November 5, 2017 - National Lacrosse League (NLL) - Toronto Rock
Oakville, ON - The Toronto Rock opened training camp on Friday night at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre (TRAC) in Oakville, ON with 12 forwards, 16 defenders and 3 goaltenders competing for a total of 20 active roster spots.
When balancing the books up front, the loss of veteran forward Kasey Beirnes was evened out by the return of star forward Rob Hellyer. That left the Rock with Tom Schreiber, Brett Hickey, Dan Lintner and Phil Caputo competing for either three or four spots, depending on the lineup on a given night, on the righty side of the offence. The depth also led the Rock to sign just one free agent righty forward in Seth Laidlaw to come in and try to unseat one of the mainstays.
So, the math is pretty simple. The Rock currently have an abundance of right handed shooting forwards that are NLL ready. The situation led the Rock coaching staff to think outside the box and perhaps re-assign one of their assets.
Rock head coach Matt Sawyer identified Caputo during his junior lacrosse career with the Brampton Excelsiors as a player that might be able to play in different roles, citing his compete level, skill and athleticism as traits that would make him a versatile pro.
"We consider Phil a lacrosse player," said Sawyer. "We talked to Phil about this possibility last year from the time he signed with us. Phil wants to be in our lineup in any way possible and from our conversations, I know he shares our excitement and the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in him. We think he's going take advantage of this opportunity and excel."
Selected in the third round (28th overall) of the 2015 NLL Draft by New England, Caputo spent all but one game of his rookie season on the practice roster with the Black Wolves. After going through New England training camp last December, Caputo turned down a return to the practice roster with the Black Wolves. When the door opened in Toronto, the 23-year old from Brampton, ON jumped at the chance to sign with the team he grew up watching at Air Canada Centre. Appearing in six games, Caputo scored six goals and added two assists, all as a forward in 2017 with the Rock.
This past off-season, Caputo was a free agent after finishing the 2017 campaign on the Rock's practice roster and despite several offers to play elsewhere, Toronto is where he wanted to be.
"There were other opportunities but Toronto is always where I wanted to be," said Caputo. "You see the depth we have up front, so I knew the situation. I am ready to take on a new challenge and come out the back door. I feel really comfortable after last season. I'm now in a different role now but I still want to contribute by pushing the ball in transition."
The timing seems to be right for the Rock and Caputo. On the defensive side of things, the team will be without veteran Rob Marshall who recently retired and a pair of veterans who are unrestricted free agents in Jeff Gilbert and Patrick Merrill. Add to that, the one-year sabbatical that Jesse Gamble has chosen to take due to personal commitments and there are some holes to fill on the Rock back end.
"We have a need with some of the retirements and Gamble's commitments," explained Sawyer. "This is something we're asking Phil to do right now. Long term, things will be dictated by how we perform as a team and how Phil performs in his role. We like Phil a lot as a player, whether it's in a defensive or offensive role. We are confident he can help our team, no matter what we ask of him."
This type of position change isn't completely unheard of in the NLL. A lot of highly skilled offensive players coming out of the junior or college ranks are often asked to play out of position at the start of their careers. With limited roster spots available at the pro level, many an NLL career has begun this way and blossomed in future years as the pages of the calendar turn.
So, with one day of training camp in the books, how does Phil Caputo like his new role as a defender?
"I got more and more comfortable as things went on," expressed Caputo. "D coach Bruce Codd is a good coach and really guided me through things. I'll lean on the veteran guys like Brodie (Merrill) and Chappy (Sandy Chapman); they were also a big help out there. They are always communicating and that's one of the biggest things on defence."
Toronto Rock training camp continues with a 10 a.m. practice session on Sunday at the TRAC, followed by another two-hour on-floor session on Tuesday night at 8 p.m. The Rock will play the first of three exhibition games on Saturday, November 11 against the Saskatchewan Rush at the TRAC at 7 p.m. There is no charge for admission, but a reminder that seating is limited, so please arrive early to guarantee yourself a seat.
2017-18 Season Tickets are on sale now. Please visit torontorock.com/tickets or call 416-596-3075 to purchase or for more information.