By Graeme Perrow
Steve Toll recently announced that he will retire after the 2012 NLL season, which will be his fifteenth in the league. It's probably for the best, since his memory is obviously going. In the story on NLL.com, Toll recalls his first game, while playing with the Ontario Raiders in 1998: "It was in the old Philadelphia Spectrum. We beat Philadelphia and I got an assist." The story then says "That was the beginning of the streak." But if you check the career stats page, also on NLL.com, you find that Toll played one game in 1998, collecting zero points, then played one game in 1999, collecting an assist. His streak couldn't have begun in 1998, since he only played one game in 1999. Also, according to the Spectrum's page on Wikipedia, the Wings stopped playing there in 1996, two years before Toll started in the league. OK, so either someone screwed up their research or Toll can't remember details from 13 years ago. No big deal.
Anyway, when I heard that Toll was going to retire, I wondered if he would be considered for the NLL Hall of Fame. My first thought was "Definitely yes!", but then I wondered if I was just being a homer because I'm a Rock fan and he was a big part of the Rock's success from 1999-2004. So I reconsidered and decided no, Toll was a great player but not a Hall of Famer. But I have reconsidered my reconsideration, and now I've decided once and for all – when Toll retires, he deserves to join his former teammates Dan Stroup, Jim Veltman, and Gary Gait (though he didn't win a Championship with Gait) as well as former coach Les Bartley and GM Johnny Mouradian in the NLL Hall of Fame.
If you want numbers, I got numbers. Toll has played in 201 NLL games, all but the first consecutively. He's won 5 Championships – four with the Rock during their years of dominance in the early 2000's, and one more with the Knighthawks during their dream 2007 season. The Hawks finished the season winning 12 in a row plus 3 more in the playoffs, and became the first team to ever win a Championship in a home game over two thousand miles away from their arena (don't ask). Toll led the Knighthawks in loose balls every year he played there (except 2005 when he only played 5 games with them after being traded from San Jose), and the only reason he didn't lead the Rock in that category was a guy by the name of Jim Veltman. He was also was the first-ever winner of the NLL Transition Player of the Year award in 2007.
Toll had three consecutive seasons with over 50 points for the Rock, collecting 65 in 2002. He scored 15 or more goals four times, and 25 or more twice. In Rochester, the numbers tailed off but Toll was primarily a defender, so looking at the point stats can be misleading. His speed made him very effective on transition, and Rock fans got used to at least one Speedin' Stevie Toll breakaway goal, and sometimes several, each and every game. I just checked his Wikipedia page, and found that Steve Toll is six feet tall, which I never would have guessed. He never seemed that big to me. He was never the Dan Ladouceur type of defender who would just stand in front of you and make you try to get around him because otherwise you couldn't see the net. Toll would chase you into the corner and pound on you with his stick until you either made a desperation pass or dropped the ball, in which case he'd have picked it up and be halfway to your net before you even knew it was gone. He was also very effective at intercepting passes, a skill he learned from Jim Veltman.
They say that the mark of a true Hall-of-Famer in any sport is that you cannot describe the league during the time that that player played without mentioning him. You cannot describe the Rock and their success in the early 2000's without talking about Steve Toll. The Knighthawks didn't have the same kind of success in his six seasons there, but along with John Grant and Toll's good friend Shawn Williams, Toll was a team leader there as well. Obviously Colorado isn't having much in the way of success this year, but Toll is the oldest player on a young team – Toll is at least six years older than every D/T player on the Mammoth except John Gallant, and Ben Davies was only ten when Toll played his first NLL game. He's no longer the fastest guy in the league – he's probably not even the fastest guy on his team – but having a veteran like Toll around has got to have a positive impact on these young players.
It's almost a season and a half early, but congratulations on a stellar career Steve, and I look forward to your Hall of Fame induction.