After 19 seasons, Toronto Rock forward, and future NLL hall of famer, Josh Sanderson is retiring from the National Lacrosse League leaving behind an incredible legacy as one of the game’s all-time greats.
To say Josh Sanderson was one of the NLL’s all-time greats might be selling him short. The man they called ‘Shooter’ was never the biggest or fastest guy on the floor but there were few players who were smarter or had a bigger heart, making him a one-of-a-kind player we may not see the likes of again, anytime soon.
“I know I can’t play at the level I want to anymore and that’s why I’m choosing to retire,” said the 39-year old Sanderson. “My teammates and competing each week is what I’ll miss the most. I have so many great memories because of the great people I played with and the friendships I made along the way. I’m truly thankful for the opportunities this game has given me.”
Toronto Rock owner, president and general manager Jamie Dawick had a close bond with one of the best leaders in team history.
“I’m happy and proud and honoured that he played his last game wearing a Rock uniform,” expressed Dawick. “Josh is going to be missed in that dressing room. A great player on the floor and a great leader and from what I’ve heard from everyone who ever played with him, one of the greatest teammates of all-time.”
Sanderson flirted with retirement prior to the beginning of the 2016 NLL season when he stepped away during training camp to contemplate his lacrosse future. After missing the first five games of the season, Sanderson returned to the Rock lineup on February 14 and posted a goal and four assists in a 17-16 overtime loss to the New England Black Wolves. A week later at Air Canada Centre against the Buffalo Bandits, he scored once and setup six others to lead the Rock to their first win of the season. Sanderson finished the 2016 season with 42 points in 11 games.
The Orangeville, Ontario native finished his career in fourth place in all-time league scoring with 1357 points (449 goals and 908 assists) in 268 regular season games played. The only players with more points in their careers are John Tavares, John Grant Jr. and Rock teammate Colin Doyle.
With two career stops in Toronto as well as stints in Rochester, Albany, Boston and Calgary, Sanderson had the chance to play for his father Terry Sanderson on four different occasions.
“I’m lucky to have had those chances, he always showed a ton of confidence in me,” explained Sanderson. “Playing for my dad put more pressure on me. We had a great relationship on and off the floor. He always had the confidence to trade for me, hoping I would play well. Playing for him really helped me.”
Originally selected in the second round of the 1997 NLL Draft by the Rochester Knighthawks, Sanderson played just two seasons in a limited role before moving on to Albany. It was while playing with the Attack that Sanderson established himself as an NLL superstar and led his team to a 2002 NLL finals appearance, losing to the Toronto Rock.
“I had great teammates and it was a great group in Albany. It was a really fun time and I started getting a lot of confidence,” said Sanderson. “The 2002 finals was a tough loss and not getting a chance to win with that group is probably the one regret of my career. I learned how tough it is to win a championship; I really would have loved to win with that group. I got to play with my cousins Ryan and Phil Sanderson and so many lifelong friends. My time in Albany was special to me.”
He didn’t have to wait long to win his first NLL championship. He was traded to Toronto prior to the 2005 season, and became a part of arguably the best offensive group in NLL history. Doyle, Blaine Manning and Sanderson all surpassed the 100-point plateau en route to winning the team’s fifth Champion’s Cup in just seven seasons.
“One of the most special years of my career, winning with so many friends, it was a really fun year,” said Sanderson. “The championship game in Toronto was one of the most memorable games of my career. The atmosphere at the ACC was something I had never experienced. We had a really smart front door and really good chemistry almost right away. It was a smart, really good team offence.”
His first run in Toronto would end during the 2008 season when he was dealt to Calgary and reunited with his dad who was the assistant coach with the Roughnecks.
“The trade to Calgary was a shocker but it was one of my favourite parts of my career,” said Sanderson who went on to win his second championship in 2009 with the Roughnecks. “We had good chemistry by 2009 and it was also a really fun group.”
In 2011, Sanderson found himself in Boston suiting up for the Blazers but following that season the team would fold. Josh’s dad once again pulled off a trade with Minnesota, who had selected Josh in dispersal draft, to bring him back to Toronto for a second time.
“It was great playing for the Toronto Rock a second time,” said Sanderson. “It’s a great organization and really nice playing my last years in Toronto.
“One of my fondest memories is our first game in Rochester last season,” remarked Sanderson who at the time was playing his first game since the passing of his father Terry. “It was our first regular season game and we won 13-12. I got the game ball and shared some pretty special moments with my teammates.”
Close personal friend Matt Sawyer coached Josh in Boston and has also been an assistant coach during his two stints in Toronto with the Rock.
“He was a fierce competitor. The way he competed and the fact he hated to lose was what set him apart and made it impossible for his teammates not to follow,” said Sawyer.
“I loved playing for 19 years and I loved being part of the NLL, it’s a great league. I want to thank the coaches, trainers and my teammates for everything. Thanks to Brad Bannister in Calgary and Jamie Dawick in Toronto who treated me with a lot of respect and were first class all the way. I especially want to thank my mom, dad, sister, my wife Lindsay and my four children Cameron, Ashley, Dylan and Owen for all their support.”