Vancouver Warriors hope son of goalie great can be their netminder of future

Not only is Connor O’Toole the son of hall of famer Pat O’Toole, but he’s the earliest a goalie has been selected by a Curt Malawsky team since Calgary took league MVP Christian Del Bianco in 2015.

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Comparisons have been customary for new Vancouver Warriors goalie Connor O’Toole throughout his lacrosse life. 

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He is the son of National Lacrosse League hall of fame goalie Pat O’Toole, and that’s a connection that people around the game have easily made. 

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On the weekend, the 20-year-old from Brampton, Ont., was one of four first-round picks by Warriors in the NLL Draft, going No. 18 overall. New Vancouver general manger and coach Curt Malawsky traded up on the draft floor in Oakville, Ont., to land him, sending a second-round, No. 22 overall selection and a 2024 second rounder to the Philadelphia Wings to move those four spots.

The Brampton Jr. Excelsiors standout was the first goaltender selected in the draft this year. 

A Malawsky team hadn’t picked a netminder that early since the Calgary Roughnecks used a second-round selection, No. 15 overall, in 2015 to snag Coquitlam Jr. Adanacs backstop Christian Del Bianco. He is the reigning NLL’s most valuable player, and arguably lacrosse’s best player right now.

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“I understand people are going to make that comparison. It is what happened,” O’Toole, 20, said of the similar draft situations. “Del Bianco has been one of the best goalies in the league for several years now. I’m not worrying about that, though. I’m not comparing myself to other goalies. I’m worrying about doing whatever I can to help my team win.”

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As for those inevitable ties to his father, who is still an assistant coach in the league with the Rochester Knighthawks, O’Toole said: “I don’t feel like I have to fill my dad’s shoes. I feel like I can wear my own shoes and do my own thing.”

The Vancouver Canucks own the Warriors and they hired Malawsky in July, hoping that the Coquitlam product can get that team going in the right direction. Malawsky’s contract with the Roughnecks had run out at season’s end, following a 13-5 campaign and Malawsky winning NLL coach of the year honours. Calgary did make a pitch for him to return.

The Warriors finished 4-14 last season and they have played just a single playoff game in the past nine years.

Malawsky had made another trade involving a pick in the days leading up to the draft. He shipped the No. 2 choice, the No. 70 choice and defender Jonathan Gagliardi to the Las Vegas Desert Dogs for No. 4, No. 9 and defender Jackson Suboch. Vancouver already had the No. 7 from a trade last year with the Wings that saw Warriors star Mitch Jones head east.

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Vancouver came out of it with a left-handed forward at No. 4 in Payton Cormier, a righty forward at No. 7 in Brock Haley and a defender at No. 9 in Brayden Laity. 

Cormier, who’s from Oakville, Ont., and Haley, who’s from Brooklin, Ont., are slated to return Virginia and Vermont, respectively, next fall to play their extra NCAA field lacrosse seasons resulting from the COVID-19 shutdowns and won’t be available to the Warriors until the 2024-25 season.

Laity, who finished the summer as an underage call-up with the Western Lacrosse Association Langley Thunder team coached by Malawsky after playing for the Port Coquitlam Jr. Saints, is in the mix to stick with the Warriors this coming season, as is O’Toole.

Vancouver’s starter in the net is set to be Aaron Bold, 38. He’s been in the league since 2006 and played in various locales. That includes being Pat O’Toole’s back-up with Rochester in 2010.

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“I haven’t talked to him since I was a little kid,” the younger O’Toole said of Bold. “I was ball boy for the Knighthawks forever. I did that job for a long, long time.

“I’m excited to work with him. For me to be successful, I’m going to have to be a sponge with him.”

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Malawsky and the elder O’Toole were teammates for four seasons in Rochester (2000-03) as well. Malawsky searched out dad on the draft floor to tell him his plans to draft son.

“One of the things that stuck out when I asked him about his son is that he told me that if you come down the floor and score on Connor short side from a certain position, you’re not going to score on him that same way from the same spot again,” Malawsky said. “I think he’s going to be a very good goalie in this league.”

The Knighthawks already have a rising star in goal in Rylan Hartley, 25, who finished third in minutes played (1,048:37) and saves (713) last season while sporting an 11.62 goals against average.

The elder O’Toole went into the NLL hall of fame in 2013. He had an 115-56 record, an 11.40 goals-against average and a .768 save percentage over 204 career games with the Knighthawks, Buffalo Bandits and New York Saints.

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NLL training camps open Oct. 28-29, the first week of the regular season goes Dec. 1-2 although a schedule has not been announced.

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