Playoff Feature: Nick Rose

Nick Rose and the Toronto Rock are all too familiar with making the playoffs but not winning the championship. No one on this year’s Rock team knows more about that than Rose. He and his teammates hope to change that this season.

On March 16th, the Rock became the first team in the NLL to clinch a playoff spot in 2024. While the Rock lost to the Buffalo Bandits on this night, because the Philadelphia Wings defeated the Georgia Swarm, the Rock could still secure a postseason berth. On March 23rd, the Rock clinched a home playoff game in the first round of the 2024 NLL Playoffs after defeating the Halifax Thunderbirds 9-8 in overtime. The Rock will host that opening playoff game on April 27th – the time of the game and the opponent is yet to be determined. 

This will be Rose’s ninth playoff appearance with the Rock during his 11 1/2 years with the club. The closest Rose and the Rock have come to winning the NLL title was back in 2015. The only current Rock player who was part of that 2015 championship-contending team is Billy Hostraswer, yet that doesn’t mean that many of this year’s guys haven’t experienced a similar amount of heartbreak that Rose has felt over the past decade.

A handful of guys, including Tom Schreiber, Challen Rogers, Brad Kri, Hostrawser, and Rose, have been part of the Rock’s last three playoff runs, which all ended in the Eastern Finals with the Rock losing to the Bandits. Latrell Harris was also part of those teams, but he has been injured all season and will not be participating in this year’s playoff run. 

Rose noted that the memories of those teams falling short of winning the championship still haunt him and the guys that he battled with.

“I think definitely for the guys that have been around a few years, and even for me,” Rose said. “I remember back in 2015 when we had an outstanding season, and we were the top teams in the league, and in the finals, we then ran into the beginning of the [Edmonton/Saskatchewan] Rush dynasty. I’ve experienced a lot of heartbreak here in Toronto, but we’ve also been in the mix for about 90% of the seasons I’ve been here.”

Coming into their Week 19 matchup in Albany against the FireWolves, the Rock have no intention of taking the foot off the gas, even though they’ve already cliched that first-round home game. Securing the top seed in this year’s playoffs would give the Rock a solid advantage in hosting games in front of their fans against formidable opponents. If the Rock can clinch home-floor advantage throughout the playoffs, they’ll be very happy with that.

“To be at home is going to be huge,” Rose said. “Obviously, we’ve had a good home record over the last few years. We knew coming into this season, before playing any games, that this first round was a one-and-done. Once we figure out who we’re playing, we’ll get as prepared as we possibly can and then play the best game of the year in that one-and-done.”

Being a goaltender, like Rose is, having that crowd behind you can give you that extra little confidence boost you need to jump from an A-performance to an A+-performance.

The Rock’s three remaining regular season games are against the FireWolves, the Rochester Knighthawks, and the Rush. As of this writing, all three Rock opponents are either fighting to earn a home playoff game in the first round (the FireWolves) or are fighting for their playoff lives (the Knighthawks and the Rush). 

Knowing that their competition will be playing with so much on the line is added motivation to perform well down this final stretch before the playoffs.

“Of course, clinching a playoff spot and then clinching a home playoff game are the first two things on the team’s goal list every year,” Rose said. “So, to be able to put that behind us in March is obviously a good sign that we’re having a good regular season, but it’s not lost on us that we’ve got a ton more goals to check off the list here.”

“We’re looking to put ourselves in a position to win playoff games, and we’re going to let the rest take care of itself. Of course, you’re going to learn some things in those heartbreaks and losses.”

Rose has been one of the Rock’s most consistent and reliable players for the Rock this season. Not only because he’s once again playing at a Goaltender of the Year level, but he’s one of seven Rock players who have participated in every one of the team’s 15 games so far this season. 

That is the second-fewest number of players who have played every game this season for their team. This is because the Rock have been riddled with injuries and player absences throughout the season, including talented players such as Tom Schreiber, Chris Corbeil, and Challen Rogers sitting out for extended periods – Rogers hasn’t played since February 16th.

With their Bye Week in Week 18, the Rock hope this time off helped heal some of their missing pieces. When the majority of the lineup does return (they hope before or, at the latest, for the playoffs), their roster will be in the best shape it has been in all season long.

Rose acknowledged that the harsh realities the Rock have faced this season can be common with the ebbs and flows of an NLL season. Especially now, with the unified standings (where every team plays each other once a year), teams need to understand that whoever they meet in the playoffs for a second (or maybe third) meeting will not be the same team they squared up against earlier in the season.

“This year especially with the one division, we get top play every team,” Rose said. “Obviously, the teams that we’ve played earlier on are going to be completely different than when we saw them, but so are we. I think everybody, especially on our team, watches a lot of games and we have a good feeling about what the other teams are about. Once we know our matchup, we’ll dial it in and watch tons of video.”

At this time, there is still much to be decided about the Rock’s playoff journey this season. Rose and the Rock hold their fate in their own hands. With the finish line starting to appear in the distance, the ghosts of past playoffs will be the extra fuel Rose, and the team needs to finally get over the championship hurdle that has been in their way since 2011.

By Adam Levi