The pressures of Toronto sports don't stop at the Maple Leafs; pro athletes in Hogtown face magnified expectations, and failure breeds serious repercussions.
It's no different in the National Lacrosse League, where despite — or possibly because of — a track record of exceptionalism, the Toronto Rock face an almost-daily challenge to prove their worth on the floor and in Toronto's crowded sports market.
It's in that context that Monday's release of starting goaltender Matt Roik and the trade for youngster Nick Rose makes the most sense. Other teams in the NLL that miss the playoffs spout platitudes about "next year"; when the Rock falters, coaches get fired and stars get traded.
That doesn't make it any easier for Roik, a journeyman who came back to Toronto in the off-season to replace hall-of-famer Bob Watson. Six weeks ago, Roik was an All-Star; now he's unemployed, thanks to a dreadful skid that saw Toronto lose four of five at home to fall to last place in the East. Roik told Eh Game he would have liked a chance to right the ship with the Rock.
"This is a move that the organization felt that they had to make, and one that I wish they would allow me the opportunity to get in the trenches with the rest of gentlemen in that room. There is a lot of character and pride in that room, and it would have been an excellent journey to travel through with them in the next couple of weeks."
While the challenge of replacing Watson was probably unreasonable, Roik said he embraced the chance to try.
"Bob Watson was ultimately one of the best goaltenders to play the position, I'm sure the lacrosse world knows that, as I am very aware of it. But what I enjoy the most of the position is the importance of it. You can't get by playing average or mediocre. The goaltender has to play well every night. I like that. I enjoy knowing that you have to be at your best to be successful. It was a great challenge and I enjoyed trying to put the naysayers to rest."
Roik said if anything, the coaching staff did everything they could to eliminate the Watson effect. He thinks there's still a gutsy team in the Rock dressing room that can turn things around.
"This team knows how to handle adversity, and this is just another building block in the season for them. They're a positive bunch, that will persevere and find a way to battle through this low point in the season. There is a lot of lacrosse left this year, and I wish them all the best."
With Roik gone, the Rock now turn to an unproven, yet familiar option. Nick Rose hails from Orangeville, ON, where he led the Northmen to two Minto Cups as Canada junior 'A' champions. He enters a Rock dressing room that holds old Northmen teammates like Damon Edwards, Jesse Gamble and Glen Bryan, and former Boston Blazers teammates Josh Sanderson and Jamie Rooney, to name a few. Rose told Eh Game the familiarity will hopefully make a difference.
"Fortunately I'm going to a group of guys that I know pretty well for the most part and that I have played with before so the comfortability factor will help me out a little bit. It's going to be huge I think. Whenever you have a chance to go to a group of guys that you have nothing but respect for, it gives you extra motivation to not let them down. It's going to be a blast playing with guys I've battled with before."
Like Roik before him, Rose is an Ontario native who moved west. He lives in Coquitlam, where he plays his summer ball, but is moving back to Orangeville for the balance of the NLL season. He's currently sorting all that out, so he hasn't had the chance to talk to Rock general manager Terry Sanderson much about what's expected of him. But Rose understands that he's stepping into a pressure cooker.
"Obviously it is a high pressure situation to come into, but this is the NLL; you need to be ready at all times for your opportunity. I can't really focus too much on what has happened the past 10 games for this team; I need to focus on taking the next 6 games, game by game. We're going to put up a fight, that's for sure."
So Rose now steps into the limelight, with a starting job his for the taking, on the greatest stage of all. It usually takes a long time for goalies to mature, to progress to the point where they can face the world's best players, in front of crowds unseen anywhere else in the sport, with different rules and bigger nets and jobs on the line. But Rose thinks he's ready for life in the spotlight of Toronto.
"Well I'm a big believer in the quote 'there will never be a better place than here, and there will never be a better time than now.' I've been around the NLL long enough now and had the chance to learn from some great goltenders in Anthony Cosmo & Mike Poulin that I think I have the right mental state right now. Us goalies are wired a little differently; we wouldn't be playing our position if we didn't like a bit of pressure. I'm just excited to get things rolling."
For more lacrosse coverage, follow Andrew McKay on Twitter: @apmckay