Kaleb Toth could have taken the easy way out. He could have stayed with the Toronto Rock, teamed up with Colin Doyle and the rest of the future stars to win half a dozen NLL Championships.
But when his hometown was awarded the expansion franchise, he wanted to be a Roughneck.
“I said ‘I’d like to play in Calgary and help grow the sport because I grew up in Calgary and I wanted to give back,” Toth told late Rock head coach/general manager Les Bartley.
Toth didn’t demand a trade by any means, but said if the Rock could make a deal work with Calgary, he would appreciate it.
Bartley was receptive to the idea, but only if the deal could be worked out for both sides.
“Les understood, and the one thing he said was that if he could make a deal work, he’d make the deal,” Toth said. “I said ‘If you can, great, but if you can’t, I’ll be coming back here, I’d be at training camp.’
“I knew that if it didn’t happen the first couple of years, that eventually it would happen where I could come back to Calgary. I just wanted that opportunity to be there at the beginning.”
After some negotiations, Roughnecks owner Brad Bannister agreed to send first round draft pick Blaine Manning as well as a 2002 first rounder to the Rock in exchange for Toth.
Toth was thrilled to come back home, and immediately became the face of a franchise in desperate need of media attention.
“It was a scary thing to go from a team that was in three championships in three year, won two of them, and then for me to go from that to an expansion team,” Toth said.
“I was leaving such a historical franchise already, it was the pinnacle of the NLL. Everyone wanted to play for the Toronto Rock.”
Over his two years with the Rock, Toth would work in the office occasionally during the week, picking up hints and pointers about what made the team so successful.
He wanted to bring that to the Roughnecks.
“The biggest thing was winning, no one wants to watch a losing team.”
In the team’s first game ever against the Montreal Express, Calgary was blown out 32-17 on the home floor. It was the worst loss in franchise history.
It got better soon enough.
Now hindsight is 20/20, but the Toth/Manning deal will go down as the fairest in NLL history.
Toth became one of the best players in NLL history and holds all the key franchise records in Calgary history.
Manning became an instant hit with the Rock, winning the NLL Rookie of the Year award in 2002. Since then, he’s been one of the key offensive cogs for the Rock, topping out at 105 points in 2005, winning four NLL titles along the way. His career stat line is 167 games, 297 goals, 510 assists for 807 points.
And the 2002 first round selection turned into defender Patrick Merrill, who has been with the Rock for three NLL titles. He’s spent eight seasons of his 11-year career with Toronto.
“It was pretty even,” said Colin Doyle. “We ended up getting a bunch of great years out of Blainer and he became a great part of our franchise for a number of years and the same could be said with Toth the other way. They usually don’t work that way.”