All summer long, Rock fans have been looking forward to seeing the boys back in action, watching for (a) some solid defence in front of (b) new goaltender Matt Roik, and (c) one of the most potent offenses in the league. In the wise words of the sage known as Mr. Loaf, two outta three ain’t bad. The defense was indeed solid and Roik played very well, but after the first quarter the offense struggled mightily, as the Rock blew 5-0 and 6-1 leads losing to the Calgary Roughnecks 12-9.
The first quarter was all Rock, as Garrett Billings scored the first goal of the 2012 NLL season 2:24 into the first and Josh Sanderson scored less than a minute later. Two goals, two points for Josh Sanderson. A couple of transition goals by Chapman and Hoar and a power play goal from Beirnes with 5 seconds left, combined with a shutout at the other end, and the Rock were up 5-0 after one. Life is good for Rock fans. Calgary seemed disorganized and were dropping passes left and right (my friend Mike said it looked like they had “the yips”), and Mike Poulin was not sharp at all. Matt Roik wasn’t really tested until about ten minutes in (most of the saves he made before that were fairly routine), but made some pretty nice stops after that. I think Calgary also hit three posts and a crossbar in the first quarter alone.
When the second quarter started, Cory Conway finally got things going for the Roughnecks less than 30 seconds in, but shortly after that Blaine Manning answered and the five-goal lead was restored. Nine scoreless minutes followed before the Roughnecks got a couple to drop the margin to three, and the first half ended with a 6-3 Rock lead.
Just as the first quarter was all Rock, the second half was all Roughnecks. They certainly got rid of the yips – actually, I believe they had them sent down the hall to the other dressing room at halftime. By 3½ minutes into the third quarter, the Rock lead had vanished, and three minutes after that, the Roughnecks scored their first go-ahead goal of the night. Toronto didn’t score their seventh goal until 8½ minutes into the third, over 22 minutes after their sixth goal. Phil Sanderson scored to put the Rock ahead again, but Curtis Dickson scored a couple of minutes later to knot it up yet again and the teams finished the third quarter tied at 8.
Calgary broke the tie soon into the fourth as Scott Ranger scored what proved to be the game-winner. Ranger scored another to extend the ‘Necks lead to 2 goals before Dan Carey scored his first as a Rock to get back within one. But the Rock comeback was not to be, as Dane Dobbie scored both his second and third of the night with less than three minutes left. The last was a breakaway on an empty net with twelve seconds left. He was hauled down by a Toronto defender (Bryan?), and immediately awarded an automatic goal.
For the Roughnecks, Dane Dobbie was the top scorer but to me, Shawn Evans was Calgary’s best player. He was his usual self (i.e. a pest), and had a couple of goals and an assist, but he was all over the floor and just making his presence felt by everyone. Evans continues to be the player that other players hate to play against but love to have as a teammate. Mike Poulin wasn’t great in the first quarter at all, but was better in the second quarter and outstanding in the third and fourth. That said, the Rock had less than 40 shots on net.
As for the Rock, the offense struggled from the second quarter on. Leblanc and Carey were invisible most of the night, and Blaine Manning continued his tradition from last year of missing the net seemingly more often than he hit it. Colin Doyle, who has had more assists than goals every season of his career except 2002 and 1998, looked like your stereotypical ball hog, sometimes holding the ball for the majority of the 30 second possession, and then taking a weak or low-percentage shot at the last second. Maybe that’s the fault of his teammates for not getting open and available to pass to, or maybe we should credit the strong Calgary defense for not making such passes available. Regardless, the Rock’s offense just couldn’t get it done.
Matt Roik’s Rock debut didn’t end the way he wanted it to, I’m sure, but that wasn’t his fault. He faced 50+ shots, allowed only 11 goals, and made some excellent stops that kept the Rock in the game. I don’t remember seeing a Calgary goal and thinking “Oh, he really should have had that one”. Andrew McKay of Yahoo! Sports nicely summed it up this way: “Here’s who hated Roik’s opening game: The Minnesota Swarm.” And likely Anthony Cosmo as well.
As I always do in my game reports, I’ve added in some random notes from the game:
- Dear Roughnecks players: please stand still during the national anthem. This has been one of my pet peeves for years – athletes who walk or bounce around during the anthems. Two or three Roughnecks hadn’t even arrived on the floor until after the anthem had started (Dobbie and Ranger, maybe others). Dobbie didn’t seem to respect the anthem at all; he did the fist bumps down the line, then bumped into the far boards, walked around a bit, jumped up and down a bit, he never stopped moving once. Now, I get that these guys are pumped and ready to play and there’s lots of adrenaline flowing and all that, but the rest of the players were able to control themselves. Lots of players were stepping from foot to foot, but Dobbie was the only one who left the line.
- Newcomers Bill Greer and Bruce Codd were both scratches, while Jesse Gamble (who Troy Cordingley had previously said was not going to play) was in the lineup.
- The “Toronto Rock Cheerleaders” went with much skimpier outfits than previous years, and now have a much shorter name. I believe they used to be known as the “Molson Canadian Bud Light Toronto Rock Dance Pack of Anaheim brought to you by Labatts Blue”.
- In the second quarter, both goaltenders were called to the ref’s booth to have their pads measured. Never seen that mid-game before. I didn’t notice if any players had their sticks measured during the game.
- The announcer should be shot for calling some saves as “Denial, Matty style”. The “denial” thing should have been exclusively for Whipper.
- Another thing I’d never seen before – a shot went over the net, bounced off the boards, and ended up right behind the net. No, that wasn’t the thing I’d never seen before. This was: Roik dove on top of the net, scooped up the ball, and then just lay there as the net fell forwards (i.e. towards centre). Roik rode it backwards back to his feet, then turned around and continued play. Smooooooth.
- There were two goal reviews called by coaches (the maximum now allowed), and both involved goals by Phil Sanderson. One he got, one he didn’t. The one he didn’t should have been a no-brainer – he shot the ball and then fell into the crease. From the replay it looked like he landed a good two or three seconds before the ball went in. I don’t know why the challenge took so long.
- For the first time that I can remember, the Rock left the floor after the handshakes without doing their lap around the floor acknowledging the fans.