2021-22 PREVIEW: Toronto Rock

Buffalo Bandits @ Toronto Rock, Feb. 9, 2020. (Photo credit: Anna Taylor)

When the NLL season kicks off this weekend, the Toronto Rock will return to the floor with a new home, and some new faces.  

The biggest change, of course, is a return to the city of their birth. Sort of. The Ontario Raiders joined the NLL in 1998 and played one season at then Copps Coliseum before moving down the QEW in 1999 to become the Toronto Rock, playing at Maple Leaf Gardens. When Scotiabank Arena opened in 2004 (then, Air Canada Centre) the Rock moved in along with the Maple Leafs and Raptors.  

The Rock’s move was surprising. Not surprising was that fans had mixed reactions. Fans east of Toronto felt shunned. Some fans in or close to the downtown core felt the longer train ride would be too much, even for a Saturday. Hamilton had their own reservations, saying they would never support a team named ‘Toronto.’  

Credit the public relations department, however, which has begun to branding the city, including a new alternate jersey to debut December 18th featuring classic Hamilton black and yellow, an homage to both the TiCats and Bulldogs, and a rebranded Rock shoulder logo. Season tickets memberships are renamed the “Rock Builders Club.” The team announced this week a shuttle bus from the GO Station direct to the arena. If these strategies work or not will only be seen at the box office. It better work, because the new lease agreement is for five years.  

In true Toronto Rock fashion, there are few surprises on the final roster. “Newly” acquired (if July 6th, 2020 can be considered ‘new’) Jason Noble and Mitch deSnoo will add to an already veteran heavy defensive corps. Returning from a nearly season-long injury is Latrell Harris, who brings a transition mindset to the floor. Almost any of the Rock’s defenders can take off at any time, making them a formidable force.  

Pair that with an offence that only lost Johnny Powless, who was playing second line minutes, and it is a scary team. It has always been a righty-heavy offense, which is still the case boasting names like Rob Hellyer, Dan Dawson and Tom Schreiber. Reid Reinholdt provides size on the left side of the crease, and Dan Craig should represent the other lefty. However, Zach Manns had a strong showing in 2020 and Jamie Dilks and Justin Scott should get a chance to show their worth as well. Adam Jones was not listed on the Rock’s roster.  

Goaltending has rarely been an area of concern for the Rock since their inception. The team went almost directly from Hall-of-Fame goaltender Bob Watson to Nick Rose. He joined the team in 2012, and is about to start his 10th season in Toronto. He’ll be backed up by Riley Hutchcraft for the third season in a row, while Troy Holowchuk was named to the practice roster.   

If there is an area of concern for the Rock, it was at the faceoff dot. Drafting TD Ierlan was supposed to fix that, and probably will. However, after he was injured during the PLL season, Ierlan will begin the year on the PUP list. Toronto finished 10th in the league in 2020 in faceoff percentage winning just 40.4%.