Features · Lacrosse

NLL: Hellyer and Hickey a dynamic duo for Rock

In a media scrum, you’d be hard-pressed not to notice that both Rob Hellyer and Brett Hickey of the Toronto Rock have expressive brown eyes, both sets of which contained frustration after their last game on December 16th, a 17-9 loss to the Saskatchewan Rush. But that’s about the only physical similarity you could pinpoint. Hellyer is blond; Hickey has brown hair. Hellyer is 5’8; Hickey is 6’2. Hellyer is soft-spoken while Hickey makes himself heard.

None of those physical facts matter, especially since the Rock find themselves in an 0-2 hole to start the season. What matters is the on-floor play of Hellyer and Hickey, teammates who have established themselves as reliable, exciting forwards who work well together up front. In that respect, the two teammates are very similar. They’re friends. Peas-in-a-pod. Bros, if you will.

“What you see on the floor is what you get off the floor with us,” smiled Hellyer on the pair’s friendship. “We have great chemistry and we play well together and off the floor it’s the exact same.”

What fans of the NLL’s only Ontario franchise see on the floor is two dynamic righty forwards who combined for 171 points in 2015 (90 for Hellyer and 81 for Hickey), and would have been on track to replicate those results had injuries not derailed their seasons. Hickey missed time in 2016 while Hellyer missed all of the 2017 season.

Hellyer led the Rock in scoring in 2016 with a career-high 45 goals, 68 assists and 113 points. Hickey finished second in points in 2017 with 45 goals and 32 assists for 77 points behind then-newcomer Tom Schreiber.

Hellyer and Hickey are in tune with each other’s play. They know where the other will be positioned on the floor. Their play on the floor is partly due to the friendship they share off it.

“We live quite far apart from each other but we’re always texting back and forth, talking lacrosse and talking about how we can improve and how we can get better,” said Hickey.

They not only play together in the NLL, but are also teammates on the Oakville Rock. That Rock team is part of Major Series Lacrosse, the senior branch of the Canadian Lacrosse Association. Jamie Dawick owns both the NLL and MSL Rock teams, and the summer Rock play out of his Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville.

Hellyer missed Toronto’s entire 2017 season after tearing his ACL in the 2016 summer season in a June 27 game against the Cobourg Kodiaks, a game in which he contributed a goal and three assists.

The resulting surgery and rehab meant that Hickey had to step up in Hellyer’s absence.

Hickey improved his offensive output over the 2016 season by 1.7 points per game. His injury in 2016 hampered his consistency so upping his PPG from 2.8 to 4.5 was a big factor in the team’s run to the NLL semi-finals. He proved himself as one of the team’s offensive leaders with 77 points, but he’s glad to have Hellyer back, and is hoping they can both stay healthy for the duration of the season.

“Having Robbie back brings another element to our team,” Hickey said. “Robbie’s a dynamic player that the opposition has to worry about and he brings a lot of attention to himself which opens up other guys on the team.”

Hellyer returned to action this past summer with Oakville and helped them in their playoff run, finishing fifth on the team in scoring with 34 points despite only appearing in half their games. He also added eight points in five games in a tough semi-final series against Six Nations. That series showed that his knee is completely healed.

“Mentally and physically (playing in the MSL) helped me a lot,” he said. “My knee was strong but mentally I needed to get out of my head and realize that I was okay… I don’t even [think about the injury] now with Toronto so it helped a lot.”

The Toronto Rock have had some early season woes, starting 0-2 losing 13-9 and 17-9 to Buffalo and Saskatchewan, respectively, so they’re looking for the dynamic duo to get the team back on track this Saturday as they host the Bandits.

“That relationship from winter into the summer allows us to really know what each other is thinking and each other’s tendencies,” Hickey explained. “Hopefully with the other [forwards] we can pull it together and put up a number on the 30th. We only put up nine goals in two contests so there’s a lot to be improved.”

Hellyer has two goals and four assists so far, while Hickey has three goals and four assists.

The duo said that the addition of Adam Jones on the left side will help balance the offense. Hellyer also has to adjust to playing with rookie of the year Tom Schreiber since he was unable to in 2017.

“Having Jonesy there just extends the opposition’s defense,” said Hickey. “He’s a fantastic player and you guys will see the success sooner rather than later.”

“There are some growing pains but it’ll come,” said Hellyer. “It’s going to be a long season. There are 16 more games left. I’m just trying to get used to the guys again and get back out there with a few new faces. We just have to keep playing well and working hard.”