Toronto hopes for home-crowd advantage again

There's no more seasoned arena in the National Lacrosse League for championship games than Toronto's Air Canada Centre. When the Toronto Rock and Wahington Stealth hit the floor on Sunday afternoon, it will be the third time the league's title has been decided at the ACC, and the fifth time overall in Toronto.

With live television audiences in Canada (TSN) and the U.S. (Versus), it's a good opportunity for the NLL to showcase its wares. And while home-floor advantage has been downplayed in NLL finals (the road team has won 11 of 24 titles ), it's hard to minimize the difference the home crowd makes in Toronto - where the Rock have won three of four title matchups (1999, 2000, 2005; lost in 2001).

It's not just that Toronto has been dominant at home this season (8-1 at the ACC); there's a different feel in the ACC than almost anywhere else when something's on the line.

The last time the NLL championship was decided in Toronto, the game drew a sellout crowd of over 19000 fans - the highest crowd in league history. Defender Patrick Merrill was part of the Rock squad that dropped Arizona 19-13 to take the franchise's fifth title. Speaking at a panel appearance on Saturday with other Rock players, Merrill reminisced about the atmosphere six years ago.

"It's unreal. I felt like we really fed off the energy of the fans. In the tunnel before the game, I thought I was really nervous and i was shaking; it turned out it was the floor from the fans waving flags and jumping."

Rock owner Jamie Dawick was at that game too - as a fan. One of his priorities when he bought the team in 2009 was to return the title game to toronto. He told the Toronto Star that he's never seen anything like that 2005 crowd.

I’ve been to tons of Leafs and Raptors games there since, and that day still stands out to me...I just remember how crazy it was in there and the support there was for the team. It was electric.

It's not just the electricity that helps the Rock at home, says Colin Doyle. He should know; he's been on all the Rock championship teams, and has been part of the team's visible media army this week as the players drum up support and ticket sales for the final.

Doyle said a big factor is the elimination of distractions. By making appearances and talking to the press all week, players are able to filter out the nuisances and stresses of everyday life, ensuring a week-long focus on the game in a way.

A big help, Doyle thinks, is the fact that Toronto's other teams just aren't very good. With the increased exposure and the Toronto sports media pushing the message of Toronto's only winning team, the championship game draws an unconventional crowd that's happy to egg the home team on to victory.

"There'll be 5,6,7000 fans in there Sunday that aren't lacrosse fans," Doyle said.

"They're fans that just want to see a championship in Toronto."

For more NLL Champion's Cup coverage all week, follow Andrew McKay on Twitter @apmckay

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