NLL: Rock get younger and faster at draft

The Toronto Rock will look a little different in 2017. After a disappointing 2016 season, the team has vowed to get younger and faster, and their first steps toward doing so came at the draft in September on their home turf at the TRAC.

Toronto got faster with the addition of Challen Rogers, a 22-year-old transition player from Coquitlam.

“There were obviously a lot of good players at the draft and I was just excited to be drafted,” Rogers said. “It’s a dream come true, especially going to Toronto.”

After a five-year Jr. A career with the Adanacs, Rogers was drafted into the MSL by the Oakville Rock, where he spent the 2016 summer season. Toronto loves to develop their players in the summer and try to hold on to as many as possible. Rogers had a pretty good idea the Rock would keep him in their organization.

“They talked to me little bit [throughout the summer],” he said. “I have a good relationship with (general manager) Jamie Dawick from playing in Oakville so we talked a little bit. I learned a lot from him and Josh Sanderson. They’re great guys, and great leaders. I learned the world from them and I can’t wait to obviously learn more.”

Rogers had been highly touted coming into the MSL. His junior career saw him tally 86 points in 60 games over four years. He was the BCLA’s rookie of the year in 2012 and its top graduating player in 2015.

He is also adept at the field game, being named a first team All-America East selection in 2013, 2014, and 2015 while playing for Stony Brook University. As a rookie with the Boston Cannons of the MLL in 2016, he saw action in 10 games scoring five goals and one assist. The field experience will surely help in the NLL.

“I feel like I can bring a lot of speed and transition to the Rock,” Rogers said. “During the summer (head coach) Matt Sawyer was telling me I had to shoot more so I’m sure I’ll be hearing that a little bit more.”

He’ll spend the next few weeks preparing for his first NLL training camp in late November.

“I’ll be getting back to the gym, getting back into shape again,” he said. “I took some time off (after the Rock’s summer season ended) just to give the body a rest. Playing in school non-stop and then playing the whole summer until late August has taken a toll on my body so just getting back to the gym and starting to work out will help.”

The Rock also got younger, taking 18-year-old defenseman Latrell Harris at 12th overall.

“I wasn’t really expecting it but now that it’s happened I just have to go out there and show what I can do,” Harris said, “and then hopefully they’ll like that and I can get a spot on the roster.”

There is some uncertainty surrounding Harris due only to his young age – he hasn’t even graduated high school. He is foregoing an NCAA career to try his luck at the NLL early, although he was at one point considering attending High Point University in North Carolina. Because he is so young, he may have to spend a couple of seasons on the practice roster but the time will serve him well to find his game at the elite level.

An Ontario native from St. Catharines, Harris was beyond excited to be drafted by the Rock, the team he grew up cheering for.

“Oh man, being the hometown and now it’s come true and I can hopefully play up here. That’d be the goal, that’d be the thing to do,” he marveled after the Rock selected him in the second round.

He had spoken to the Rock briefly and knew he was on their radar but had no confirmation that they would be taking him, especially so early. Mock drafts placed him no higher than 24th.

Harris attended Everest Academy, a private school in Vaughn, Ontario, where he excelled in a dedicated lacrosse program. He’s currently finishing his last year of high school at Denis Morris in St. Catharines. In the summers, he suits up for the Jr. A St. Catharines Athletics. In four years he has scored 13 goals and 29 assists for 42 points on the back end of a perennially contending team. The Rock will also appreciate his discipline – 31 penalty minutes over 45 games is excellent for a defender.

“I’ll do everything I can to make the roster,” he said. “I’ll work out a lot more than I [usually do] because I’ll be playing with older and bigger guys. They’ll be stronger and bigger and faster and smarter.”

The Rock drafted Jordan Magnuson from Coquitlam 23rd, Jackson Hulbert from the Burlington Chiefs at 42, and Jamie McMahon from the Orangeville Northmen at 50.

In addition to their draft picks, they also signed a whack of free agents, including forwards Matt Crough from the Cobourg Kodiaks, Reid Reinholdt from the senior Adanacs, and Mikey MacDonald, who previously played for the New England Black Wolves. Defenders signed were Eric Shewell from the Peterborough Lakers, Brodie Tutton from Courtice, and Jayson Crawford, who last played for the Barrie Blizzard of Clax.

The Rock also added three American field players in Connor Buczek, Tom Schreiber, and Kieran McArdle.

The Rock’s dedication to upgrading their roster will be revealed when training camp begins November 26 as veterans and rookies will be equally competing for spots as they look to build the best roster possible.