Watson earns MVP honours as Rock win NLL title

The Canadian Press
5/15/2011 7:00:55 PM
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TORONTO -- Champagne was dripping from the dressing room ceiling and pooling on the floor when Toronto Rock players, standing in a circle around a table supporting the Champion's Cup, began chanting.

"One more year, one more year, one more year."

Bob Watson just stood there wearing a Rock championship cap and his biggest smile.

No, there won't be another year. Watson is done, and what a way to end a fabulous pro lacrosse career: the 41-year-old goalie stopped 47 Washington Stealth shots to earn MVP honours in an 8-7 squeaker in the NLL final.

"I'll cherish this for the rest of my life," Watson had said to the standing and cheering Air Canada Centre crowd of 14,488 before leaving the floor for the last time and celebrating his and the franchise's sixth title and first since 2005.

Toronto held quarter leads of 3-1, 7-2 and 7-4. The Stealth had rallied to win the 2010 title at home against Toronto and they were trying to do the same again. They had possession of the ball with 30 seconds left but a pass went wild and Rock defenceman Cam Woods ragged the ball to kill the clock.

"Time felt like it was standing still," Watson said of protecting the lead in the late going. "I just tried to stay focused and get ready for the next shot and tried to communicate with my defence.

"The guys did a fabulous job. Hats off to our defensive effort."

Coach Troy Cordingley seconded that emotion.

"Our defence was phenomenal, we have so much trust in our defence," said Cordingley. "They were so good, and when our defence did break down, how unbelievable is Bobby Watson?

"He's the best big-game player I've ever been around. He's unbelievable."

Captain Colin Doyle, who like Watson celebrates his sixth title win in a Toronto uniform, called it an "incredible game."

"They made it real hard on us in the second half but Whipper stepped up, and our defence played an incredible game," he said. "They say defence wins championships and that's the way it is with us. A lot of people wrote our defence off down the stretch and I thought they and Bob stepped up and showed this team's backbone is defence.

"Man, am I ever proud how the guys stepped up to the task today. It shows what a resilient team we are, and I'm really proud of that."

Watson's name was on the lips of all the Washington players.

"First off, you've got to give credit to Bob Watson," said losing goalie Tyler Richards, who was just as good as Watson and 17 years younger. "If I can play at 41 the way he did, I'll be absolutely thrilled."

Garrett Billings and Kasey Beirnes scored two goals each for the Rock and Rob Hellyer, Blaine Manning, Glen Bryan and Stephan Leblanc had one each.

Toronto had lost the 2010 final to the Stealth in Washington, 15-11, when they were outscored 7-1 in the fourth quarter.

"We still had that bitter taste in our mouths from last year so we really wanted to give it our all today," said Leblanc, who scored the winning goal. "Fortunately we were able not only to send Whip (Watson) out on a great note but also gave some other guys the thrill of their lives."

He was referring to veterans such as Beirnes and Cam Woods who'd never won an NLL title. Doyle asked those two to accept the championship trophy when it came time for the presentation.

"This is sweet," said Woods. "I've been chasing this thing for 12 years and to do this with this group ... and in Bob Watson's last year."

The veteran defender recalled all the other times he'd made it to the NLL final.

"I've had a lot of close calls (playing for championships) before and I could never really understand why," said Woods. "I know everything happens for a reason and I figured if we could do it at home this weekend for Bobby and for our fans then it would all make sense.

"We battled hard all year and we're going to live this one up for a while."

Beirnes is a 10-year vet who'd never won an NLL title.

"With a great group of guys like this, this is priceless," he said.

Doyle's gesture for the trophy presentation was "pure class" in Beirnes' eyes.

"Colin is familiar with putting the hands on it himself so he said, 'You boys go get it' and I said, 'Not a problem."'

It's going to be difficult for the Rock to replace Watson.

"He's been the heart and soul of this organization since its beginnings," said Leblanc. "We hate to see him go but he's taking the high road. He's got kids and he's at that age where his body is not as good as it used to be, although it definitely didn't show today.

"That's his decision. We'd love to have him back if he wants to come back."

No such chance. Watson will devote his full attention now to his one-year-old job of being a Kitchener-Waterloo policeman.

Lewis Ratcliff led the Stealth with three goals and Rhys Duch, Jeff Zywicki, Cliff Smith and Paul Rabil got one each.

"We didn't come out in the first half," said Stealth captain Jason Bloom. "On what we did in the second half, if we'd come out that way at the start it would be a different story.

"Bobby Watson was a heck of a goaltender during his career and he showed today why he's one of the best of all time. He was the best player on the floor. They deserved to win."

Being within one goal of the Rock after being down by five had the Stealth believing victory a second year in a row was possible.

"We certainly had all the momentum," said Bloom.

Coach Chris Hall said his team made too many mistakes, especially in the first half.

"We didn't do a good job getting loose balls and we turned the ball over too much," said Hall. "The turnovers killed us and Bob Watson made some miraculous saves.

"It was his night and he was full measure for it."

Watson gestured to some spectators up in a corner in the crowd when the final buzzer sounded.

"That was my family," he said. "They all sit up there. They've been supporting me for 15 years in Toronto sitting in the same spot so my first look was to them. We were taking in the moment. I've enjoyed every minute of it. I'm going to miss it but now I'll get the opportunity to sit up there with them and enjoy the games. There's a little less pressure up there, I think."

Notes: On power plays, Washington was 1-for-4 and Toronto was 1-for-2. ... Watson finishes his career with a 16-4 all-time record in NLL playoffs. ... The last time the Rock won the title, in 2005, current players Watson, Doyle, Manning, Sandy Chapman, Pat Merrill and Phil Sanderson were on the floor. ... It was the first time since the 1999-2000 seasons that the same two teams met in the title game.

Bob Watson (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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