end up at or above .500 this week is to get every pick right. Even one wrong leaves me at 8-9. Unfortunately, I’ve been very busy this week and so I am putting this together at the last minute and don’t have time to put comments in, so I’ll just post my picks. If I get energetic tomorrow, I may revisit this article and put comments in for games that haven’t happened yet.

Record: 2-8 (.200)

Game

Pick

CAL @ COL Roughnecks
WAS @ EDM Rush
MIN @ TOR Rock
PHI @ BUF Bandits
WAS @ MIN Swarm
TOR @ ROC Knighthawks
CAL @ PHI Wings

Game report: Philadelphia 8 @ Toronto 7

Usually my first Rock game report of the season contains talk of how either the Rock or their opponents (or frequently both) had some missed passes or defenders getting beaten easily or whatever because it’s early in the season. In this one, however, both the Rock and the Wings – particularly the goaltending – looked in mid-season form, as the Wings pulled off the last-minute comeback to win 8-7. The Rock have played two games already plus three scrimmages, and the Wings have played one plus two scrimmages, so I guess their lack of rustiness makes some sense. But now the team I picked to finish last in the league is 2-0. Not only that, but they were two solid victories – one where they dominated throughout, and one where their goalie kept them in the game and they came from behind with four straight goals to win it. I’m starting to wonder if this Philadelphia team may not be the dark horse in the East.

The Rock’s offense was a lot more aggressive than I’ve seen them in a while, and it showed on the scoresheet in terms of shots – they took 60 shots on Brandon Miller who was easily Philadelphia’s best player. They seemed to be trying a new strategy – a player doing the Gretzky thing, standing behind the net. The behind-the-net strategy seemed to work pretty well for the Wings, however, as they scored 3 of their 8 goals from behind the net, including the game-winner with 10 seconds left in the fourth.

With only four goals scored in the first half, it looked like we might be on the way to a scoring record. Bob Watson allowed only 2 Wings goals during a playoff game in 2000, while the lowest-scoring NLL game took place in Toronto in 2001, with Toronto defeating Albany 7-4. Watson’s record wasn’t really in much danger, and became safe 3 minutes into the third after the second of two consecutive “Air Gait” type goals by Brodie Merrill (who was on offense most of the night) and Drew Westervelt. The 7-4 score was reached halfway through the fourth when Colin Doyle scored his second of the night. Unfortunately for the home team, that was the last goal they’d score.

If the Rock had listened to me, the game might have ended differently. A number of times when the Rock were in close, they tried to score over Miller’s shoulder, and I don’t think it worked once. I tried to get them to shoot low and they eventually did – both of Doyle’s goals were low – but it was too late by then. I imagine I should have yelled “shoot low!” louder. Sorry Rock fans, my fault. (Yes, to the people who have actually played lacrosse before, I’m being totally facetious here. Coaching from the stands is much easier than coaching from the bench.)

This was a very entertaining game, and considering the other two games last night (Buffalo and Rochester trading leads for most of the game, Calgary and Colorado going to overtime), it’s obvious that the parity in the league is making for some very exiting lacrosse. And we still have 13 weeks to go! And then playoffs!

Other game notes:

  • Both goalies were outstanding – Rose’s save percentage was 85.7% and Miller’s was an unbelievable 88.3%.  Both defenses were very good as well.
  • Toronto only won 4 faceoffs all night. Philadelphia won 15.
  • At about 5:40 of the 2nd quarter, there was a scrum in the corner. The ref blew the whistle and awarded the Rock the ball. He then grabbed it, threw it in the air, and blew the whistle to start play, despite the fact that there was no Rock player there. The Wings grabbed the ball and took off. If you’re going to award the Rock the ball, shouldn’t you give the ball to a Rock player? I’ve seen refs do that when the team you’re giving the ball to is lollygagging or attempting to slow things down on the change, but that wasn’t the case here.
  • Ethan Farrell was rather reminiscent of Tom Ryan with the long hair flying. His weren’t dreadlocks, but still.
  • Jesse Gamble played a great game on defense and transition. Sandy Chapman isn’t the only “Charlie Hustle” on this team.
  • Nick Rose is really good with outlet passes up the floor. He missed an open net goal by this much, and hit someone about 3/4 of the way down the floor with a perfect pass.
  • I’m sure I’ve mentioned something like this before but when you’re the Rock PA guy and your team is losing with 10 seconds left in the 4th, perhaps the theme from Mission: Impossible is not the right song to play.

Week 3 picks

For a little while there, it wasn’t looking good at all. I was 0-1 after week 1, then I got the first three games of last weekend wrong as well – I was sitting at 0-4, and my next two picks were the only team that missed the playoffs last year winning and a team that went to the championship losing. Luckily Washington came through, and the Rock managed to hold off the Rush, so I’m 2-4. Let’s try and get above .500 this week, shall we?

Record: 2-4 (.333)

Game

Comments

Pick

COL @ CAL Both strong teams, and both lost last weekend. Dane Dobbie missed last week but will be back, while Colorado is still struggling with goaltending issues. Roughnecks
BUF @ ROC Buffalo was hoping to see Billy Dee Smith back for this one, but he hurt his foot so he’ll be out again. Meanwhile, the Knighthawks should have Casey Powell available. As good as Kurtis Wagar has been this year, I have more confidence in Matt Vinc so I have to go with Rochester. Knighthawks
PHI @ TOR Philly beat Buffalo so they’ve got some confidence, but Nick Rose was great last weekend and if I’ve learned one thing doing these predictions, it’s always stick with a hot goalie. Until he’s not hot anymore. Then you shouldn’t have stuck with him quite so long. Rock54
EDM @ WAS I know the Stealth’s newfound confidence will only taken them so far – confident teams sometimes lose – but not yet. Stealth44

Home field advantage

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a database of every NLL game played between 1987 and 2011 (now 2012). When I started looking over the data, the thing that jumped out at me the most was when I looked at individual game score records such as highest scoring games (total score), lowest scoring games, biggest goal differential, that sort of thing. I looked at the top ten of each, and three of them had a very obvious pattern. At first blush, one of these didn’t seem to match the other two, but I’ll get to that later.

The first two that I saw were these:

  • Of the top ten games with the biggest goal differential, nine of them were won by the home team.
  • Of the top ten games with the most goals by one team, eight of them were won by the home team.

Why would this be? Could it be that the crowd is indeed the extra man on the floor and their cheering really does provide a boost to the home team, like the players always say in interviews? I have always assumed that players say that because that’s what they have to say, but in truth they are so focused on the game itself that they are able to tune out the fans, whether cheering or booing. I’m sure that’s at most partially true, since it’s hard to tune out 10,000 people cheering for or against you. (Indeed, Edmonton Rush player Jarrett Toll admittedyou don’t hear “normal” crowds but the loud ones make an impression every time‘.) But if your team is scoring tons of goals and the fans are really loud, it appears that this can push you to keep scoring, even if the other team is scoring a ton as well.

A couple of other similar numbers that I found later:

  • The home team has won 53.4% of regular season overtime games (87-76)
  • The home team has won 70% of playoff overtime games (7-3)

Former NLL player, coach, and serious dreadlocks owner Tom Ryan (pictured at right) wrote a piece on IL Indoor last year about Home Field Advantage in the NLL, where he did a lot of work analyzing how teams performed at home vs. on the road. His conclusion was that over the last three seasons, Toronto and Minnesota have enjoyed the best home field advantage.

The outlier?

The one pattern that was obvious from the data but didn’t seem to match the rest was this:

  • Of the top ten games with the lowest total score, seven of them were won by the away team.

But when you think about it, the crowd could explain this as well. If the home team has only scored 3 goals in the game and it’s the fourth quarter, the barn is likely to be pretty quiet. For the home team, not hearing the crowd just reminds them that they’re not playing well, while being able to silence the crowd in your opponent’s barn is likely a huge confidence booster for the other team.

Long story short? If you’re a fan, cheer loudly for your team. It really can help.

CLax game review: Oshweken 18 @ Iroquois 15

The number of non-NLL lacrosse games I’ve been to is rather small – I listed them all in this post about an MLL game last summer. On Saturday I added one to this list: my first CLax game. This was the second season opener for the league, and was a rematch of last year’s championship game – the champion Oshweken Demons against the Iroquois Ironmen. The game was at the ILA (Iroquois Lacrosse Arena) near Hagersville Ontario, the home arena for both teams. For this game, the Ironmen were considered the home team and actually had more fans cheering for them.

If you’re used to watching lacrosse in a small arena with no music playing, you’ll feel right at home at a CLax game. But if, like myself, you’re more used to the pomp and circumstance of the NLL, it might be a bit of a shock. There is no music. There are no cheerleaders. There weren’t thousands of fans there; in fact there weren’t even one thousand fans there. They didn’t do the wave. There were no dancing peanuts or commercials or “Let’s Get LOUD!” or kiss cam on the video board. Actually, there was no video board. If any or all of those things are necessary for you to enjoy a lacrosse game, better steer clear of CLax.

But if you just want to watch a fast-paced box lacrosse game, you could certainly do worse. The game didn’t look significantly different from an NLL game – lots of action and ball movement, and I thought there was even less standing around waiting for O/D changes than in the NLL. One of the interesting rules in CLax is that players must enter the floor using the bench door furthest from their goaltender. Quite honestly, I didn’t really notice this all that much except when looking for it. I did notice (actually, my son noticed) that the goaltenders switched ends after the first and third quarters but not after the second, so the Demons goalie was to our right during the first and fourth, not the first and third.

The Demons got off to a strong start, leading 5-0 in the first and 11-5 at the half. It seemed like it might be a rout but the Ironmen clawed their way back into it and got within three a couple of times, but that was as close as it got. But in the end, the Demons were just too strong and took the victory 18-15. Oshweken teammates Wayne VanEmery and former Buffalo Bandit Roger Vyse scored a bunch, as did the Ironmen’s Chris Attwood who was last year’s CLax MVP. Attwood was everywhere – not only at the offensive end, but there were a couple of transition attempts by the Demons that were scuttled by Attwood racing down the floor on D.

The goalie for the Demons, Jeff Powless, looked almost unbeatable in the first half. He was a little more human in the second, but still pretty impressive. The Demons, oddly, had three goaltenders dressed for the game, though one wasn’t wearing a Demons jersey.

Other games notes:

  • For NLL fans, there were a number of familiar names: Roger and Holden Vyse, Travis Hill, Cory Bomberry, Cody Jacobs, Delby Powless, and of course CLax deputy commissioner Jim Veltman.
  • The Ironmen’s first goal was beautiful. Chancey Johnson deked his way inside in front of the net. With only one defender left to get by, he stepped next to him, gave him a hard shoulder check that knocked him flat, and then buried the shot.
  • I don’t know if the faceoff rules are different from the NLL or if the players taking the faceoffs were very evenly matched, but faceoffs seemed either instant (usually because the whistle was blown right away and someone awarded the ball) or took 15-20 seconds with both teams hovering around the two faceoff guys who had trapped the ball between them and weren’t moving.
  • I was sitting in the middle of the arena, right across from the Demon bench, and got ZERO internet signal. We went out to get snacks at halftime and had no troubles out there, but back at our seats, nothing. This is a serious problem that the arena folks need to address. I believe this is the main reason the Rock built the TRAC rather than have their practices at the ILA.
  • None of the refs was wearing a helmet. Having seen refs take shots to the head, this amazed me. The refs know how hard the ball is, right? And they know how fast it goes, right? So, like, dude, WTF? I wouldn’t dream of stepping on that floor during play without a helmet. I was sure that NLL refs all wore helmets, but it turns out they don’t either, or at least most of them don’t. I don’t understand this at all.