Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Article 100 at The Voice: Nationals Win MLL Championship

The Toronto sports scene has witnessed its share of last place finishes in recent years and being home to all of the major sports leagues, one would think that eventually a championship would find its way to the city.

Canada’s largest city is home to the NHL, CFL, MLB, MLS, NBA, NLL, MLL and the occasional NFL game when the Buffalo Bills pay a visit once a year to the Rogers Centre. One thing all of the Toronto teams have in common is a growing disappointment among their fan base. The tide could slowly be turning, as this past weekend the Toronto Nationals won the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) championship trophy, defeating the Denver Outlaws 10-9. In honour of the victory, why not look at what has happened the past few years and the remarkable fact that every team in Toronto missed the playoffs last season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are the biggest attraction in Toronto and the Original 6 team has struggled since the NHL lockout in 2004. The Leafs have officially missed the playoffs for the past four seasons and fans are hoping Brian Burke is the GM that will lead them back to respectability. Their last playoff success came during the 2003-04 season when they advanced to the second round of the playoffs but lost to the Philadelphia Flyers. Since that time, the Leafs have watched the post-season from the sidelines and finished last in the NHL’s competitive Northeast Division for two consecutive years. Will the 2009-10 season be the year the Leafs return to the playoffs and compete for the Stanley Cup?

There is a sinking ship in Toronto and it is called the Argonauts. After a loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Division Final during the 2007 season, the Argos followed up their 11-7 first place finish with a 4-14 record in 2008. This year was supposed to be different, with a new coach and a new game plan, the Argos have started the year with two wins and five losses. A successful Toronto team in the CFL is essential for the league and the future of the team and the fans are holding out hope the Argos have a new game plan coming off their bye-week. Playoffs? It could be another year before they challenge for the Grey Cup.

O-K-Blue Jays, let’s play ball... just not in the post season. By far the hardest invite in all of sports, the Blue Jays have not qualified for the playoffs since they won back-to-back World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. The Jays used to be guaranteed a third place finish in the AL East, behind the Yankees and Red Sox but the up and coming Tampa Bay Rays have now relegated the Jays to a consistent fourth place finish. They did a masterful job of organizing a reunion of the World Series teams in August, playing the game of remember when we were good but fans have stayed away from the ballpark and proclaimed they will not return until management can deliver a winning team. Trouble is, the more fans that stay away, the less money goes into payroll. The Jays will not make the playoffs again this year or next and who knows where they will be in the standings by 2011?

The Raptors have made tremendous changes this off-season, trading and releasing most of their roster. With many new faces, fans are excited by the prospect of a winning season in 2009-2010. Their last NBA playoff appearance came in the 2007-08 season, where they lost in five games to the Orlando Magic. The Raptors came from out of nowhere to win their division in 2006-07 season and a Coach of the Year Award for Sam Mitchell. When they were supposed to be in the hunt for a title in the 2008-09 season, they failed miserably and Mitchell was fired after only 17 games. What will the upcoming season bring to Raptor fans? Well, they are expected to be better this year, so will they continue the city’s playoff drought... Time will tell...

Since 2007, MLS soccer has called Toronto home and Toronto FC has captured the hearts of soccer fans in the city. BMO Field is the place to be when TFC are in town and there is still a love affair between the city and the team, despite the lack of on-field success. In their expansion season, TFC finished last in the East and 13th overall in the league and followed up with another seventh place finish in the East but moved up to 12th overall. Expectations were high going into the team’s third season and the goal was a playoff position. At this point of the season, TFC has an 8-8-6 record and find themselves in a fight to achieve their goal. After a convincing home victory that moved them into third in the East, they travelled to the West coast and looked uninspired in a 2-0 loss to Chivas USA. With most of their remaining games on the road, TFC will see an improvement in their record but may yet again miss the playoffs.

Toronto is also the home of the National Lacrosse League’s Toronto Rock. Considered a dynasty as they won five of seven NLL championships from 1999 to 2005, the team has fallen out of contention and missed the playoffs two years in a row for the first time in the team’s history. With a new owner and management in place for the upcoming season, Rock fans are hoping the team can improve on their 7-9 and 6-10 records in the past two seasons. The next season of indoor lacrosse in the NLL begins in January 2010 and with a dedicated ownership group, they should once again return to the playoffs in the 11-team league.

Which brings us to Toronto’s only Champions, the Toronto Nationals. In their first season in Toronto, the former Rochester Rattlers took to the field at BMO Field and finished second in the 6-team league behind the Denver Outlaws with a 7-5 record. The Rattlers were league champions in 2008 and the winning continued in 2009 with their 10-9 victory over Denver. Scoring with 45 seconds left in the game to take the lead, Toronto won a key face-off and killed the clock to win the Steinfeld Cup for the first time as the Nationals. For those unfamiliar with the MLL, the other teams in the league are in Boston, Long Island, Washington and Chicago.

One of the key players on the Nationals is Kitchener-Waterloo native, Colin Doyle. A former Toronto Rock, Doyle was the NLL MVP in 2005 and playoff MVP in 1999, 2002 and 2005 with the Rock and he currently plays for the Washington Stealth in the indoor league. NLL insider.com ranked the top fifty players in that league and Doyle finished in the top spot and is considered one of the most versatile players in the sport. With the Rattlers and the Nationals in the outdoor league, Doyle has played in 30 MLL games and scored 30 goals while accumulating 92 total points. He has also represented Canada at the World Lacrosse Championship, held every four years, which Doyle and Team Canada won in 2006.

The Toronto winless streak has ended and who would have imagined it would be the Nationals bringing home a championship in their first year in the city. The win gives the team an important marketing tool as they look ahead to the 2010 season. The Nationals have done something no other professional Toronto team could accomplish - they made the playoffs! Have a great sports day everyone.

** Well, there it is folks, article number 100 here at The Voice of Sport... There will certainly be hundreds more over the coming years and I look forward to writing each one. There is nothing better then talking and writing about sports and I enjoy all of your emails and story requests - keep them coming! You keep reading and I’ll keep writing... Cheers for now - Andrew

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