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Rock ready to face the Gaits

by Campbell Blake
April 4, 2002 - National Lacrosse League (NLL)

After a well-deserved weekend off, it is now time for the Toronto Rock to get back into the swing of things. In their National Lacrosse League semi-final match up this weekend they will face the offensive-minded Washington Power. During the regular season they played one another twice, each winning at home. Standing in the way of the Rock's pursuit of a third championship in four years are two of the most dominant players the game of has seen, twin brothers Paul and Gary Gait. For the Rock to have any chance of beating the Power, Toronto will have to play a strong defensive game that will leave the Twin Gaits cold in their tracks.

"They (the Gaits) are going to score some goals. It is just a matter of keeping them to a quieter night than most," said Toronto Rock head coach Les Bartley. "We are going to have to be at our best. We need to stay out of the penalty box and capitalize on our opportunities in their offensive zone."

The Rock has an experienced team that includes Steve Toll, Colin Doyle, Jim Veltman and Pat Coyle and one of the league's best goaltenders in Bob Watson, This group is so impressive that recently they were all selected to play in the upcoming NLL all-star game. While the Rock has some newcomers, including the very impressive Blaine Manning, the veterans still have a bad taste in their mouths from last year's defeat to Philadelphia in the championship. They want to go out and beat the Power this weekend so they can draw one step closer to washing that taste out and, more importantly, being that much closer to winning it all.

"A majority of the guys want to be back on the top. I can sense that with our veterans around the team," said Bartley. "Most of our guys have won championships, they know what it's like, they know what it takes and they really just lead the rest of the group down that road."

One thing the Rock have going for them is home field advantage, and for Toronto that is very important. They were 8-0 this season at home while playing in front of crowds that in excess of 17,000 at times. On the other hand, Washington's attendance was so dismal that they played their opening round game in Philadelphia even though they were the higher seed.

"When you play in front of a big crowd, it gives you a seventh man out there," said Bartley. "When you get the momentum, they help you keep it, and when you get down a little bit they help you find your legs sometimes."

When it comes to offense, Toronto's chances of advancing hinge on the play of Doyle and Kim Squire. They are masters of pick plays to set up goals from just outside the crease, and if they can beat Washington goalie Devin Dalep, the Rock will be playing for a third title in four years next weekend.

Emotions will be running high for the Power as one half of the Gait duo, Paul, will be retiring at season's end. Washington will come at Toronto firing on all cylinders with the hope of helping one of their biggest stars finish on top.

To the glee of the Rock, though, there is a chance Paul Gait might have already played his swan song match, that being the Power's win in Philadelphia last weekend. According to reports, Paul Gait injured his hamstring in the game against the Wings and might not be available for action on Friday night.

"I do know he was injured last weekend, how severe it is hard to say," said Bartley. "We are going to prepare as if he is going to be here but if not that is a bonus for us."

Right from the start of the season, the goal the Rock set for itself was to get back to the championship game and win it to make up for the disappointment they suffered last year. Though they find themselves just one step away from fulfilling that goal, they cannot take the Power too lightly with such stars as the Gait brothers leading the way. With Doyle, Veltman, Squires and Watson all ready to go, the Rock could permanently black out the Power.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central.

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National Lacrosse League Stories from April 4, 2002

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s), and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts or opinions of OurSports Central or its staff.

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