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LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
12/06/2013 - 11:54am

Connor O'Toole, son of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Pat O'Toole, dreams of playing in the NLL like his father
 
By Travis Larner -- Being the son of a soon-to-be National Lacrosse League Hall of Famer, it is no surprise that Connor O’Toole was born with a lacrosse stick in his hands. But at a young age, Pat O’Toole’s son already has big plans to follow in his father’s footsteps.
 
Connor, a 4-foot-2 10-year-old from Brampton, Ontario, began playing lacrosse when he was only four years old, and even then asked his father if he could be a goaltender. According to Pat, no matter what sport he played, he wanted to play the same position.
 
“From the youngest of ages, like when he played soccer for one year, he always wanted to be the goalie,” Pat said. “Whenever he played a sport, he always wanted to be the goalie.”
 
“I’d rather play goalie because my father played goalie,” Connor said.
 
Connor’s father, who did not become a lacrosse goalie until age 11, was concerned about him playing primarily between the pipes. As the coach of his son’s Brampton Excelsiors novice team, Pat didn’t want Connor to be restricted to one position.
 
“I didn’t see the benefit of him just being in the net all the time,” Pat said. “He had a stick in his hands since the day he was born, so he had pretty good stick skills. Even though he wanted to be a goalie, I let him take his turn in net, but he also played out. I just didn’t want him to be pigeonholed in that position at a young age, especially when he had so many skills as a player.”
 
When the NLL announced it would be hosting it's first-ever Junior NLL Tournament in Toronto, Jr. Knighthawks Pee Wee Coach Dan Dawson phoned Pat to recruit his son. The O’Tooles ended their vacation early so Connor could join the team.
 
“We were actually on holiday in Kingston when Dan Dawson called and said he heard Connor was of age, and he wanted him to be a goalie,” Pat said. “I asked him if he was interested in playing. He was excited about the thought of Dan and Paul Dawson coaching him.”
 
The Pee Wee Knighthawks earned a playoff bid against Colorado, but lost their semifinal game to the Jr. Mammoth. Nonetheless, the tournament was worthwhile for Connor, who gained some valuable playing experience at the next age level.
 
“I had the best time (at the Jr. NLL Tournament),” he said. “They (Dan and Paul Dawson) helped me with not being afraid of the ball because I had a lot of Pee Wee kids on my team. I’m just going into first-year Pee Wee. It just helped me not be afraid of the ball, and know that no balls will hurt.”
 
Even Paul Dawson, a defenseman who entered the NLL as a goaltender, was impressed with Connor’s ability.
 
“He moves really well,” said Dawson. “He’s just a bit small, and Pat knows that, but he’ll grow into himself. I think he’s on the right track. He made a lot of big saves. He is well on his way to being a good goalie.”
 
“I think he played dynamite,” added Pat. “He’s a smaller guy, obviously, being the youngest of the crew. The players are a little bit better than what he plays against in novice. He struggled a little bit with his size, but some of the saves he made were unreal.”
 
Since the tournament was played under the NLL rulebook, players had to adjust to different regulations. One new rule that was favored by most of the participants allowed them to dive into the crease while shooting. For the goaltenders like Connor, however, it was a bit of a wakeup call.
 
“One of the Toronto Rock kids went behind the net and did one of the crease dives and jammed it in,” said Pat with a laugh. “He (Connor) came to the bench and I asked him, ‘How did you like that one? What do you think of the crease dive rule now?’”
 
“(Toronto Rock Owner Jamie Dawick’s) son scored on me from a crease dive behind the net,” Connor said. “I thought it was a great thing at first, and then when somebody did it on me, I didn’t think it was so much fun.”
 
Playing in the Jr. NLL Tournament may have been Connor’s first chance to wear a Knighthawks’ jersey during a game, but if his wish comes true, it won’t be the last time.
 
“He always talks, ‘I want to play for Rochester like you did Dad, and I want to be No. 39,’” Pat said. “I can see him doing it just because of his love for lacrosse.”
 
“We play a lot of lacrosse and he’s always upset to see it finish, and that’s the way I was,” Pat added. “I liked lacrosse more than hockey, and I hated when lacrosse season ended because I knew it would be another eight or nine months before I played again. He has that same passion for lacrosse. His desire and love for the game is right there.”


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