The Edmonton Oilers in the 1980’s, the Bulls in the 1990’s, the New York Yankees in the 1990’s, The New England Patriots since the early 2000’s, the Toronto Rock at the turn of the millennia, and the Edmonton/Saskatchewan Rush over the last five seasons.
What do these teams have in common?
They were all dynasties in their respective sports that not only demolished the rest of their divisions and the league for longer than four seasons, they ultimately transformed the way the game was played, the way teams were built, and the way that fans perceived the sport.
In the NLL, Les Bartley’s Rock squads from 1999-2003 and Derek Keenan’s Rush squad from 2014-present have not only won their division in at least five consecutive seasons, they also represented their respected conferences in the NLL Finals – not the 2014 Rush – each year, winning the majority of the time they made it to Champion’s Cup. Their continued success in their time makes them the most legitimate dynasties in the league.
It would be hard to find a player on Les’ teams during that stretch that wouldn’t tell you how he revolutionized the game of box lacrosse. Dan Ladouceur was part of the Toronto Rock during the team’s remarkable stretch including after Bartley stepped down after the 2003 Champion’s Cup and the club went on to win a fifth Champions over seven years in 2005. He recalls the impact Les’ coaching adjustments made on the upstart club.
“Back then, we were on the cutting edge of things,” Ladouceur said. “We were probably one of the only teams to do video regularly every week. The coaching was great. But the biggest thing was keeping that core group of guys that Les Bartley and company kept together. Having that closeness lends itself to success year after year.”
No matter which sports dynasty you look at throughout history, there was always a core of talented players who had a tremendous comradery. Putting skills aside, which is hard to do when discussing dynasties, having a bond with guys who each player is familiar with year after year no doubtably raises that team’s level of play and thus begets further success, as shown with both the Rock and Rush.
“I always said that, in our days in Toronto,” Ladouceur remarked. “When we had to go to after parties or sign autographs for fans, it didn’t matter who you left the locker room with. It wasn’t like you’re waiting for a buddy; whoever you walked out with was your chum for the night. The next guy was just as comfortable with the guy beside him.”
That special bond those Rock players formed over the years that helped lead them to five straight division titles and four NLL Champion’s Cups from 1999-2003.
It would have been hard to conceive in the aftermath of that run – and their extended run until 2005 – that any team could replicate what the Rock did in that span. Yet, Derek Keenan, who was a player, assistant coach, and for a brief time in 2004, the head coach of those Rock teams, has been able to reconstruct many of the critical aspects of what they had in Toronto and has been able to reach similar, if not more impressive, heights.
Since 2014, the Rush have won the Western Division title, and since 2015, the Rush have represented the Western Conference In the Champion’s Cup.
Keenan, who has played the role of GM and head coach since joining the Rush in 2009, has found a way to bring in players who are not only extraordinary talents but men who also formed tight-knit friendships as the Rock had.