NLL: Rock shore up at faceoff in 2020 draft

Yale’s TD Ierlan wins a faceoff. Yale @ Villanova, Feb. 15, 2020. (Photo credit: Laura Kupsey)

The Toronto Rock entered Thursday night’s draft with the fewest picks of all the teams. Arguably, they had the fewest holes to fill. General Manager Jamie Dawick ended up trading a future pick as the Rock added six young players to their ranks.

It was a long wait for the first pick, 30th overall. With it the Rock made a somewhat surprising pick in TD Ierlan from Yale. On the surface, it was off the board since Ierlan was not talked about beforehand and didn’t appear in any mock drafts. However, if the Rock roster did have a hole this season, it was at the faceoff circle.

While the Rock ranked 11th in the NLL in faceoff attempts (275), they finished the season 10th in faceoff win percentage (40.4%). The top two teams in the league – Halifax (78%) and Philadelphia (72.9%) – boast two top, full-time faceoff specialists in Jake Withers and Trevor Baptiste. Eight different Rock players took at least one draw this season, with Brad Kri leading the way at 65/131, an option the Rock have stated they want to stay away from due to previous leg injuries.

All of a sudden, the selection of Ierlan makes sense. He will return to Yale for a final season, but already holds the NCAA Division I records for faceoff wins all-time (1,159), in a season (393), in a tournament game (31) and faceoff percentage in a game (26 for 26). His final season is an interesting one due to new faceoff rules banning ‘motorcycle grip’ and forcing players in a ‘standing’ position (no knee down) – rule changes which mimic those of the NLL procedure. How he adapts to the new rules, and whether he turns into the next Withers or Baptiste remains to be seen, but even if Ierlan comes close, it’s an extra weapon that makes the Rock look more dangerous.

Ierlan won’t play for a year, and he comes with no box experience. He is probably the face-off man of the future, but for now, the Rock used their final pick to select Daniel Balawejder. He brings a tough defensive style, and the ability to take draws to training camp (over 100 faceoff wins in every full season, and 33 through five games before the stoppage at Canisius). It’s a long shot for Balawejder to make the main roster, but a proven ability in these areas will give him a good look.

It just wouldn’t be draft day without the Toronto Rock selecting at least one Orangeville Northman. Dawick continued the trend, selecting three players with Hornhead connections – Chris Weier (62nd overall), Curtis Romanchych (67th overall) and Scott Del Zotto (77th overall).

Weier and Romanchych have a personal connection with Rock assistant coach Bruce Codd, who guided them to a 2019 Minto Cup Championship. Weier fits the athletic, defensive/transition style of head coach Matt Sawyer, while Romanchych is a gritty, stay at home defender. Toronto’s 106 goals against (in 11 games) this season ranked third best in the league behind New England (103 in 11 games) and Saskatchewan (93 in 10 games). Their established defense, paired with the off-season additions of Mitch de Snoo and Jason Noble will make it hard for these two to crack the lineup, but, next to Ierlan, they are the best shot.

Del Zotto played three of his five junior seasons in Orangeville, finishing his career with Kitchener-Waterloo and Burlington. His best season came with KW in 2018 when he scored 32 goals. Shifting to Burlington in 2019, his personal stats took a dip as he shared time with Ryan Lanchbury, Jason Knox and Matt Anderson. While size in lacrosse matters less in lacrosse than other sports, Del Zotto’s 5’7”, 170lb frame is undersized (compared to how much has been said about Teat’s ‘smaller’ 5’10”/150). Expect Del Zotto to compete for a practice roster spot in camp.

Finally, the first ever Oakville Buzz Junior A player was selected in the 2020 draft. The Rock sent their third pick next year to Georgia for the right to claim Phil Mazzuca. Another transition defender, Mazzuca played minimal Junior B games before splitting a Junior A career between Burlington and Oakville. In addition to all the Minto Cup Champions listed above, Mazzuca brings back-to-back Baggataway Cup rings with the Western Mustangs.

Dawick waited patiently before making a selection Thursday night. His team is expected to challenge for a championship every year, and in this draft six players bring championship experience and youthful defensive energy that fit the Matt Sawyer style, while filling a glaring hole at the faceoff circle. Watch out for the Toronto Rock.