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Rock's Gamble paying dividends

02/13/2013, 11:30am EST
By Justin Millerson, Rock beat writer for NLL.com

Transition player has been key part of Toronto's fast start

Toronto Rock transition player Jesse Gamble has made a huge impact on the team in just his second NLL season. (Photo: Richard Olson)

After the faceoff, the ball trickles towards the boards and a scrum ensues. The ball rolls graciously while three runners are jostling for possession. In swoops Toronto Rock transition player Jesse Gamble, who snatches the loose ball, outraces everyone while sprinting towards the opponent's goal, and scores.

This was Gamble's first loose ball recorded against the Minnesota Swarm on Jan. 25, a game in which he recorded a season-high nine loose balls on the night.

“I love being on the faceoff team,” said Gamble, currently in his second season with the Rock. “For that play, I got off the line quick and picked up the loose ball."

The transition position is not a common title among team sports, but in lacrosse, the players bestowed this role could be argued to be some of the most important men on the floor. This is no different for Gamble. The 25-year-old from Rockwood, Ontario receives plenty of praise from his coaches and teammates for the job he's done since breaking into the NLL just a season ago.

“We are more than pleased with what Jesse has done for us this year and in my opinion, of all the young guys we've brought on board, he's surpassed what we expected at this time in his career,” said Toronto Rock general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson earlier this month. “He's arguably been our best guy at the back end.”

A transition player, in the words of Gamble, is a runner who is given the responsibility to control loose balls in the defensive and neutral zones to start an offensive push. The transition player, after picking up the loose ball, can run the floor, headman the ball, or dish it to a nearby teammate.

Gamble's first shifts as a transition player can be traced back to his junior career when he played for the Orangeville Northmen, an Ontario Jr. A team in a town with rich lacrosse tradition. Once playing the role of an offensive player, Gamble had to relinquish the title of scorer and embrace the title he holds today – a process he has welcomed with open arms.

“In my first year of junior, I was a straight-up offensive player,” Gamble said. “But with that talent we had on the team, we totally changed to a [transition] team where everyone ran up the floor and we had such success with that. It was something that worked and something I was good at.”

Gamble played collegiately at Cornell University and was drafted by Toronto in the second round (17th overall) of the 2011 NLL Entry Draft.

"Just having a chance to play for the Rock is a dream come true," Gamble told Cornell's website after the draft. "When I was younger, I spent my savings on Rock season tickets to be at the games."

Just like a playmaker has the assist, or a shooter has the goal, the transition player carries their own measuring stick of success, the usually hard-earned loose ball. Through seven games, Gamble has picked up 39 of them, which has him on pace for a solid total of 89 loose balls this season. Last season, he finished with a modest 55 LB's in 13 games.

In his second season with 20 NLL games under his belt, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Gamble acknowledged that his play has improved from his rookie season, but also indicated he's not quite where he wants to be as a pro. Past the first-season jitters, Gamble said he can now focus on being a more consistent force in the league.

“This year, I'm trying to have the mentality of being an impact player and try to bring more to the table,” he said. “I need to work on being a reliable defender. Consistency is my number one goal.”

With a 5-2 record to start the 2013 season, the Rock are enjoying one of their hottest starts in franchise history. Reasons often cited include the solid goaltending from Nick Rose, the balanced attack offensively, and strong team defense. But Gamble feels that transition has been a major key to Toronto’s early-season success.

“In general, we are focusing a lot on our transition game,” he said. “I think we’ve really meshed."

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