I calculated last year that I’d probably seen around 200 pro lacrosse games over the years, but I had never been to a practice. I was able to remedy that this week, taking in the Toronto Rock practice at the TRAC this past Tuesday. Judging by the public turnout at this one, I’m going to guess that most fans haven’t seen one, so I thought I’d outline what I saw. Practices are open to the public and I couldn’t hear anything anyway, so sorry to the Roughnecks scouts looking for inside information to use this weekend. I got nothin’.
I thought the practice started at 7:00 but it was actually 8:00 so I had over an hour to hang out. Luckily the TRAC is a busy place. Colin Doyle was running a lacrosse camp for 10-12 year old kids, and that was quite entertaining. Colin was great with them. When I arrived, he was running some shooting drills at the far end, while a number of goalies were taking shots from another coach. After a while, Colin came down and took a couple of shots on the goalies, and then all of the other kids came down as well. Colin started demonstrating some trick shots, starting by faking a shot over the goalie’s right shoulder and then shooting behind the back, scoring over his left. Then he went in for another shot and the goalie thought he was going to do the same thing, but he faked a shot, faked a behind the back shot, and then shot forward again. Gotta keep those goalies on their toes! Next he faked forward, faked behind the back, and then dropped his stick and shot underhand. For the last one, he stopped right in front of the net, bent over forwards, put his stick between his legs and shot over his back. He missed that one.
He had the kids laughing a lot. He even hit the goalie in the face with one trick shot, and immediately dropped and did three push-ups. Presumably, there’s a rule. Then each kid got to run in on a breakaway and try one of these shots, and he came in with one kid, faking a shot and then passing to the kid for quickstick shot, but he missed.
After the shots, they played a half-hour game (two 15-minute quarters) complete with scoreboard, shot clock, and two NLL referees. I was very impressed at the skill level of these kids. Many of them tried the trick shots they had learned earlier, and one even dove from behind the net, tucking the ball in the side. Cory Vitarelli would have been proud. One team tried a hidden ball trick as well, where all five players gathered near centre and put their sticks together, then all ran out at once cradling what may or may not have been a ball. I think the kid who actually had the ball ended up dropping it, but it was a good attempt.
Around 7:45, the kids were done and cleared the field. After a few minutes, Brock Sorensen came out and started taking some shots on the empty net. He’s missed all of this season thus far so I was glad to see him out there, especially without any kind of brace on his knee. But that was only for a few minutes. The rest of the team started coming out and taking shots, and Brock vanished, only to return a few minutes later with a knee brace.
The team was broken up into blue shirts and white shirts. I figured this might have been for a scrimmage later on, and I was a little confused as to why there were so many more blues than whites. It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that the blues were defense and whites were offense.
I was surprised to see both Tom Schreiber and Kieran McArdle out there. I guess I assumed they wouldn’t fly up to Toronto for a mid-week practice (“We’re talking ’bout practice here. Not a game, practice!”). In addition to Sorensen, it was nice to see other injured players Kasey Beirnes, Rob Marshall, and Patrick Merrill shooting the ball around, though Merrill was always by himself and didn’t join the rest during the drills. I also saw Josh Sanderson, though not on the floor, and Jamie Dawick was on the floor for a while too. While the team was doing 2-on-2 drills at one end of the floor, Dawick was taking shots on the far net from half.
I was literally the only person in the stands. Sitting there by myself with a computer on my lap, I felt a little like these guys:
I couldn’t hear anything from the floor so I have no idea what Matt Sawyer, Manning, Codd, Pat Campbell, or strength and conditioning coach Sean Holmes were saying. After 20 minutes or so of Holmes-led stretching, they started some defense and shooting drills. Next were some fast-break drills – one player would start at the far restraining line with the ball, and when the whistle blew, he’d run toward the net, three defenders would run out from the far bench, and three offensive guys from the near bench, and the shooters would try to score.
Jamie Dawick came by and we chatted for a while. He said the whole team is just blown away with Latrell Harris – obviously he’s playing very well and beyond his years but he’s a great person off the floor too. Dawick said he’s been impressed with their other rookie D guys as well – Harris is a little more flashy but Jordan Magnuson and Challen Rogers are both solid players and have benefited from some great coaching in Coquitlam. We talked a little about the American guys – I mentioned earlier that I was surprised that Schreiber and McArdle made the practice, but Dawick said they’ve made almost all of them (“honestly, it probably takes them the same amount of time to fly in as it takes someone driving in from Peterborough”), and when they’re not coming up to Canada for practice, they’re watching game film and really studying the box game. Clearly, it’s paying off.
Dawick also expressed his admiration at Bruce Codd’s coaching abilities. Codd is new on the Rock bench this season, and while Dawick didn’t know him very well before, he’s been very impressed with how Codd is running the defense.
He then left to go and do some President/GM things, and I watched the rest of the practice. After some more shooting drills, the offense and Blaine Manning broke off into one group and the defense and Bruce Codd into another. Most of the next while was just the coaches talking and the players listening, though I did notice veteran Kasey Beirnes offering his opinions to the O guys as well.
Holmes then came back out for some more stretching to end things off. Most of the players did what he was showing them but many did their own thing, and the goalies (Nick Rose and Steve Fryer – didn’t see Brandon Miller) left early. I didn’t see any specific goalie drills at all, but most of the passing and shooting drills ended with a shot on Rosey or Fryer so they got their work in too.
Thanks to Jamie Dawick for the chat and for making Rock practices open to the public, even if very few Rock fans take advantage of it.
I’ve been to two Roughnecks practices, both open to the public and both mostly unattended by the public. The most recent one was held at one of the soccer domes in Calgary where there was enough ambient noise to not be able to hear anything down on the floor so it was much as you described. But the first one, held a number of years ago at the Saddledome, you could hear just about every instruction given down on the floor and just about every f-bomb head coach Dave Pym and team captain Andy McBride dropped on the rest of the team (like I said, it was a few years ago). As someone who still has a lot to learn about the finer points of the game, both experiences were invaluable in terms of breaking down the technical stuff—how to seal off an opponent, always, ALWAYS having two hands on your stick while penalty killing (the importance of this was underscored by several f-bombs by coach Pym), transitioning from offense to defense through the bench, etc.