grimsby -- this is the age of wwf,
X-Games and the XFL, and, hell, even roller derby has made a comeback. Violent, tough sports are being marketed as entertainment, and spectators are soaking it up. Lacrosse, the only rock 'n' roll sport with a centuries-old history, has not been manufactured purely as profit-making show.
It's 8 o'clock on a Thursday night inside a funky-smelling arena 90 minutes down the QEW, and members of Toronto's major-league lacrosse team, the Rock, are rolling in for a practice. Although they play at the Air Canada Centre, they're squeezed out of that venue for practices.
The Rock are the National Lacrosse League's back-to-back champions -- winners. If the Maple Leafs, who haven't won the Stanley Cup in over 30 years, are the heart and soul of the city, the Rock are T.O.'s guts and muscle.
Check out a game down at the ACC (the Rock host Washington Saturday, January 26, 7:30 pm) and see why an average of 13,000 fans leave happy. (See sidebar.) The game is aggressive grace in action, where players take two-handed swings at one another while in full flight, cradling a small white ball like it's a Fabergé egg.
It's amazing that the guys don't fight more, considering the pounding they take. In lacrosse, whacking or slashing opponents on the hands and arms, no matter how hard, to dislodge the ball is not only allowed, it's an integral part of the game. You can set picks that knock players flying, and body checks and cross-checking -- below the neck, above the waist -- are condoned.
Along with the physical contact, there's that solid rubber ball to worry about.
Standing with my photographer on the field while she's snapping some shots is one of the more terrifying sports moments I've ever experienced. Balls, some going over 140kph, are bouncing past us, and it's my job to keep an eye out for stray shots.
Which is a joke, since my chances of getting out of the way of a ball are about the same as for catching a bullet with my teeth.
We finish the photos and back out of the field as the guys contort themselves like claymation action figures -- shooting sidearm from below the waist, from behind their backs and around their heads.
The Rock is Toronto's lunch-bucket team. They play a 14-game schedule. They aren't pampered million-dollar athletes, and no one carries their equipment for them. Most of the players live around Toronto, but some who make their homes on the West Coast are flown in for games and then flown back. They earn between $7,500 and $15,000 a season.
Players like Kim Squire mesmerize fans. The Six Nations native, who grew up in Ohsweken on the Six Nations Reserve outside Brantford, turned 21 last month and is touted as the team's next superstar.
During the day, he works at his brother's iron framing company in Brantford, but a couple of times a week he gets the chance to strut his stuff.
Off the field, he's shy and uncomfortable with attention. Playing, he's intense, decisive and endlessly creative, looking for the perfect pass or the chance to come in and toy with the goalie before firing a bullet shot.
"I've been playing since I was three," says Squire. "We couldn't afford to play hockey, so me and my five older brothers played lacrosse.
"It was tough on me. I got pushed around, and if they didn't want me to play they'd just hurt me. But it helped me, because I couldn't retaliate or they'd beat me up, so I learned how to take it. It's the same in this league -- the guys are bigger than me and I have to take it."
Squire does take punishment, but he's no pacifist. He was suspended for one game earlier this season for being the third man into a fight. email@example.comINGRID RANDOJA