Toronto Rock goaltender Nick Rose has thrived as a starter after arriving in Toronto via trade last season. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
For Toronto Rock goaltender Nick Rose, his first National Lacrosse League starting job wasn't an easy one. His task was to try and fill the shoes of Bob Watson – one of all-time great NLL goalies – a player synonymous with the position and team.
When the six-time champion and NLL Hall of Fame inductee Watson retired on top after winning the Champion’s Cup with the Rock in 2011, Toronto was left with an empty net that would be difficult, if not impossible, to fill.
After a short stint with veteran goaltender Matt Roik in 2012, Toronto traded for Rose, a 23-year-old career backup goalie at the time.
The deal between the Rock and Calgary Roughnecks in March of 2012 brought Rose and a conditional second-round draft pick to Toronto in exchange for a first-round draft pick in 2014. Rose wasted no time proving himself as a capable NLL starter, winning his first three starts with Toronto, allowing just 24 goals with a strong .804 save percentage.
“It was so hectic,” Rose told the Toronto Star in mid-January. “I didn’t really have time to think about Watson, or anything,”
“I definitely had the nerves going before those first games,” Rose added in the article. “But I think nerves are a good thing, it shows it means something to you.”
Those first three games meant something to the Rock last year. Before Rose's three-game win streak, Toronto had fallen near the bottom of the East Division with a 4-6 record. For any hope for a postseason birth , the Rock needed a steady netminder, one who could help lead a surge in the second half. And Rose did just that.
“When you have support from people, you don’t want to disappoint them,” Rose told the Star. “So you put in a little extra effort. It’s incredible the support they've shown [me] since Day One. It’s changed my career. It’s given me the confidence to get my game going.”
In six regular season starts in 2012, Rose won five of them. The run catapulted the Rock atop the East Division with a 9-7 record heading into the playoffs.
Could Rose be an NLL starter? At season's end with a 6-1 record, that question was undisputedly answered. But heading into his first playoff appearance against the Buffalo Bandits, a long-time rival with Toronto, another one could be asked. How would Rose handle the pressure in the playoffs?
“Nothing seems to bother this kid and we think we got a good one here,” said Rock general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson in an early-January NLL conference call.
In his first career playoff start, the Orangeville, Ontario native, a place known for lacrosse, allowed just seven goals on 42 shots against Buffalo en route to a first-round Division Semifinal victory.
But one week later, Rose's good fortune sunk along with Toronto's hopes for a seventh NLL title as the Rock lost to the Rochester Knighthawks by a score of 17-13 in the East Division Final. Rose allowed 14 goals on 36 shots and posted a subpar .611 save percentage.
“[The loss] definitely hurts,” said Rose after the game. “The better team won.”
When asked if the loss would effect him down the road, Rose said “I think I have a better makeup than that.”
With a new season comes a new chance at a championship, another five month journey in which teammates and coaches will rely on one another to achieve a common goal.
According to Sanderson, the Rock will have no problem relying on Rose.
“He had a great junior career, he's coming of an outstanding [offseason] and we expect him to go in there and handle things the way he did last year,” said Sanderson on the conference call.
The Rock started their 2013 season with back-to-back games against the Roughnecks and the Edmonton Rush in Week #2. Toronto won both those games with help from Rose, who allowed just 20 goals on a staggering 109 shots over the weekend. The NLL honored Rose for the performance by awarding him Defensive Player of the Week.
“I was feeling fairly confident, I felt our defense gave me the shots we want to give up and I think we executed [how we wanted to] defensively,” said Rose after the win.
In Week #3 against the Philadelphia Wings, Rose had another solid game by only allowing eight goals on 56 shots. Unfortunately for Rose and the Rock, Philadelphia's Drew Westervelt spoiled Rose's good performance and scored the game-winning goal with just 10.6 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
In another back-to-back weekend in Week #4, the Rock again swept their opponents by earning victories against the Minnesota Swarm and the Knighthawks.
As Toronto's 2013 record sits at 4-1, Rose carries an strong 9-2 career regular season record as an NLL starter with a solid .783 save percentage.
Of course, it's too early to tell if Rose could ever emulate Watson's success – his 15 steady years in the NLL, six championship rings and Hall of Fame enshrinement.
But Rose does appear to be on his way to achieving excellence in the NLL. One would have to believe that the Rock could live with that.