Sports

Billings a Rock for Toronto

Toronto Rock
Toronto Rock's Garrett Billings has won the NLL player of the month award for both February and March. The Langley native is set to play in front of about 40 friends and family members on April 5 as the Rock visit the Vancouver Stealth at the Langley Events Centre.
— image credit: Graig Abel/Graig Abel Photography

Langley was never a huge lacrosse centre when Garrett Billings was growing up.

With not as many numbers as some of the bigger Lower Mainland towns and cities, the Langley Minor Lacrosse Association would usually just have two teams for each age group.

But Billings said that could have been a blessing in disguise for the Langley players.

"Just enough kids (on the team) to scrape by, but it made you a better player because you had to be good in all aspects of the game," he explained.

"You didn't have a lot of depth (but) I think it ended up benefiting us a lot."

Those teams would have 10 or 11 players on each roster. Billings figured probably half earned college scholarships and three are now playing professionally in the National Lacrosse League.

Kyle Belton was sent from the Toronto Rock to the Philly Wings at the NLL trade deadline last month, while Brad Richardson was a free agent pick-up by the Vancouver Stealth.

Both the 27-year-old Belton and 28-year-old Richardson are in their second years in the league.

And Billings, who is also 28, is having an MVP-calibre year in his fourth season in the league.

Through the first 14 games of this season, Billings leads in points (95) and assists (63) and sits second in goals (32) and is averaging 6.8 points per game.

He has already tied his career high in goals — in two fewer games — and is just a shade below his assist-per-game average of 5.1. That was in 2012 when he set the NLL record for 82 assists.

The league has expanded the regular season this season from 16 to 18 games.

Should Billings hit the 100-point mark, he would become the first player in league history to achieve that plateau in three consecutive seasons.

And with 467 points in 77 career games played — an average of 6.06 points per game — Billings could potentially challenge lacrosse legend John Tavares, who has 1,704 points in 292 games, an average of 5.83 per game. Of course, Tavares is still going strong in the league at age 45.

Billings downplays his success.

"Unfortunately it hasn't come with better team results, but it has been a good year," Billings said, referring to his team's 5-9 record.

"Offensively, we have had a strong year, which makes it easier for me."

Billings says he is benefiting from the team's consistency on offence as well as the work he put in during the off-season is paying off.

"I have put a little bit more effort into conditioning in the off-season just so that every shift you can be effective as possible," he said.

"(And) I have ended up with the ball on my stick a lot more. But nothing too crazy."

Billings has been named the NLL player of the month for both February and March.

He spoke to The Times on Wednesday (April 2), after flying in early from Toronto to help promote the Rock's game on April 5 at the Langley Events Centre against the Stealth (4-9).

Helping grow the game is nothing new for Billings, as he now also works for the Rock doing their community programming.

"The simple goal is to get as many kids playing lacrosse as we can," he explained.

Billings is very familiar with the Stealth's home floor at the LEC as he has spent four of the past five summers playing senior A lacrosse with the Langley Thunder of the Western Lacrosse Association. In 42 career WLA games, he has 79 goals and 196 points.

He also worked for a time at the LEC and played an NLL exhibition game a few years back when the Rock came to town.

He does not see himself playing this summer but he does hope to coach.

Billings is happy the NLL has returned to the Lower Mainland.

"I wish them all the success, just not on Saturday," he said with a laugh.

Billings expects about 40 or 50 friends and family at the game, including his grandfather from Maple Ridge.

"This is the first game he has been able to make in awhile so he is pretty excited about it," Billings said.

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