I don’t know how many times I have written about the Toronto Rock this season, but it has been far more often than any other team in the National Lacrosse League. Toronto, now 0-6 following a Valentine’s Day matinee loss at New England, seems to have a new issue every week.
Josh Sanderson made his return to an NLL floor when he suited up for the Rock on Sunday and picked up four points, three of them assists. Stephan LeBlanc had eight points and Rob Hellyer nine. With 16 goals in total, the Rock offense isn’t anemic as it had been early on.
Giving up 17 goals against any team, however, is a problem. Toronto’s 85 goals allowed are the second most in the East, behind the 93 allowed from Georgia who has played seven games. Colorado in the West has played eight games and allowed 90, just five more than the Rock.
Defense aside, Toronto is still an older roster and injured. Sanderson is back, but that’s another veteran who was considering retirement as of two weeks ago. The leading scorer on the Toronto roster is tied for eighth in the league and it is Hellyer, one of the younger players on the team. The next leading scorer is LeBlanc, tied for 19th, and then the Rock fall out of the top 25.
Kasey Biernes, a reliable veteran scorer, has been held to six points in five games. Brett Hickey, who scored 50 goals a year ago, has 11 in six games. Toronto needs to get younger on defense and more reliable on offense to get back into contention.
In a nine team league, it is difficult to acquire talent through trades as it is, and Toronto is in the predicament of every Ontario player wants to play there. Draft picks may not be the way to go since Toronto doesn’t have many for the next few seasons. Interesting talent on some practice rosters includes Swarm defenseman Jordan Houtby, New England’s Zac Reid, Rochester’s Derek Searle, and Colorado’s Jamie Lincoln.
There has been one major trade this NLL season, and it occurred on Friday when the Rochester Knighthawks sent Jordan Hall to New England in exchange for Quinn Powless and defenseman Mike Manley.
Hall, interestingly enough, was starting his second stint with the Black Wolves. He was traded to Rochester before the 2014 NLL draft in September of that year where he has played until this past Sunday.
In his New England debut, Hall scored once and added three assists. Rochester played on Friday night and did not have enough time for the new players to suit up.
Along with Sanderson making his NLL return for Toronto, Vancouver Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards made his 2016 debut after coming out of retirement. Richards relieved Eric Penney in the game against Rochester for 28 seconds. Richards did not face a single shot, but as of now appears to be the backup for good for the Stealth, and with the way Penney has struggled this season, should see more time.
Richards retired because of concussion concerns, so the return is surprising as it is. If he gets any more playing time, it bears watching if he becomes the starter.