Kaleb Toth scoring with one second left on the clock to win the 2000 Champions Cup for the Toronto Rock is one of the National Lacrosse League’s iconic moments.
But there are some things you may not know about that moment. For instance, the play that led to the winning goal wasn’t even set up for Toth. Let’s take a look back at the goal that produced the last championship ever won in Maple Leaf Gardens.
The venerable old building on Carlton Street was finishing its career as a home for professional sports. The Maple Leafs had already moved to the Air Canada Centre. In fact, on the night of the 2000 NLL title game, May 6, the Leafs were playing host to the New Jersey Devils at the ACC in the Stanley Cup semifinals.
For the 14,211 fans in the Gardens, though, that night was all about lacrosse. The game was a rematch of the 1999 championship, in which Toronto had beaten the Rochester Knighthawks 13-10. Colin Doyle was the MVP of the ’99 game after scoring 4 goals and 2 assists.
The 2000 title tilt swung back and forth largely on the sticks of Toronto’s Dan Stroup and Rochester’s John Grant Jr. Grant was the league’s rookie of the year and produced a few of the type of goals that would create his legendary status in lacrosse.
“One goal I remember in particular where he carried I think it was Terry Bullen, Glenn Clark and Pat Coyle all at once and threw a backhand over Whipper’s shoulder. Something ridiculous,” recalls Jim Veltman, the Hall of Famer and captain of that Rock team.
Grant’s often unstoppability put a lot of pressure on Toronto when they got the final possession of the game with a handful of seconds remaining. “It was one of those things where, if we get the ball let’s try to end it now and avoid overtime because if he gets the ball in his stick you never know what’s going to happen,” Toth told NLL.com. “He not only scores but he can create a lot of stuff and he can find those guys that are open.”
So when Toronto offensive coach Ed Comeau drew his troops in around him during the Rock’s timeout before the final play to try to finish things off before going to overtime. It wasn’t Toth, however, who was intended to get the final shot. Stroup had five goals and was clearly the hot stick.
“The pick was for Stroup. The ball was going to come either from me down to Stroup or from [Colin] Doyle straight to Stroup, but they locked him off right away,” says Toth, who started with the ball in Toronto’s end, ran it up the floor then passed it across to Doyle at the top of the formation.
“Dean Harrison went and set a down pick for Stroupy to free him up, get him coming off the crease and it didn’t happen. They crashed down pretty hard on him,” Doyle remembers. “I know I wasn’t thinking shot because I don’t think I was shooting the ball extremely well that game. I think I probably could have myself but I was in look mode and Kaleb just came into my vision and the rest is history.”
As Toth took a return pass from Doyle, one effect of the Knighthawks’ determination to keep Stroup from getting the ball was that Toth had room to walk in and really step in to his shot. But if Doyle didn’t feel he was shooting the ball well, neither did Toth. He relied on what he had prepared for and hoped it would go better than his earlier efforts in the game.
“A buddy of mine in Calgary called me right after,” Toth says. “The scouting report that week was short side high so we went over to the box almost every day and he kept feeding me the ball and I kept shooting top corner, top corner, top corner, shot after shot for probably two or three days just trying to get that shot. Sure enough, the first couple of shots I do it, I hit Paddy right in the stomach so I was like, what was all that practice for?”
The practice counted when it mattered most, in the situation that has played out in many an outdoor rink, driveway and courtyard in the imaginations of young players everywhere. Says Toth: “It’s one of those things that every kid dreams of or announces. Any sport he’s playing. Playing basketball, hockey, lacrosse: 3, 2, 1, he shoots, he scores.”
“I don’t watch too much from the past but any time someone throws that one on I’ll sit in and watch it,” Doyle says. “I’ve seen that replay many times. It never gets old. It was just one of those moments in lacrosse that you remember everything about it. Everything slowed down. It literally felt like the roof was going to come off that place. It was something. That’s one of those things I’ll continue to watch forever. I’ll never get sick of that. And what a shot. What. A. Shot. There wasn’t more than three square inches to put that ball and he put it there.”
When Toth put it there, bedlam erupted in Maple Leaf Gardens. It wasn’t the end of the story, though, There is more to remember about that magical shot and what it engendered. Enough that we’ll delve into further memories in Part 2, coming next week on NLL.com.
Watch the goal in this video.
To see Pat Coyle reminiscing about the game, go to this video.
And if you’d like to see more of the television coverage, right through the presentation of the Champions Cup and MVP award, here’s the video you want.