By Matt Cullen/NLL.com Correspondent
Photo – Micheline V/Rochester Knighthawks
This isn’t the first time that 12-year veteran Brodie Merrill has been named captain of an NLL franchise.
In fact, it’s the third.
Also serving as captain for the Edmonton Rush and Philadelphia Wings in past years, the Toronto Rock transition player has more than enough leadership experience to draw from.
But for the Orangeville, Ontario native, being named captain of the team he grew up idolizing, it’s a lot more special.
“I’m honored by being named captain,” Merrill told NLL.com. Obviously growing up in the Toronto area as a lacrosse player and cheering for the Toronto Rock, it’s definitely a little surreal to be in this position.”
Orangeville, an hour-and-a-half drive from Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, is a hub for producing strong Lacrosse players, including Brodie and his brother Patrick.
Patrick, a 14-year-veteran and long-time assistant captain, is also with the Rock but will start the season on the injured reserve.
“He’s been a mentor to me,” Brodie said of his older brother. “He’s really helped and encouraged me.”
The younger Merrill brother will take over as team captain from long-time leader Colin Doyle, who retired in November after 19 seasons.
“He left a really strong legacy in terms of his game and production,” Merrill said of the former captain. “He’s known as a tremendous leader.”
“For me, there is no substitute for time and experience,” Merrill added on his new role. “It makes it a little extra special for me…coming from a guy like Colin – a guy that I’ve really looked up to for a long time.”
Merrill certainly has big shoes to fill after Doyle, who captained the Rock for the past seven seasons. The Kitchener, Ont., native is the franchise leader in games played (266) and is the all-time leader in points (1,384). He also registered 144 points in 34 playoff games while winning six championships with the Rock. The team will retire his No. 7 on March 11.
But the former captain and long-time friend believes there is no better candidate to take over the job.
“He’s a pretty perfect choice,” Doyle said of Merrill. “They don’t come much better than Brodie. If you are looking for an argument here, you aren’t going to get it. He’s a constant professional.”
When pressed on whether he passed on any words of wisdom to the new captain, Doyle didn’t mince his words.
“No advice at all,” Doyle clearly stated. “I messaged him to congratulate him to say that I was happy for him [but] no advice. He knows what he is doing. I don’t believe in giving advice to people who have earned the right to be the captain of the team.”
After a disappointing 5-13 campaign last season, which saw the Rock miss the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and just the third time in history, there are many new faces on the team this year.
In fact, eight of the 18 players that took the floor in the season-opening 12-5 win in Rochester on Dec. 29 are in their first or second year in the NLL.
For Merrill, providing leadership to the team’s young players is key to success.
“Leading by example,” Merrill emphasized. “Well done is always better than well said.”
“I want to be inclusive and to make [the new players] feel like they belong and that they are part of it,” he continued. “Be a teammate and try and provide some pointers. Encourage them to be themselves and encourage them to approach things with a level of confidence.”
“Our new guys belong and they can make a really positive impact on the team.”
‘AN EASY CHOICE’
First-year Rock head coach Matt Sawyer couldn’t agree more.
“We’re really comfortable with the mix that we have,” Sawyer explained to NLL.com. “A lot has been made about the new guys on the team or the lack of experience. We didn’t take them because they were young or because we wanted to get new blood in there. They made this team based on that they were the best players.”
In terms of leadership, Sawyer acknowledged that choosing Merrill as the team’s next captain was an “easy choice,” but he is also counting on veteran leaders Stephan Leblanc and Sandy Chapman to provide support.
“[Helping the new players] doesn’t just fall on [Merrill’s] shoulders,” Sawyer, also an Orangeville native, said. “He has two veteran assistant captains in Leblanc and Chapman. We’re looking at all of our returning veterans to show the new guys the way. The youth gives everyone a shot in the arm…a little bit of excitement, a little bit of the unknown.”
The Toronto Rock (1-0) play their home opener against the defending NLL champions, the Saskatchewan Rush on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 7 P.M. ET at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
The game is presented by Bell Let’s Talk and $1 from every single-game ticket sold will support the Canadian Mental Health Association (CHMA).
Rock owner Jamie Dawick will also match every dollar from ticket sales to the home opener. All proceeds will support local mental health programs.