The Edmonton Rush had never won in Toronto going into Saturday night’s game. But the Rush that played on Saturday was quite different from those previous teams, including a new captain, new forwards, new defenders, and a new goalie. None of those changes was enough to break the streak though, as the Rock beat the Rush 12-8 to clinch a berth in the playoffs.
The game featured the return of two of Toronto’s offensive stars: Josh Sanderson, who had missed two games with an upper body injury, and Blaine Manning who has missed most of the season after breaking his collarbone in the second game of the year. Both were involved in the scoring, Josh with a goal and Manning with a goal (his 800th point in the NLL) and an assist. But then again, almost everyone was involved in the scoring – there were ten different Rock goal scorers and four others got assists. Garrett Billings, who would be a strong MVP candidate were it not for one John C. Grant Jr. in Colorado, scored the Rock’s first goal and added six assists, and Colin Doyle continued his strong play after returning from injury with a hat-trick (Toronto’s only multiple-goal scorer) and two assists.
While it was awesome that Billings was involved in every Rock goals in last week’s game, it did mean (and Billings pointed this out himself in an interview) that there were zero transition goals scored by the Rock in that game. That changed in a big way this week, as the Rock scored four on transition, all in the second, including three in a row. Rob Marshall’s was a beauty, as he and Blaine Manning came in on a 2-on-1. It looked like Marshall was just waiting for the right moment to pass to Manning and then he shot it himself, top corner. Manning didn’t get an assist because he didn’t touch the ball, but he deserved a virtual one.
Nick Rose allowed two goals in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the game, and I’m sure that was not how he wanted to show the Toronto fans what he could do in his home debut. But he settled down nicely after that, only allowing one more goal until over half way through the third quarter. But I’m sure I heard a few boos from the crowd on the Rush’s third and fourth goals (at 7:35 of the 2nd and 8:13 of the third respectively). Rose has allowed four goals in 3 1/2 quarters (after allowing less than 10 goals in each of this first two games, both wins), and you’re booing him? WTF, people? He (and the defense, it wasn’t entirely Rose’s fault) did allow the Rush to get back in it, as they scored five in a row. But those five took place over more than a quarter of play, so it’s not like he fell apart. The five straight Edmonton goals were as much a fault of the offense as the defense – Toronto went over 19 minutes without scoring in the third and fourth.
In the second and early third, the Rock scored nine straight to go from losing 3-2 to up 11-3. But before and after this streak, the Edmonton defense was stifling. Nobody could get near the net or get any decent shots on Bold. The Edmonton transition was pretty impressive as well, though not as successful as Toronto’s. Derek Suddons scored the opening goal, and Chris Corbeil scored from Bold in the third. And man, that Jeff Cornwall is fast. Didn’t see much of Steve Toll in the first half and just as I pointed out to someone that Toll hadn’t played much, we saw him on the floor and he intercepted a pass (one of at least five for both teams on the night), a skill he has always excelled at.
Every team makes errant passes now and again; nobody has pinpoint accuracy 100% of the time. But there were at least two made by the Rock to which”errant” just doesn’t do justice. Phil Sanderson had the ball in his own end and started up the floor. Brenden Thenhaus came off the bench and expected the pass, but it never came. Then Billings came off the bench and didn’t expect the pass, but Sanderson passed to him anyway. But even if Billings had been paying attention, the pass was ten feet away from him. Chris Corbeil grabbed it, passed to Derek Suddons, who passed to Ryan Ward who scored. Later on, Colin Doyle passed across the floor to Stephan Leblanc and again, even if Leblanc had seen the pass it still would have been way too far away for him to catch. Those are the kinds of plays you expect to see in the first game of the year, not the thirteenth by a team battling for first place.
Special teams didn’t come into play much. There were only six power plays by both teams all night, with the Rock scoring two PP goals and the Rush one. One of the Toronto goals could be attributed directly to Tyler Codron; Codron was hit by (I think) Billings, who was called for a moving pick. As the possession change occurred, Billings turned around and ran towards the Rock bench, only to be blatantly cross-checked from behind by Codron. It was a selfish retaliatory penalty by a team that had been disciplined all night, and 16 seconds later, Blaine Manning made him pay by scoring his first goal in almost three months.
It was announced before the game that the Rock needed to win and Buffalo needed to lose in order for the Rock to clinch a playoff spot but later on (after the Bandits won), the Rock tweeted that they had indeed clinched a spot. I’m guessing that somehow, a scenario that would allow them to clinch without a Buffalo loss was missed. Edmonton has a more difficult road to the playoffs – they basically have to keep pace with the Stealth as they own the tiebreaker with Washington. But Edmonton has the tougher schedule remaining, with games against Buffalo, Colorado, Calgary, and another against Toronto while Washington takes on Minnesota, Toronto, and Buffalo.
Other game notes:
- After the debacle with the anthem at the last game, the Rock went with a sure thing this time, bringing out a 7-year-old girl to sing the anthem. Who’s gonna boo a 7-year-old? Sure enough, there was no booing, and the little girl did a very good job singing in front of 14,000 people. While she was walking off the floor after the anthem, Colin Doyle ran up to her to tell her she did a great job. Classy move by the captain.
- Former Rock players on the Rush: Williams, Wilson, Codron, Suddons, Steve Toll, Dilks, Quinlan.
- There were three guys sitting about 7 rows ahead of me with three different NLL jerseys – Ravens, Blazers, and one from an All-Star game. Don’t remember the last time I saw a Ravens jersey.
- Holy crap, is Brodie MacDonald big. When standing in front of the net, the top of the net was at his elbows.
- One fight in the game: Rookie Jesse Gamble and Aaron Wilson?!
- There was one goaltender equipment check, shortly after Brodie MacDonald replaced Aaron Bold in the Rush net. A few minutes later, Bold was back in. A tweet I saw presented without comment: “Did Edmonton pull Bold just for the equipment checks?”
- I’ve read this about hockey, but it seems to apply even more so to lacrosse. We always hear about lacrosse players being one big family and there’s so much respect among the players, and everyone is just overflowing with integrity. So why do they use the intentionally-vague terms “upper-body injury” and “lower-body injury” so often? Other than avoiding embarrassment, (“Joe Quicksticks is out of the game tonight because of hemorrhoids”), the only reason to use those vague terms is to avoid targeting: If everyone knows that Joe’s left shoulder is hurt, they might try to hit him extra hard in that shoulder. But surely these players with so much integrity wouldn’t try to intentionally hurt their “brother”, would they?