All of the Canadian teams in the National Lacrosse League have now hit the floor, as the Toronto Rock opened their season against the New England Blackwolves. The eastern conference matchup featured seven players who played Canadian University Lacrosse in the CUFLA. All but one team in the CUFLA are in Ontario, so Saturday night was a homecoming for many players, some of whom continue to attend Canadian schools.
Four players suited up for the visitors, while two hit the floor in Rock blue and red. That only equals six though, where was the other? Riley Hutchcraft took backup duties for the Rock, warming up but staying put on the bench for the rest of the night.
The game fell in favour of the visitors, but it was a good night for a couple of the CUFLA alums.
Nick Chaykowski of Trent University was formidable in his defensive efforts, letting no balls find their way into the scoops of the Rock. He picked up two loose balls in the first half and finished off with five in the whole game. He was also the only CUFLA alumnus to get on the scoresheet, scoring the Blackwolve’s empty-net goal to put the game to bed for New England.
Although that was a good job done from the Bradford native, it was no match to what Toronto’s Brandon Slade did in the first half.
Slade was all over the scoresheet in the first half, with a shot and picking up two loose balls. While his writable stats were one thing, his fight was on another level. Slade was easily the most physical player on the floor in the first half and never let up until the final buzzer. In the third quarter, he got into a tussle with Blackwolves forward Scott Leblanc but swiftly threw the New Englander to the ground.
On the offensive side of things, Latrell Harris was a force to be reckoned with. It’s a well-known fact that the former Brock Badger is one of the fastest guys on the Rock roster, but that did not stop him from tormenting the Blackwolves defence through the 60 minutes of play. In the third quarter, he received a pass from fellow CUFLA athlete Slade, and rushed through the restraining zone, and fired a shot on goal. It didn’t go in, but it was just a hint of what Harris could offer this season
Jackson Nishimura, formerly of the Guelph Gryphons did not have the game he was looking for. Before he was able to make an impact on the scoresheet, he was taken down by journeyman legend Dan “Dangerous” Dawson, who epitomized his nickname three minutes into the second quarter when he took a slash at the feet of Nishimura. The former Gryphon was ok, but did not return to the game; Dawson, on the other hand, netted himself a pair of goals.
Nishimura left the game and did not return, however, his status for the week ahead was not available after the game.
“It’s always a bit of an adjustment coming from the field to the box, but I’m used to it by now” said Toronto rock forward Brandon Slade, before going onto explain how the training camp is really what gets all the jitters out of him.
“Of course the level is a lot higher so that’s another part of the transition, but it’s always fun,” he said about the start of the NLL season after finishing a university season. Brock did not win the CUFLA championship in 2019, rather it fell into the hands of the Western University Mustangs once again; when asked about that “no comment” was all Slade had to say.
Nick rose, not a CUFLA alum was in between the pipes for the home team, but his role could very well be winding down at 31 years old. Speaking to Toronto head coach Matt Sawyer about the role of former Laurier Golden Hawk Riley Hutchcraft, he said “Hutchy is always good and we have no worries if he has to go in. He’s young and confident which is very good.” Whether his comments after game one will give Hutcraft more playing time is unknown, but they were promising.
It’s is still very early in the season and we are yet to see massive contributions on the scoresheet from the alumni, but their time will come eventually through the campaign. Even though they did not impact the score very much, they were certainly felt- especially through Nick Chaykowsky who was dominant defensively.
Both teams will now travel west for next week’s matchups, as the Blackwolves visit the Saskatchewan Rush and the Rock journey down south to take on the Seals on San Diego.
Cover Photo: Benjamin Steiner