There’s new air in the Toronto Rock lungs this season and it’s coming from an array of unlikely places. From American rookies, to young guns that have yet to find their place in the NLL, the Rock are feasting on the new energy and the Air Canada Centre can feel it.
From last year’s bottom, Toronto came in 1-0 after taking down Rochester on opening night, while the returning back-to-back NLL Champions were already behind 0-1, falling to Georgia on the road in Week 2.
Starting from the opening draw, the home team laid into the Saskatchewan Rush and it didn’t subside until 60 minutes of floor time expired. By the end of it, Toronto would find a goal from the stick of eleven different runners, contrasting the six from the visitors. Yep, something has definitely changed in the Six. They can only hope that it sticks.
The game popped off with the first Toronto Rock goal coming just 10 seconds in. Fighting to make a name for himself after not seeing much floor time in 2016 with New England, Mike MacDonald came into the game with something to prove. Coming up with the ball and sprinting it right down the floor, the first year Rock plugged it over goaltender Aaron Bold‘s shoulder to take an immediate lead.
The Rush got nothing out of their first possession and on the other end it was followed with another quick and deadly strike. Fellow Rock newcomer Phil Caputo stung his first in a Toronto sweater, all in first couple of minutes.
Things would start to settle down on both ends but the Rock were back by a strong and composed Nick Rose backing an aggressive, but up to the task, defensive group. Staving off attacks from Matthews, Jones and company, the Rock looked to have it easy despite the Rush frontline consistently trying to get something going.
The next goal didn’t come until the ninth minute, but it would be Mikey MacDonald again, sweeping east to west and cranking past Bold for the third unanswered goal.
Back with a vengeance after sitting out 2016 to knee troubles, defenseman Damon Edwards pushed the odd man Rush and pulled up with an unobstructed slingshot for his first. Toronto would then find themselves shorthanded for the first time, but it didn’t seem to matter. Rosey quickly turned around a change of possession and mailed it down to Edwards blazing back down the turf for another dagger to the opposite pipe. The pair from Edwards got the Rock out of the half with a flawless, 5-0, lead.
At the end of fifteen we would see five goals scored from three scorers, none of which were on the floor with Toronto last season.
It took eighteen minutes of lacrosse, but the Rush finally got on the board in Toronto. Coming down in transition, captain Chris Corbeil found the east target Mark Matthews streaking in off the boards with the entire building, and three defenseman, knowing a shot was coming. Well it didn’t. The big man touched it over to Corbeil, still in the play, for a quick one-timer breaking down Rose for the first Rush goal.
The second face-off unit goal came on the proceeding draw when Brad Kri picked up the pill, hustled it down and pushed it right in to cease any Rush momentum.
Another rookie reward would find Challen Rogers, scoring one of the top goals of the week. Getting the pass on the go in transition, he shrugged off an open-floor hit and continued on his horse down Main Street to capitalize on a breakaway. Reverse transition would then turn into another big play for Rogers. A draw and dump from to Jesse Gamble charging in on goal buried the eighth of the night for Toronto, capturing an impressive 8-1 start.
A struggle would ensue, both teams pushing the tempo and it would catch up to American rookie Kieran McArdle. Flying fast into the crease and potentially recklessly toward the goaltender, defenseman Ryan Dilks took exception to acrobatics. Peeling off McArdle’s helmet, Dilks applied a flurry of punches to the rookie in his first ever NLL scrap. The message was sent by the gritty defensive group: Enough of the cute stuff on the crease.
Looking to honor the strides on the defensive end, Matthews, coming off the bench in the final minute, lowered his shoulder, got an inch and took a mile. A wrong side, low-angle sinker to the near pipe was able to get something else on the board before closing out half, down 2-8.
It only took nineteen seconds for another great awareness play from rookie Tom Schreiber. Pushing in then popping out, Tom sent a perfect pass right to Turner Evans on the cut for a one-timer to open things up.
Another big transition play was in the works until goaltender Aaron Bold laid the smackdown on an unsuspecting lone breakaway man. The hit would catch a Major for the blow on the back and it immediately resulted in a powerplay strike. On a rope from Evans, Kasey Biernes turned around a lightning quick one-timer on the backside, making it 10-2.
Finally, after a series of two minute sins, committed every two minutes by the Rock, the Rush went on a perpetual powerplay and used the opportunity to get the offense into gear. Adam Jones would ring up his only goal of the night, followed by two man-up tallies from Robert Church. The pair, both hooked up by Matthews, climbed the Rush up to 5-10.
Church’s jitter-shaking first notch came after Rose lost his stick on a save, leaving him with a wide-open five hole for Church to bounce it on through.
Waking the ACC up, rookie points leader Schreiber finally took a break from eating apples to throw a little deceptive pump fake, face dodge and charge at the crease to bury his first NLL goal.
An exchange of firsts, first round draft pick defenseman Mike Messenger would cash in for his first career goal with no one finding him slipping out of the corner past Edwards and straight to the goal.
Trying to ride the wave, Robert Church would make it a hat trick in the twelfth minute. All three of Church’s goals falling this quarter, all on the powerplay. They weren’t scoring the most traditional goals, but the ball started going in. On the far wrong side of floor by boards, Curtis Knight swept one at Rosey’s legs to get a reset and instead got a lucky one.
Finding a way to keep closing the gap, Knight made it 8-11 with a heap of momentum heading toward the final frame. The 6-3 effort in third brought the game to the closest it had been since the early minutes of the first.
It took a while, but a relatively quiet Matthew Dinsdale redirected a one-timer for an important goal about halfway in to start a little something. An over and back for the Rock resulted in quick restart from Nik Bilic. The ball moving to Matthews with a head of steam from the gate, the 6’5” lefty goes up and over Rose for an athletic, 10-11, goal.
Driving out from the wall, McArdle fights past the screen and pinpoints it in past Bold to get the two score cushion back. Coming back into the attacking end off the draw, rookie Reid Reinholdt found the swing on the backside as he stumbled backward, sniping it in for his career first, making it 13-10.
Despite their constant attack, the Rush would let six minutes pass without another score and a late strike from #1 draft pick Ryan Keenan in the final minute wouldn’t be enough the recharge the batteries and get something rolling.
Over ten-thousand lacrosse fans would stay on their feet to salute their boys in blue, staying undefeated with their second win of 2017, first at home.
9 of 13 Toronto Rock goals were by guys that weren’t on the floor with the team last season, 5 of which fell from 5 separate rookies. They have a similar feel to what Georgia has been running with. Except they have consistent goaltending from Nick Rose, an extremely experienced backline and a strong core of veterans on the offensive side. All the while having most of their most key pieces from the 2016 attack waiting to return from injury.
Bradley Kri has been nothing short of unbelievable at the face-off dot, winning 18 of 25, dismantling Jeremy Thompson. Now over 67% in his first two games, the lengthy Kri will be an important key for the success of Toronto. I say this because Kri is bringing not only domination to his draws, but he is effective on all ends of the floor. His well-rounded skill set is unlike most of the guys taking the majority of face-offs in the NLL.
But, it’s not all perfect. The Rock really need to fix the powerplay after only connecting on 1 of 5 attempts. The Rush have a great penalty kill, but the Rush need to take advantage of their nearly unparalleled stick-work to get the defense and the goalie moving.
They will get another bye week to prepare for hosting Rochester on January 28th. Their experiment is working so far, I expect that they only fine tune things this week and keep the roster fairly as-is.
There are so many flashes of brilliance for the Rush that we shouldn’t worry about them moving forward. I understand that a 0-2 start is not what we expected from the defending champs, but it happened in 2015 and they hoisted the Cup that May.
After missing the first game due to suspension, Aaron Bold had to work off the rust against a Rock team coming in off a big win, a week of rest and a chip on their shoulders from 2016. Once some shots found his pads, we got a much better night out of Bold in the second half.
Opposite of what I expected, the heat of the tough Rush defensive unit didn’t get to the mass of rookies on the other end. Their penalty kill was strong, but they allowed too much room for luck on the 5 on 5.
The offense is dead last when it comes to Shots on Goal, Loose Balls and they’re absolutely getting crushed in the Face-Off Win column. Possessions equal shots and shots mean goals. Simple.
Averaging 3 points per game must be improved upon by Adam Jones, whether he’s putting the ball in himself or passing out assists. There’s a lot of emphasis on the defensive end, but not an arsenal of backpack-carrying scorers. When the ball gets into the offensive zone, it’s up to Jones to start playing a vital role in points production.
That said, we can’t keep have goose eggs from Sorichetti and McIntosh on top of one goal games Keenan, Dinsdale and Knight. Guys need to wakeup and match the effort of Matthews and Church. The firepower doesn’t run deep. Even when the stars are racking up the numbers, the support staff needs to put up a fight and make positive contributions.
Luckily for them, there should be around 15k fans packed behind them in the SaskTel Centre on Saturday for banner-raising night when they host the Knighthawks for their home opener.