By Stephen Stamp | NLL.com Staff Writer
Last week we harkened back to Kaleb Toth’s championship winning goal with one second left in the National Lacrosse League title game of 2000. The goal wasn’t the end of an interesting story, though. There were other things going on that make the moment stand out for those involved. In today’s Part 2, we look at the scene after the goal was scored.
The bedlam in Maple Leaf Gardens wasn’t confined to the floor. “If you watch the video and they pan to the bench, our ownership group is pretty much on the bench with us and they’re down giving us hugs and screaming up and down,” says Doyle.
Bill Smith and the rest of the owners took advantage of a unique feature of the Maple Leaf Gardens’ bench setup to get up close and personal for the celebration. “If you had those seats in the first couple of rows you could walk to them from the underneath area right into your seat, literally right behind the bench,” says Doyle. “You’d have to ask [head coach] Les [Bartley] or Eddy or [assistant] Derek [Keenan] to move to get to your seat. If you were sitting front row, you could literally just reach down and pat a player on the head. It was insane.”
It was also intimate, and provided some interesting scenarios as the celebration erupted. “The funny thing is, one of my best friends, who went on to have a career himself, was sitting in the front row,” says Doyle. “You can see when we score you can see him jump up. Someone pointed that out to me many years down the road. Hey, that’s Phil [Weatherup]. He stands up and cheers.”
Not many people seemed to be aware, or perhaps more accurately to care, that there was still one order of business to be taken care of before the celebration could really be held. The final faceoff. Remember there was one second to play.
So the owners are on the bench, the players and fans are going nuts, and nothing else can really happen until the refs put the ball down at centre and blow play back in.
At least one man was aware of it. Bartley was renowned for his attention to detail and his focus on the next play. “And Les, of course, in his coaching philosophy was still trying to get the faceoff team out there to finish it off. It was a weird dynamic,” Doyle says of the seconds following Toth’s goal.
They did eventually get the faceoff held, although you wouldn’t know it from the television coverage. The TV didn’t get back to centre for it; they were too busy showing a replay of the Toronto bench.
Once that was over, it was time to present the Champions Cup to Rock captain Jim Veltman. You can see on the video that, once Veltman receives the trophy, he turns to show it to all of the fans in the Gardens and he takes a little hop as he does so. It’s a very little hop, and that is probably the moment when Veltman remembered that he had broken his foot earlier in the game.
“There was a loose ball and Curt Malawsky landed on the back of my ankle as I was behind our own net. I was moving the ball up the floor and I knew something was wrong,” Veltman recalls. “I kind of, not limped off the floor but I jogged off favouring my one ankle. Dave Murray taped me up. Then during halftime, he said I’m not going to take that tape off because if I do we won’t be able to get your shoe back on. After the game he said if something’s still not right you should go get it checked out and I had an x-ray done and I had a crack in my ankle bone. I managed to play because he just taped it up like a football ankle and I had one club foot during that game.”
After the fans had left and the building had quieted down, the Rock players got a special treat. “They allowed us to go to the Hot Stove Lounge, which was pretty neat. Our dressing room was nothing special, it was just a concrete room,” says Veltman, but the Hot Stove Lounge was one of the most famous rooms in Canadian sports history, having served as the hangout for the likes of King Clancy and other Maple Leafs legends.
“It was great. We had good connection through our ownership group,” Doyle says. “We got treated well afterward. You knew the building was being shut down afterward and it was just taking it all in. It was a really neat night.”
Rock goalie Bob Watson shared a story at his NLL Hall of Fame induction ceremony about going out to the middle of the floor after the building had mostly emptied out that night, laying on his back and staring at the famous Maple Leaf Gardens ceiling and just soaking it all in.
Toth believes the importance of that game spread well beyond Maple Leaf Gardens, though. “I think that game and those three years—1999, 2000 and 2001—really helped develop the National Lacrosse League, especially on the western front,” he says.
“Having so many good players on that Toronto team from the west I believe kind of opened everyone’s eyes to, hey maybe we should get a franchise going out there. That was way before Calgary, Edmonton, Portland, Anaheim. It was before all those,” Toth continues. “I know that Calgary was the first franchise to come in after that and then Colorado, so I think the three years that the Toronto Rock won the two championships and made it to the third championship and lost, I think it was huge for lacrosse in the west and huge for lacrosse in Canada.”
Those western players included Stroup, Pat Coyle and Chris Gill, who are now the coaching triumvirate for the Colorado Mammoth. There were more, like Rory Graham and Ryan O’Connor.
“Obviously some played different roles than others but I think there was a lot of western influence that I think opened up the commissioner’s eyes and he said, hey, we’ve got to get some franchises out west,” says Toth.
As much as Doyle remembers Les Bartley being focused on getting the post-goal faceoff taken care of, Toth has fond memories of Keenan [nicknamed Jammer]–now the head coach and GM of the two-time defending champion Saskatchewan Rush—being the same way.
“I didn’t see it happen until I watched the replay of the goal where it shows Bill Smith on the bench and he’s hugging everybody,” Toth says. “It’s funny because you look at Jammer and there’s not a smile on his face, he’s still dead serious about ‘come on guys, next play, next play.’ He’s still the exact same then as he is now as a coach. It’s good to see guys haven’t changed.”
While Toth enjoys his memories, it’s fair to say he gave thousands of other people a memory they’ll never forget, too, when he took that famous shot.