Toronto Rock 2014 NLL Preview: Building Toward a Deep Playoff Run

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Toronto Rock 2014 NLL Preview: Building Toward a Deep Playoff Run
B. White/Getty Images
The Rock will once again be competing to win a Champion's Cup.

The Toronto Rock finished the 2013 regular season with the best record in the NLL at 10-6, but it didn't translate into a seventh Champion's Cup. They were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Minnesota Swarm.

The first-round loss meant that head coach Troy Cordingley had only delivered one Champion's Cup in four years in Toronto, which is apparently not good enough for the organization. Shortly after being awarded the Les Bartley Award as the NLL's Coach of the Year, the Rock fired Cordingley, replacing him at the helm with John Lovell, who had been a Rock assistant coach for the previous four years.

On the floor, veteran forward Blaine Manning announced his retirement over the summer, shortening the Rock's depth up front. Prior to setting their final roster, the Rock also released forward Scott Evans. 

The good news is that Toronto still has good depth at the forward position.

Garrett Billings is coming off back-to-back 100-point seasons, making him one of the top five scorers in the NLL. Colin Doyle (84 points), Josh Sanderson (62 PTS), Stephan Leblanc (58 PTS) and Kasey Beirnes (31 goals, 54 PTS) round out a front five that are as good as anyone in the NLL. 

On transition, loose ball machine Jesse Gamble (108 LBs) is joined by first-round pick Ethan O'Connor. Gamble can turn the ball up the floor with the best of them, and O'Connor won the Rookie of the Year honors over the summer while playing for the Brampton Excelsiors of Major Series Lacrosse.

Toronto's defense is among the league's elite. The Rock gave up just 176 goals last year, the third fewest in the NLL. 

Sandy Chapman (65 LBs, 10 forced turnovers), Bill Greer (53 LBs, 12 FTs), Patrick Merrill (56 LBs), Rob Marshall (68 LBs) and Stephen Hoar (74 LBs) make up a deep, steady unit.

Goaltender Nick Rose was third in the NLL in goals-against average (10.61) and save percentage (.791) last year and does an excellent job of keeping opposition shooters at bay.

With only a couple tweaks, this is the same team that won the most games in the NLL just a year ago, making them the team to beat entering the 2014 season. Although they'll be challenged in an improved East Division, look for them at the top of the standings at the end of the schedule.

Their first test is on Friday, Jan 3, at 7:30 p.m. ET when they host the Calgary Roughnecks.

 

Follow me on Twitter @calgaryjimbo

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