It’s been quite a year for Josh Sanderson, and it’s only half over.
The 39 year old Orangeville native, one of the best to ever play, earlier this year announced his playing retirement from the NLL. Since then, he has accepted a position as assistant general manager with the Toronto Rock, and this month was named to the NLL’s Hall of Fame.
Sanderson was drafted 16th overall in 1997 by the Rochester Knighthawks and started his pro career soon after. He played for six teams over his career. His accomplishments are well known; he spent the majority of his 19 year NLL career with the Toronto Rock, amassing 1357 regular season points and 100 playoff points. He has won two Minto Cups, three Mann Cups, and two Champions Cups, to say nothing of the number of individual awards he has racked up, including scoring titles and MVP awards. The call to the hall is just the latest in a long, successful career.
“I got the call from the commissioner and I was obviously very excited and honoured. To be going in with JT and Tracey is pretty special. I’m very happy and I’m looking forward to it,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson won the HOF nomination in his first year on the ballot. He will be part of the class with Tracey Kelusky and John Tavares. His induction comes just a year after his late father, Terry, was inducted.
“It’s going to be very good to be in there beside [my dad], so that makes it extra special,” he smiled.
Terry passed away in November 2014 after a brief illness. The lacrosse world mourned his early loss for a long time, with the Rock dedicating their 2015 season to their late GM. Josh led the league in scoring for much of that season, eventually finishing sixth but setting a record for most assists in one season with 83.
Following that season Sanderson considered retirement as he felt his body needed more time to heal. He took two months off but saw that the Rock were struggling with an 0-6 record. Because he is the consummate leader, he worked his way back to game shape to help settle the team down. The Rock missed the playoffs but really rallied around each other after Shooter’s return.
After the season ended Sanderson retired officially and will now follow in his father’s footsteps on the management side of lacrosse.
“I was hoping to come back and give Toronto a bit of a spark and get on a run and make playoffs,” he said of the 2015 season. “I’m glad I came back but it also made me realize that it’s time to hang them up. I got off to a decent start and by the end of the year I just couldn’t play at the level I wanted. I’m glad I got to play one more year but there won’t be anymore. It was just time. I know when I can’t do what I used to be able to do and play at the level I want that it’s time to start doing something else.”
About a week after he announced his retirement, Sanderson met with Toronto Rock GM Jamie Dawick, and was subsequently named the new assistant GM. Sanderson is also the GM of Major Series Lacrosse’s Oakville Rock, a team also owned by Dawick and which shares the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville.
The MSL is a summer league, a fun league, but a competitive one to be sure. The experience he has gained already with the Oakville Rock will help ease the transition to the professional game management position.
“I’ll be working with Jamie a bit and getting some experience and trying to help the team win in a different aspect other than being on the floor. I’m excited and fortunate to have the opportunity to stay in the league. I’m looking forward to still being part of the team. A lot of people once they retire don’t have the opportunity to stay involved. I love being part of the organization and obviously I want to learn and get better and work hard and help the team win a championship.”
Sanderson has two championships under his belt as a player, both of which he said are his favourite lacrosse memories; with Toronto in 2005 and Calgary in 2009. Both wins he shared with his father; Terry was coach and GM of the Rock in 2005 and an assistant coach with Calgary in 2009. He was also with Josh for a stint in Philadelphia and a second run in Toronto.
Sanderson said his father was his number one supporter and the most influential person in his life.
“He coached me a lot growing up and helped me a lot in the NLL and was always there for me, so he’d be number one,” he said. “My whole family has always been supportive. The reason I’m going to the hall of fame is because of support from my dad, uncles, cousins, and my entire family so I’m very fortunate that way.”
Family is what drives Sanderson and it is what drove his father. The Sanderson name is known throughout the lacrosse world, and in Orangeville in particular, because of the their commitment to the sport and their commitment to family. The family owns Sanderson’s Source for Sports and many family members have worked there over the years.
Josh will stay involved in minor lacrosse with his kids; he has four, and they all play lacrosse. He coaches them like his father once coached him.
“This year I coached peewees and novices and now my daughter’s getting involved so I’ll be busy coaching kids,” he said.