Game report: New England 12 @ Toronto 13

I said in my contribution to this week’s Winners and Losers column on IL Indoor that everything is going right for the Toronto Rock. Friday night’s game was kind of a microcosm of that – they played their worst game of the season and still won.

Now, the phrase “their worst game of the season” doesn’t tell the whole story. The Rock have played very well so far this season, and even their loss to Rochester was a solid performance – I did not see it but John Lovell said that it was their best game to that point despite the fact that they lost. So with such a high bar, “worst game” doesn’t mean they played badly. But they weren’t great.

Both teams started out strong, with both goaltenders making some pretty impressive stops and both defenses preventing the offenses from getting good shots off. Evan Kirk was lights out and the New England defense was also playing very well. The Rock offense couldn’t get much going – they managed a 3-on-0 breakaway in the second quarter as two Black Wolves defenders bumped into each other and both fell, but didn’t score. Brandon Miller made some good stops but got beat by a number of low shots and rollers.

I tweeted at halftime that “One of these teams is looking like they’re 3-4. And it’s not the Black Wolves.” I blew it a little because the Wolves were actually 2-3, not 3-4, but the idea is the same. The third quarter was even worse for the Rock, and might have been the worst quarter they’ve played this year. Four New England goals within five minutes put the Rock down by five, which seemed to be the nail in the Rock’s coffin. Brandon Miller was replaced by Nick Rose after the third of those four goals and Nick had a much better game than Brandon did. Miller wasn’t terrible but didn’t seem to be seeing the ball well, while Rose saw everything.

Then late in the third, Stephen Leblanc scored a nice shorthanded goal on a pass from Nick Rose, where he spun around and backhanded it over a sprawling Evan Kirk. Brett Hickey scored just two minutes later and the Rock went into the 4th quarter only down by 3. This seemed to energize them, and they realized that they were still in this game. Josh Sanderson and Joel White traded goals in the first half of the fourth and then the Rock offense started clicking just as the New England defense stopped. The Rock scored their own four in five minutes and took a one-goal lead with under three minutes left.

That lead only held up for a minute and a half before Kyle Buchanan’s 4th of the game tied it again, and we were off to overtime. Given the season he’s having, it’s only fitting that Josh Sanderson continued his crazy scoring pace by scoring the OT winner only 40 seconds in. It’s a great story – the former superstar player on the down side of his career who has a big comeback after the death of his father and mentor. But Josh isn’t just having a good season – he’s making a serious bid for league MVP here. I haven’t seen him work this hard in years.

There was a pretty decent fight in the second quarter, which I’m sure we’ll discuss on Sunday night’s Addicted to Lacrosse show. Jamie Lincoln picked a fight with Jesse Gamble which turned out to be a bad idea. It wasn’t exactly a heavyweight bout; Gamble is only 5’9″ and 180 lbs, while Lincoln is taller at 6’1″ but only 185 lbs. They wrestled to get their helmets off but Gamble managed to keep his on the whole fight. Gamble demolished Lincoln, landing punch after punch, but the fact that he never got his helmet off changed things a little. It’s highly possible that Lincoln didn’t want to throw bare-knuckle punches at Gamble’s helmet so he ended up just taking the punches and so the fight looked a lot more one-sided than it would have been. On the other hand, it could be that Gamble’s helmet was of little consequence because Lincoln never landed a punch anyway.

So the Rock are now leading the league at 7-1 while the Black Wolves fall to 2-4 and last in the East. Toronto plays in Edmonton next Friday night while the Black Wolves host the Mammoth on Sunday afternoon.

Other game notes:

  • Obviously the two teams scored the same number of goals in regulation time. But here’s how they did it:
    • Rock scored 2, then Black Wolves scored 2
    • Rock scored 1, Black Wolves 1, Rock 1, Black Wolves 1
    • Black Wolves scored 6 of the next 7
    • Rock scored 6 of the next 7
    • Rock scored 1, Black Wolves scored 1
    • OT: Toronto scored 1
  • After a good Brandon Miller save, Bruce Barker announced “A thrilla by Milla!” My son remarked “It’s not as bad as ‘You’ve been Roiked!’ but close”
  • (Warning: old guy comment coming) Please ACC, turn the music down. It has nothing to do with my hearing – I don’t want to feel my chest vibrating in time with the bass at a sporting event. A concert, maybe, but not a lacrosse game. Even my 15-year-old son who listens to nothing but Billy Talent and Rush thought it was a bit loud.
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