(photo credit: NLL.com)
The Toronto Rock are coming off an amazing turnaround season, going to the Champions Cup. The Rock had had 3 straight losing seasons before GM Jim Veltman pulled the lever and acquired Colin Doyle from Washington, who they eventually played in the Championship.
But it was not only Doyle who helped them get back into relevance. It was rookies Stephen LeBlanc, Garret Billings, goaltender Bob Watson, as well as Blaine Manning, Sandy Chapman, and Creighton Reid. But what do the Rock have to do to overcome a much improved eastern division?
Their biggest hurdle will be the Boston Blazers(read about them here). After that the Rochester Knighthawks have also improved. What area does Toronto have an advantage? Can they return to the Champions Cup? More, after the jump.
Toronto got a huge boost when word came that Bob Watson was returning the the organization. Watson amazingly had a GAA of under nine last season. And while Steve Dietrich retired, they have a healthy backup goaltender competition.
On offense, the Rock return with most of the same lineup as last season, with some new additions, but mostly defensemen with Kyle Ross and Phil Sanderson.
In what area does Toronto have an edge over Boston? If anything, maybe defense. Toronto did trade their defensman Scott Campbell to Boston's improved defense, but Toronto certainly does not have a better offense. With Dawson, Sanderson and Powell, it's hard to beat them. But Toronto is not far behind, with Billings, LeBlanc, Doyle, etc. Boston has more electric players, but Toronto may have more depth at forwards and transition players.
Does Toronto have an advantage in Goaltending? Probably not, with Boston having Anthony Cosmo, but Watson is sure a good goaltender to have. While they don't have the exact advantage, I would not complain if I was left with Bob Watson.
Last season, Stephen LeBlanc was seventh in the league in overall goals. Billings was 11th. Those two now-sophomore players look to be a huge part of Toronto's season in 2011. LeBlanc, 24 years old, last season had 36 goals and 82 points to lead the Rock in goals. Billings had 33 goals and 83 points. They had a combined 32 points in the playoffs.
Toronto has had a very interesting training camp so far, most of it revolving around goaltenders. There are a few more non-goalies, however, who have impressed Rock officials during camp. A few of note are Brice Queener, Aaron Pascas, Damon Edwards, and Glen Bryan. Right now Toronto has 34 men on their training camp roster. They will have to narrow it down to 23. Other players on their training camp roster include Geoff McNulty, Pat Maddalena, Mat McLeod, Drew Petkoff, Sandy Chapman, Tim O’Brien, Anthony Lackey, Rob Marshall, Colin Doyle, Kasey Beirnes, Creighton Reid, Kyle Ross, Garrett Billings, Blaine Manning, Patrick Merrill, Stephan Leblanc, Phil Sanderson, Brendon Doran, Jeff Gilbert, Mike Hobbins, Cam Woods, Josh Wasson, Stephen Hoar and Watson
Toronto plans to narrow down their roster over the next weekend when they play Colorado in a pre-season game. They will also scrimmage vs Buffalo and Minnesota.
As a whole, Toronto has not had an as noticeable off-season as Boston and Rochester. And while they may have taken a step forward, Toronto has not taken a step back, and will compete with them every step of the way.