Toronto Rock 2018-19 Season Preview: Defence, goaltending, practice roster

Heading into the 2018-19 campaign, the Toronto Rock are looking different on defence.

Rock veteran Sandy Chapman recently announced his retirement after 17 seasons. Without Chapman, who was one of their most reliable defenders, and Brodie Merrill, who left for San Diego in free agency, the Rock are left with holes to fill on the back end.

Additionally, veteran goaltender Brandon Miller retired in the offseason, leaving the Rock with a new and fairly young backup.

Toronto has some promising pieces who took major steps last season. But with more responsibility, 2018-19 will be their sink-or-swim moment. The Rock’s back end should provide fans with some flash and dash in transition while being able to stand up to the physical tasks on the defensive side of the ball.

Challen Rogers

What more can be said about Rogers? He finished seventh on the Rock in scoring last season with 15 goals and 29 points in 16 games and

This summer, the 24-year-old won the Jim Murphy Trophy as the regular season MVP in Major Series Lacrosse. Rogers had 32 points in 13 games while playing transition for Oakville. In the playoffs, he posted eight goals and 22 points across 12 contests while helping Oakville to its first-ever appearance in the MSL finals.

Rogers had an equally impressive 2018 NLL campaign, posting 15 goals and 29 points – both tops amongst defenders – in 16 games. Despite his impressive output, he finished as a runner-up for the NLL Transition Player of the Year to Joey Cupido of the Colorado Mammoth.

He comes into 2019 as one of the Rock’s most important pieces on defence. The second overall pick from 2016 has a very real chance to be the league’s transition player of the year when the season is said and done. He’s good enough to play up front for the Rock, however, his defensive ability makes him a can’t-miss player on the Rock. 2019 looks to be his coming-out party as one of the best defenders in the NLL.

Latrell Harris

Harris came into the NLL in 2017 as an 18-year-old. He proved to be a physical force in his teens, and he’s only gotten stronger over the past two years.

He has accumulated over 100 loose balls in each of his first two seasons. In his rookie year, he finished with 109 – which was second-best on the Rock behind only Brodie Merrill. Last year, he finished with 104 loose balls.

This past summer, Harris didn’t play summer ball in the senior circuit, electing instead to play out his year in junior A with the St. Catherines Athletics. He finished with three goals and 14 points in 18 games.

Harris can get out in transition, but isn’t the most lethal in the offensive end. Instead, he focuses on defence, where he’s a beast. Last season, Harris finished tied for the league lead in caused turnovers with 34 – He still won’t turn 21 until nearly the end of the 2019 campaign.

From his rookie year onward, he has taken on some of the top offensive weapons from opposing teams. He’s only going to get better, and with more responsibility than ever in 2019, he’ll have the chance to, like Rogers, have a breakout campaign.

Damon Edwards

The 30-year-old is in the prime of his career, and with the departure of Chapman, he’s now the longest-tenured defender on the Rock.

Edwards missed the 2016 season due to a torn ACL, but he returned in 2017 with a vengeance, finishing the year with eight goals and 15 points in 18 games. He also helped the Rock in the playoffs that year, scoring three goals in as many games during Toronto’s run to the East Division final.

Last season, Edwards had 13 points in 18 contests while nabbing 58 loose balls. Edwards can play against anyone. He’s an athletic, physical player who also has the ability to mix it up with the opposition. Expect him to be the top matchup defender for the Rock.

Sheldon Burns

A revelation for the Rock last season, Burns was an instant shot in the arm of the transition game upon his arrival in Toronto. After the first game of the season, he was acquired from the New England Black wolves in exchange for forward Stephan Leblanc.

He and Rogers created a dangerous duo for the Rock when pushing the ball up the floor. His eight goals came in quick succession with the Rock and the 22 points he finished with was second best among Rock defenders, just behind Rogers.

Burns has been a threat in transition since he entered the league – he usually finishes with around nine goals and 20 points a season – and is no slouch on defence either.

Brock Sorensen

The former second overall pick has been able to focus on the defensive aspects of his game with others contributing in transition. He’s generally good for at least 10 points a year, but watching his ability to run with the ball, it’s surprising that his career high in points is only 11.

Sorensen returned for a full slate of games in 2018. He tore his ACL at the tail end of the 2016 season and returned to play four games at the end of 2017. He had three goals and 10 points in 18 games last season while scooping up 81 loose balls. One of those goals undoubtedly was his best to date, as he dunked a ball in from behind the net against the New England Black Wolves.

He led the Rock in penalty minutes with 60 on the year. Standing at an imposing 6-foot-6, Sorensen is the biggest body on the floor the majority of the time. With a full slate of games under his belt after the latest injury, he should continue to be a steady contributor for the Rock out of the back door.

Creighton Reid

Fans love a player that helps their respective team win a championship, and Reid did just that. The veteran defender began his career with the Rock in 2010 and made the Champions Cup Final in his first two seasons in the NLL. In 2011, he captured his first championship with Toronto.

The following season, Reid was in Colorado, where he would spend the next six seasons of his career. He was moved to Calgary at the trade deadline in 2017 and played the entirety of last year in Cowtown.

He’s proven to have the ability to excel in transition. Reid holds a career shooting percentage of 17 – 22 goals on 88 shots. He failed to register a goal last year with the Roughnecks, but had four assists, 48 loose balls, and nine caused turnovers in 15 contests.

The Rock were able to come to terms on a one-year agreement with the 31-year-old in September.

He will bring some much-needed veteran experience to a younger Rock defence. He was a key addition to the team in the offseason and should prove his value fairly quickly.

Brad Kri

Kri was originally a second-round pick of the Rock back in 2012, but he didn’t make his NLL debut with Toronto.

After sitting on the practice roster for the entirety of 2013, Kri left to play for the Vancouver Stealth. After two seasons out west, he returned to Toronto, where he has carved out a role as a faceoff specialist and a playmaker on defence.

Kri won 53 percent of his faceoffs in 2018 – he held the third best percentage in the entire league – and also led the Rock in loose balls with 135. He also finished with 32 caused turnovers, good for second on the team.

Bill Hostrawser

The Bruiser on the Rock defence, Hostrawser already has one fight from the preseason under his belt.

While Hostrawser cut his penalty minutes down to just 14 in 2017, it took a spike to 43 last season. Still, he was way under his 2015 and 2016 totals of 90 and 85, respectively.

He’s figured out his game and he’s usually able to play on the edge without going over it. Hostrawser also grabbed 109 loose balls and caused 14 turnovers last year.

Hostawser is another body who can take on top competition. He isn’t afraid to mix it up and loves to get in the faces of opposing forwards. He’s a pest on the defensive end, and that’s what makes him such an important member of the Rock.

Alec Tulett

The fresh face on the Rock defence, Tulett was originally drafted by the Rock in the fourth round of the 2017 NLL Draft.

He elected to sit out the 2018 NLL season while he played in Major League Lacrosse with the Florida Launch. As was the case with fellow 2017 draftee Dan Craig, Tulett had not played a game of box lacrosse for several years leading into the draft.

At Brown University, Tulett stood out immediately, becoming a starter as a freshman. In his collegiate career, he received Second Team USILA All-American, All-New England, and two First Team All-Ivy honours.

Tulett is an athlete who will instantly add speed and size to the Rock defence. He was a faceoff wing with Brown, so he will likely be part of the faceoff unit for Toronto this season. He stands at 6-foot-3, so add another large body to the Rock’s back end.

Adam Jay / Brandon Slade

Both individuals were on the Rock’s practice roster last season.

While Jay didn’t feature in any games, Slade made three appearances last year, nabbing 12 loose balls in the process.

Toronto has two open practice roster spots heading into the first week of the season. With the shortened training camp, it could be a case where the pair will get an extended look in the first few games of the season. If need be, the Rock can stash either on the practice roster, but they’ll get a chance to open the campaign.

Both Jay and Slade paid their dues last year and deserve to get a look with the Rock in 2018-19. Hopefully, they can showcase themselves enough to stick around on the main squad.

Jordan Magnuson

Magnuson posted three points and 31 loose balls with four caused turnovers for the Rock in 2017-18 while winning 57 of 147 draws (36.7%).

He will start the season on injured reserve after suffering an upper-body injury in training camp.

Goalies

Nick Rose

If there’s one constant for the Rock, it’s No. 66 in between the pipes. Rose has become the Rock’s go-to man in the crease over the past two seasons.

In 2015, Rose conceded his spot as veteran Brandon Miller assumed the starters role for the team.  The following season, Rose’s minutes started to increase, and now, he’s played over 1,000 minutes in each of the past two seasons.

Rose had an 8-9 record with an 11.63 goals-against average and a .767 save percentage – which were fifth and eighth amongst eligible goaltenders, respectively.

With Miller retiring in the offseason, Rose will now be the unquestioned starter for most, if not all, of the Rock’s games this season.

Riley Hutchcraft

With the retirement of Miller, Hutchcraft now assumes the role of backup for the Rock.

The 2017 third-round pick of the Rock spent the majority of last season on the practice roster, but made three appearances during the 2018 campaign. Hutchcraft played 15 minutes and stopped 11 of 15 shots in an appearance against Vancouver where the Rock led big.

He likely won’t see much time in the crease this season. With Rose playing the majority of games – including most back to backs – The 21-year-old will have more time to learn while backing up the veteran this year.

He’ll also have the chance to get direct help from Miller, who was hired as the Rock’s goaltending coach after his retirement.

Practice Roster

The Rock only have two players on the practice roster as 2018 fourth-rounder AJ Kluck was moved to the holdout list – he was originally the third member of the practice roster.

Mitch Gustavsen

It’s difficult to crack an NLL roster – even the practice squad – as a pick outside of the third round. With just nine teams, jobs are hard to secure in the NLL. Gustavsen made the practice roster after being taken 68th overall by Toronto in the final round of the 2018 draft.

The man affectionately referred to as the Gus Bus by teammates, Gustavsen was the captain of the Toronto Beaches junior A., this past summer. He played under New England Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark throughout his tenure with the Beaches – the Black Wolves had their last selection two picks after the Rock took Gustavsen, so there’s a chance that he would’ve gone there had Toronto not taken him.

He finished with eight goals and 16 points in 20 games. He also led the entire junior circuit in penalty minutes with 108.

Gustavsen is a heart and soul guy that teams love to have but hate to play against. He may get an opportunity to play in games, but as one of the youngest bodies on the roster, this campaign would be the perfect chance for him to learn and grow his game with more tutelage from NLL coaches.

Brad Lyons

Lyons was the Rock’s first pick of the draft at 24th overall. He finished with six points in 19 games for the Peterborough Lakers junior A.

He made the decision to forego his NCAA eligibility and enter the NLL draft as a 19-year-old. As a result, he has some time to develop as a player. The Rock made a similar move by drafting Harris in 2016 when he was only 18 years old. He was a higher pick in the draft, however.

It looks as though Toronto is willing to take their time in developing the young talent. At 6-foot-1, 185 lbs, when Lyons fills out, he can be a beast on the floor in the future

Lyons’ last impression on a lacrosse floor was his brilliant performance at the World Junior Lacrosse Championship in Saskatoon, when he scored 3 goals and 2 assists while providing smart and bruising defensive play. He reminds me a bit of another defender who came out of the Jr Lakers early a few years ago. If Lyons can develop into the kind of player that Nick Weiss has become, the Knighthawks should be very happy, and I think Lyons has the very real potential to do so. – Stepehn Stamp, Inside Lacrosse

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