2022 will be the year that will forever change how we perceive the professional lacrosse career of Nick Rose, even if he and the Toronto Rock don’t win the NLL Cup.
By the end of this season, Rose, a 13-year NLL veteran, will, in all likelihood, catapult his way into the top-10 all-time ranks of each of the most respected goaltending statistical categories.
He has already secured the 7th-most wins by a goaltender in league history (70), and Rose is also nearing Aaron Bold for the 10th-most saves of all-time – he trails by 205 stops – and is 259 minutes from passing Matt Disher for the 10th-most minutes played.
If Rose hits all of those marks, he will be one of seven goaltenders who will hold a place in the top-10 in each of the lists mentioned above.
It would be no surprise to Matt Sawyer, Rose’s head coach, or any of his Rock teammates if he reached those heights. The 33-year-old netminder has embodied the spirit of a focused, dedicated and fundamentally sound athlete every game.
“He’s consistent,” Sawyer said. “Even when Nick might have an off night, he’s still always focused on giving his team an opportunity to win. That’s a big part of who he is; his emotions never run too hot or too cold, but he’s an intense competitor.”
Even dating back to some of his earliest days in the league, Rose has been a consummate professional, always showing up and always being ready to better his teammates and himself.
When Rose was the third-string goaltender for the Boston Blazers during his first couple years in the league in 2009 and 2010 – the team’s two other goaltenders were Anthony Cosmo and Mike Poulin – he was always willing to step in between the pipes at practice so teammates could get a few extra shots on net.
Dan Dawson, who was his teammate then, and is, coincidentally, his teammate now, remembers how selfless Rose was to put himself in the line of fire. Dawson noted that for an aspiring young goaltender who is the back-up to the back-up, it is crucial to take every opportunity possible to hone your skills.
“This guy would never complain about us taking shots at him, and he was always the last one to leave the floor,” Dawson said. “When you’re a goalie like that in his position, it allows you to develop; it’s one of the only ways to develop.”
Rose’s mentality has grown and transformed over the years, but his core principles are those of a winner, even according to Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tsu. Tsu wrote of similar principles in his storied military guide The Art of War around 1,400 years before Rose was born.
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
Yet, despite his accolades and achievements as a professional lacrosse player, the most significant accomplishment that has evaded Rose and his teams is winning an NLL Championship.
In 2015, Rose and the Rock came close to winning a championship. They made it to the finals but were stopped by the Saskatchewan Rush, who were just beginning their dominant run in the NLL.
Damon Edwards, Rose’s teammate on the Rock from 2012-2020, reminisced about the finals run and how difficult it was to go up against such a strong Rush side.
“We ran into a team that was starting a dynasty over there,” Edwards said. “But, that 2015 [Rock] team was one of the best, and closest, teams I’ve ever been on.”
Edwards is no longer with the Rock – he now plays for the New York Riptide – but he wishes that he, Rose and the Rock could have shared that particular moment of hoisting the trophy in triumph after a long season. Especially now, since these friends are now opponents, if the Rock won a title, it would mean that the Riptide are not the champions.
“I would’ve given a lot win a championship for, and with him – he’s one of my best friends,” Edwards said. “I definitely think he’s one of the most deserving guys that hasn’t won a championship… I just hope, if and when he wins one, he doesn’t do it against my team.”
Rose and the Rock know better than most what it’s like facing a dynasty because, when Rose was a young boy, he grew up watching the Rock’s dynasty that won four championships and attended five straight NLL Finals from 1999-2003. Unfortunately, following that 2015 run, the Rock have not battled in the finals since.
It’s a sad reality for many athletes, including some of the best to ever play, to not win a championship especially when you’ve played for so many productive years. Rose is one of a handful of NLL all-stars who have played for at least 10 seasons and have never won a championship.
Other notable championship-less veterans in the NLL include Brodie Merrill, Callum Crawford, Ryan Benesch, Geoff Snider, and Rose’s goaltending coach, Brandon Miller.
But it’s hard to knock Rose or any of the guys on that list for not winning a title. In fact, each of those men mentioned above will likely be on the shortlist of nominees or selections into the NLL Hall of Fame someday.
The Rock have never doubted Rose and his ability. When they traded for Rose from the Calgary Roughnecks in 2012, they knew he would play a pivotal role on this team. For Rose, who was initially cut by the Rock shortly after they drafted him and was then not the top guy in Boston for three years, this would be his time to shine.
“When the Rock named me the starter right away, that gave me the boost of confidence I needed,” Rose said. “Knowing that I was going to be the guy in net put my feet to the fire and forced me to take the reins.”
Rose has paid the Rock back with dozens of incredible performances and a winning attitude. No one questions what he’s capable of. But for Rose, winning a championship for and with the Rock is the ultimate goal.
“I’m as hungry for a championship as I was when I first got drafted,” Rose said. “That doesn’t change just because we haven’t been able to get it done yet. It’s championship or bust every year, especially when you play for a team like the Rock.”
At 33-years-old, Rose has many years ahead of him and hopes to play until he’s 40 – Dawson (40) and Matt Vinc, goaltender for the Buffalo Bandits (39) is showing Rose that it’s possible to do that.
A championship will not define Nick Rose. He is still in the prime of his career and has already accomplished more than the vast majority of goaltenders to ever step foot on an NLL floor.
Soon, he’ll have the stats to show how great he’s been, and no one will stop him from continuing to be the best he can be – one of the top goaltenders to play the game.