Toronto Rock: 3 reasons they are back in the Playoffs

Jul 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The roof at the Rogers Centre is open to expose the CN Tower prior to the start of an MLB game between the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 6, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The roof at the Rogers Centre is open to expose the CN Tower prior to the start of an MLB game between the Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports /

Get ready for some more playoff action! The Toronto Rock are back in the postseason, but first, let’s take a look at what got them to this point.

After finishing 5-13 in 2016, it would have been easy to write off the Toronto Rock going into this season. The team lost top scorer Rob Hellyer to an ACL injury suffered in the summer, as well as legends Colin Doyle and Josh Sanderson to retirement.

With Sanderson transitioning into a front office role, he and General Manager Jamie Dawick went to work on rebuilding the Rock roster.

Several moves were made, and the Rock had a new dynamic to them. One that Rock fans weren’t entirely used to. But this overhaul of the roster ultimately helped the six-time champions regain their spot in the NLL playoffs.

Here’s a look at the three biggest factors in the Rock’s turnaround year:

1) Building through the draft

Now, this is common practice in the NLL. Free agency is usually pretty scarce, with many of the top talents electing to re-sign with their teams. So teams look to gather up as many picks as possible to select pro-ready players through the draft to fill their roster.

Although the Rock were hit by retirements, they had the second overall pick in the 2016 NLL Entry Draft. They selected Challen Rogers, a big bodied defender from Stony Brook University.

They followed up that pick by taking 18-year old Latrell Harris from St. Catherines in the second round, and Jordan Magnuson from Coquitlam in the third. All three of these defenders have added a jolt of energy to the roster and provided a better transition game. Magnuson was the first of the three to open his scoring account, which didn’t take long:

The biggest surprise so far has been Harris, who is the youngest player in the league. He sits fourth in scoring among Rock defenders with 13 points, and second in loose balls with 109. In the Rock’s final game against the Buffalo Bandits, Harris scored a hat-trick:

Rogers has been great on defence, but was placed on injured reserve before the last game of the year. It’s still unclear whether or not he will play in the Rock’s first playoff game.

Nevertheless, the Rock had defence on their mind in the 2016 draft and added several key contributors to their roster as a result.

2) Low risk, high reward free agent signings

Because of the Rock’s focus on defence at the draft, they still had holes to fill up front. They started with the signings of field lacrosse stars Tom Schreiber and Keiran McArdle.

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The two Americans had never played box lacrosse before, but had great track records in Major League Lacrosse (The pro field lacrosse league). In 2016, Schreiber was the MLL MVP, while McArdle led his team in scoring and was a 2016 All-Star.

Schreiber led the team in scoring this season with 94 points, which was good for eighth in league scoring. McArdle has appeared in all but four games for the Rock.

The team also added Mike MacDonald, a second-year player from Princeton. He played six games for the Rock in a platoon role, swapping out with McArdle during the season.

MacDonald was placed on the practice roster in favour of Reid Reinholdt, another free agent signee. Reinholdt has earned the nickname “Mr Fourth Quarter” from announcers, as nine of his 20 goals have come in the final frame. His most impressive game came against the division leading Georgia Swarm, where he scored the game-tying goal and the overtime winner:

3) The emergence of Nick Rose

Now, this is somewhat of a confusing statement, considering Rose was a goalie of the year candidate last season, but he has improved tenfold since then.

In the past, he relied on his positioning to make saves. This season, he has become better with lateral movement and moving with the shot out of the stick. Rose finished this season with the league’s best goals against average (10.82), and save percentage (.774), besting fellow GOTY candidates Dillon Ward, and Aaron Bold.

Although the improved Rock defence has been playing well in front of Rose, the big goalie has been stellar at making stops during key points in games. Oh, and he sits 14th in team scoring with 10 points, including two empty-net goals. He needs to be on for the Rock to make it far in the playoffs.

Next: Josh Sanderson follows in his Father's footsteps

The Rock went from last in the East to the second seed in just a year. Their playoff journey starts on Saturday in the East Semi-Finals against the New England Black Wolves.