In July of 2004, the Rock made a blockbuster deal with the San Jose Stealth which came to be known to Rock fans as The Trade. Two and a half years later, the Rock made another trade that is still being talked about, but not in the same way. These were the two biggest trades in Rock history, and while the first directly contributed to the Rock’s 2005 NLL championship, the second was not-quite-but-pretty-close directly responsible for the two worst seasons in Rock history.
The Rock won the NLL championship in 2005, but struggled in 2006, beginning the season 0-4 and ending up with a worst-ever 8-8 record. The Rock management adopted a “What have you done for us lately” attitude with head coach and GM Terry Sanderson, and fired him within weeks of the end of the season. Former player Glenn Clark was hired as head coach, and Mike Kloepfer got the job as “Director of Player Personnel” (don’t know why that’s different from “General Manager” as it’s called for every other team, and for the Rock prior to this). A couple of weeks before the start of the 2007 season, Kloepfer made his mark on the team by making The Trade II. Kloepfer traded Colin Doyle and Darren Halls to the San Jose Stealth for Ryan Benesch, Kevin Fines, Chad Thompson, and two draft picks.
Doyle had played his entire career with the Rock organization; one year in Hamilton when they were the Ontario Raiders, and then eight years with the Rock. He won five championships with the Rock, and finished either first or second on the Rock in scoring every year from 1999 to 2005. In 2005, he actually led the league in scoring — the first player not named Gait or Tavares to do so since 1990 — and was named league MVP. Doyle was also named MVP of the Championship game three times, something nobody else has ever done more than once. Needless to say, Doyle was the offensive heart and soul of the Rock. He was also a fan favourite who gave his all whenever he hit the floor, and from all accounts, he was also a popular guy in the locker room. The trade shocked the lacrosse community, and even Doyle himself did not see it coming. Many Rock fans were absolutely incensed, and some even cancelled season tickets because of it. Management never really gave a good reason for the trade, other than the typical “going in a different direction” crap. When you’ve won five championships in seven years and then have one bad season, you don’t need to go in a different direction; you want to get back to the direction you were going in the previous year, and trading your best player away is not the way to do that.
Of course, Doyle wasn’t the only player involved in the trade. Darren Halls was a rookie who was traded to the Rock from Arizona only the previous month. Ryan Benesch was the first overall pick in that year’s draft, and was touted as a very exciting young player. I had never heard of Fines or Thompson, but despite the others involved in the trade, it essentially came down to Doyle for Benesch — the current superstar for the up-and-coming rookie. Perhaps the Rock was hoping that Doyle was on the downside of his career and Benesch would turn into another, well, Colin Doyle. But in 2006, Doyle was only a year removed from his MVP season, he made the All-Star and All-Pro teams, and finished third in league scoring. In short, he was not showing any signs of being on the downside of his career.
Doyle only scored four points in his first game in San Jose, but got nine assists in his second game and seven in his third (plus a goal). He ended the 2007 season with 81 points, fifteen less than his total with the Rock the previous year. Rather than attempt to be the goal leader, he seemed to take a page from Josh Sanderson’s book, and let Jeff Zywicki, Gary Rosyski, and Luke Wiles score all the goals. Doyle led the team in assists, and the Stealth made the post season for the first time in three years. In only the second playoff game in Stealth history, Doyle, who thrives in the post-season (did I mention his three Championship game MVP awards?), scored a goal and added ten assists to help the Stealth beat the defending champion Colorado Mammoth 15-14 in OT. The next week, however, the Stealth were bumped from the playoffs by the Arizona Sting. Last year, Doyle scored 88 points, and the Stealth won the west division, though they lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the LumberJax.
As for the Rock, Ryan Benesch lived up to most expectations, finishing with 58 points and was named NLL Rookie of the Year. In total, Benesch, Fines, and Thompson finished with a total of 104 points, even more than Doyle could have been expected to get. But Doyle, Josh Sanderson, and Blaine Manning made up a very potent offensive threesome, and losing part of that group really hurt the team. Call it team chemistry or whatever. Sanderson’s points total dropped by thirteen, and Manning, whose point total had already dropped by twenty five the previous year, saw his total drop by another three. The Rock finished the season 6-10, their worst record ever. They managed to back into the playoffs thanks to tiebreakers, but were soundly defeated in the first round by the eventual-champion Rochester Knighthawks. Last year, the Rock finished 7-9 and out of the playoffs for the first time ever.
It’s hard to say that the Rock’s decline from dynasty to also-ran was caused by the Doyle trade, since they were no better than mediocre the year before the trade. But things got quite a bit worse after the trade. Fines was traded away the next year, and then Sanderson near the end of last season. Benesch was benched for the last two games of the 2008 season, and there were rumours that he’d played his last game as a Rock. Nothing ever came of it, and Mike Kloepfer has since gone on the record saying that Benesch was never on the trading block and is a big part of the Rock’s future. However, no explanation was ever given for the benching.
While it could be argued (and I did) that the Stealth basically lost the Sanderson/Cosmo deal, there’s no argument that they ended up on the winning end of the Doyle/Benesch trade.
Quite honestly, I was not a very big fan of Colin Doyle during the first few years that I watched the Rock (i.e. starting in the the 2001 season). There was no question that he was talented, but he seemed like too much of a hothead to me. It always seemed like he wanted to get out there and fight someone (and my opinions on fighting in sports are very well documented), and the only reason that he didn’t was because his coach refused to let him, deciding (correctly) that he was too valuable on the floor to be spending time in the penalty box.
Over the years, however, he matured and became a superstar. The hothead thing vanished, and he now seems perfectly happy to let others do the fighting while he just goes out and scores goals. Something else that impressed me about Doyle was unrelated to lacrosse — during the national anthems, he stands perfectly still and even sings along to O Canada. I don’t understand why players have to keep shifting around during the anthems. Do they think it helps them stay loose? Then why do they sit down on the bench when they’re not playing? Why not stand behind the bench, shifting from foot to foot? And players who take off and continue their warm-up before the anthems are over really annoy me. Anyway, kudos to Doyle for showing respect.
The Doyle trade is one of those “I remember when I heard about…” moments for me. I am an occasional Wikipedia editor (OK, more than occasional, I have made over 7,000 edits to Wikipedia pages), and the day after the trade, I went to Wikipedia to look at my watchlist (a list of changes to pages I’m interested in), and one of the changes was to the Colin Doyle page, which I created. The only thing that was changed on the page was the first line:
Colin “Popeye” Doyle (b. September 8, 1977 in Kitchener, Ontario) is a lacrosse player for the San Jose Stealth of the National Lacrosse League.
“San Jose Stealth?” I thought, “Stupid vandals.” Vandalism is something that happens all too often on Wikipedia, so I was all ready to revert the change, but then I noticed a new paragraph that described a trade in more detail (i.e. who was involved). The next thought I had was not “vandalism”, but more something along the lines of “no fucking way!” and went screaming over to NLL.com to see if it was really true. It was.
In the two seasons since he was traded, while watching the Rock struggle to score goals, I came to realize just how valuable Colin Doyle was to the team. This coming season, the Stealth are playing in Toronto for the first time since the trade, so I’m looking forward to seeing Doyle play again, even if it is against the Rock rather than for them.