In 1999 the National Lacrosse League (NLL) debuted in Toronto. It was an instant hit. The Toronto Rock took the entire lacrosse community by storm. The fastest game on two feet caught the interest of Canada's largest city and it was the beginning of the golden age for the NLL. Four Champion's Cups in their first five years, as well as new attendance records put the Rock firmly at the top of the NLL hierarchy. Now, in their 15th season in Toronto, interest in the Rock has tapered off and the trendy nature of the city of Toronto has once again reared its ugly head. Currently owned by the mysterious Jamie Dawick, the Rock remain one of the central franchises in the nine-team league, and now claim six Champion's Cups as part of their legacy.
The Rock call the Air Canada Centre home; a venue they share with the Maple Leafs and Raptors. Attendance has fallen over the years, but the Rock are still a great outing and some great family fun for a good price.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
A major league venue means major league concessions and Toronto features some of the best. All of the expected items are available at the ACC, at major league prices. (Pizza $5.75; popcorn $6.50; hot dog $5.75; soda $4.75; beer $7.75) There is also a huge variety of other concessions available including burritos, wraps, cheesesteaks, and sandwiches.
There are also a few specialty stands that you just have to hit. Smoke's Poutinerie offers the Canadian staple of fries with gravy and cheese curds, with a few interesting glitches like bacon or sausage. Also, Nathan's Dog House offers a huge variety of gourmet hot dogs including the BLT dog, Mac and Cheese Dog and Butter Chicken Dog.
You will find Coke products throughout the ACC and Molson Canadian and Coors Light are on tap for beer selections. The biggest issue with concessions at the ACC for Rock games is that you never really know which stands will be closed due to less than major league attendance.
The Air Canada Centre is a major league venue that has been continuously upgraded so that it has remained state of the art. It is owned by MLSE, the parent company of the Leafs and Raptors. Inside the seating bowl, the scoreboard and ribbon board are state of the art and crystal clear.
The seating in the arena is also fantastic, with comfortable seats and excellent sight lines throughout the building. That is the positive of playing in a "major league" venue. On the negative side, there is very little in the way of permanent markings for the Rock. The pictures in the concourses are almost exclusively of Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors. Inside the ACC there are very few markings as well.
In the west rafters there are eight banners that only show up for Toronto Rock games. These are for the six Champion's Cups that the Rock have brought home. There is also a banner honouring the late, great lacrosse coach Les Bartley, who coached the Rock from 1999 to 2003 and won four Champion's Cups. Also, the Rock have retired the number 29 for Hall of Fame goaltender Bob "Whipper" Watson who played with the Rock from 1999 to 2011 and won six Champion's Cups, including one in his final game.
The Rock score high marks for their in-game presentation. Lacrosse is billed as the fastest game on two feet, and is a fantastic mix between hockey and basketball. There is a ton of action on the floor. There is more scoring than hockey and much to cheer for. The game features crowd-pumping classic and alternative rock music during the play, and the PA announcer interjects in the game to lead the cheers for a big save by the goalie or by demanding more noise during a key moment. The announcer aptly walks the line for the need to pump up the crowd without being too annoying.
In the past the Rock have followed their brilliant marketing campaign playing songs that feature the word "Rock" during goals, including "Rock You" by Helix and "Can't Stop The Rock" by Apollo 440. They have recently strayed from that plan featuring "Shots" by LMFAO. Halftime features a youth lacrosse game. Overall, it is a whole lot of fun.
Downtown Toronto is a fantastic place to be. The ACC is located just north of Harbourfront, east of the Rogers Centre and is attached to Union Station. If you are visiting the city, then you will find a plethora of things to do near the ACC.
The CN Tower, Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, and the Hockey Hall of Fame are all great options for tourist ideas. Rogers Centre is close and is good for a tour or another event depending on the time of year. The NLL does end its regular season in April, so there is a distinct possibility between an Rock and Toronto Blue Jays doubleheader.
There are also numerous options for pre or post game meals as well. If you head down Front Street then you will be bombarded with food options, from the usual chains (Lone Star, Baton Rouge, Jack Astors, Canyon Creek) to more original, less common options. Some you may want to give a shot to include The Loose Moose or The Fox, which is on Bay Street. If you get there early enough, then you could choose The Real Sports Bar and Grill, which is located in Maple Leaf Square, right in front of the ACC.
At one point in time, you could argue that the most exciting experience in Toronto sports was a trip to see the Toronto Rock. At one point the Rock were averaging almost 18,000 fans, and every game at the ACC or the old Maple Leaf Gardens was a rockin' event. The Rock ruled the NLL in attendance and was definitely the premiere franchise in the league.
After championships became commonplace, apathy began to set in as the franchise changed over time. Attendance figures have dipped and no longer is the Rock the king of the hill. The Rock continue to average over 10,000 fans per season, but there are games where they dip under that 10,000 mark. Toronto fans tend to show up late and have a reputation for being pretty quiet. A Rock game will bring more of a rambunctious crowd than the Maple Leafs will, but it is not the same atmosphere that it was in the early 2000s. The fans are knowledgeable and do get excited, but it just isn't what it once was.
Getting to the ACC is usually not significant a problem. However, it is located in the heart of downtown Toronto, between Bay Street and Lakeshore Blvd, so traffic can be an issue. There are fantastic transit options as the ACC is located right by Union Station, so the subway is a great option. There is decent parking around the arena, but you may have to look carefully for it. Downtown Toronto seems to be perpetually under construction so be aware of possible lane closures and impediments to your route. If you are coming from the west by car, don't be fooled by the idea of taking the Gardiner Expressway right to the ACC. Usually the faster route is to take Lakeshore Blvd.
Once inside, the washroom facilities and concourses are more than adequate to support the crowd that is currently frequenting the ACC to see the Rock.
If you play your cards right, then you can catch a heck of a deal to see the Toronto Rock. There are almost always ticket promotions where you can buy a 4-pack of tickets in the lower bowl for far cheaper than the $40 regular price. There are huge discounts for youth ($24 for the same lower bowl ticket). If you are looking for the cheapest ticket available then you are looking at the upper deck for around $20. Admittedly, the concession prices are a bit on the high side due to the NHL/NBA run arena. Parking can be had for around $15-$20, which is pretty average for Toronto. Overall, a trip to see the Toronto Rock will leave you with the feeling that you have received your money's worth, and if the opportunity arises, you will most definitely want to experience it again.
An extra mark for the NLL players, who are all "real people" with "real jobs." The vast majority of players for the Toronto Rock, and other teams in the NLL, have 9 to 5 jobs in their home towns, and they moonlight as lacrosse players on weekends.
Two extra marks for 15 years of NLL lacrosse in the city of Toronto, and the phenomenal success that the Rock have found on the floor.
By no means would you consider the NLL to be on par with the NBA or NHL. It could be considered a fringe sport, and like most fringe sports has lived through the ebbs and flows of its existence. However, until you get out to a NLL game, you have no idea what you are missing.
On occasion, the Toronto Rock have proven to be the class of the league, and an atmosphere that can rival any major league experience. When in Toronto, consider a trip to see the Rock and you will most definitely have a great time, and you will know what to say to those detractors who just don't understand the fastest game on two-feet.
Follow all of Dave's sporting adventures on Twitter @profan9.
The national sport of Canada is...Lacrosse! Many believe that hockey is the national sport in the land of the Maple Leaf, but it is really the fastest sport on two feet. For those of you new to lacrosse it is something you want to check out. There are two varieties; indoor and outdoor. Indoor or box lacrosse is played within the confines of a standard hockey arena. The gameplay is a fantastic melding of the structure and roughness of hockey, with the possession game found in basketball.
The Toronto Rock joined the National Lacrosse League in 1999 moving from Hamilton. Since that time the Rock have been a jewel of the league, leading in attendance and winning 5 Champion's Cups including 4 in their first 5 years. Their entry into Toronto was marketed brilliantly. They hold the distinction of having been the final event at historic Maple Leaf Gardens. Since their last championship in 2005, much has changed for the Rock but the winning ways have returned. This review takes place during the final game of the 2011 season in which the Toronto Rock defeated the Washington Stealth to win their 6th Champion's Cup.
The Rock have done a wonderful job with keeping Lacrosse alive and well in Toronto and the fans have a lot to do with it. went to a game a few years ago, knowing not much about box lacrosse and fell in love with it. Will go back whenever I get a chance.
146 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5J 1G2
15 York St
Toronto, ON M5J 0A3
144 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5J 2L7
151 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5J 2N1
123 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5A 4R6
30 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M5E 1X8
301 Front Street W
Toronto, ON M5V 2T6
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