Game report: New England 12 @ Toronto 15

Overall, this was a pretty entertaining game and not just because my team won. There were a bunch of interesting moments in this game, as well as a few frustrating ones, one scary one, and for me, one that was terrifying.

The Black Wolves have shown a number of times this season that they can play with the big boys. In their first two games they were not only good but dominant – beating the Bandits and crushing the Knighthawks. Then they lost 8 of their next 9 but other than a couple when they got smoked, they looked pretty good even in most of the losses. They certainly put up a good fight in this one as well, and if making the Rock fans nervous in the last few minutes of the 4th quarter was their goal, then mission accomplished.

But that’s not to say that they kept up with the Rock’s level of play throughout the game. Far from it. The Black Wolves actually outplayed the Rock for most of the first half, despite holding a lead for less than six minutes. Their defense was stifling, and Toronto had trouble getting shots off. Many Rock possessions ended with the ball being harmlessly tossed into the corner or just put on the ground since there was no chance of even a desperation shot. The Rock did get a few goals, but all of them from special teams. The Rock’s first seven goals of the game consisted of 4 power-play goals and 3 shorthanded ones. Their first 5-on-5 goal happened five minutes into the third quarter, and in the end only five of their fifteen goals were 5-on-5. When both teams were at even strength, the Rock were simply outmatched. If New England’s power play wasn’t so terrible on Friday, things might have been different. I was almost waiting for the Rock to start chopping at people to get penalized since they were playing better with only 4 players than with 5.

My terrifying moment came during the second quarter when the Black Wolves tied it at 4 and I realized that not only were the 12-4 Rock getting outplayed by a 4-9 team, but that the Rock were 3-3 in their last 6 games and other than against Vancouver, haven’t looked as dominant as they did in the first part of the season. I remembered Melissa asking on a recent Addicted to Lacrosse show whether the Rock had peaked early and would head into the playoffs on a downside slide – the terrifying moment was when I thought that she might have been right.

And then we got to the second half.

The Rock’s offense was better in the second half than in the first, but still wasn’t clicking as well as earlier in the year. I wondered if they were really missing Rob Hellyer, but it could also have been the strong play of the New England defense. (I also wondered if the distraction of learning they might get Colin Doyle back and then finding out just before game time that they wouldn’t might have been a factor, but I don’t think that was it.) I didn’t think the Rock D played great in the second half (I remember two plays when Jeff Gilbert got beat 1-on-1), but Brandon Miller stepped his game up a few notches. He was not fantastic in the first half, but good enough to keep his team in it. In the second half though, he was lights-out and was much of the difference in the game. This seems backwards since the Black Wolves scored 4 in the first half and 8 in the second half, but they also took seventy shots on the night. Seventy.

Brett Hickey had a great game. His 3G 5A brought him to a league-leading 46 goals (tied with Curtis Dickson) and he’s now in 12th with 76 points. Stephan Leblanc’s 1+7 bumped him into a tie for 4th with 86 points, but I have to give kudos to Leblanc for his work ethic. At least twice I watched him fighting in the corner for a loose ball near the end of a Rock possession, while 2 or 3 defenders were pounding on him and most of his teammates were already heading towards the bench. One of these times led directly to a New England penalty, and the Rock scored on the ensuing power play. Nice job Steph.

Anyway, let’s move onto the interesting moments:

  • Early in the 4th, Jesse Gamble fought with Mike Manley. While Manley was walking to the penalty box, Gamble was holding his hand up and went to talk to the refs. He then went to the dressing room and did not return. I’m 95% sure I saw him say “he bit me” to the Rock bench on his way off the floor.
  • Garrett Billings’s return to Toronto was rather uneventful. He had a goal and 4 assists, almost exactly what he’s had in each of his previous 3 games with the Black Wolves. When he scored his goal in the 4th quarter, the ACC PA guy played The Who’s “Who Are You?”
  • Sandy Chapman scored a nice transition goal in the 4th and the Black Wolves challenged it since it looked like he might have stepped on the crease line just before shooting. A replay showed that he tiptoed near the line but never touched it. He expertly danced around the crease like he does it 40 times a year. It was actually the 32nd goal of his 14-year career.
  • Also in the 4th (the 4th was definitely the most interesting quarter!), the Rock challenged a goal that had been waved off. I’m pretty sure the ref never went to the replay booth at all but the call on the floor was overturned and the goal counted. I don’t think I’ve seen a call changed without the actual replay. Maybe the other ref saw it clearly and was positive about it while the original ref had some doubts about his own call, or the original ref immediately realized he’d called it wrong and didn’t bother going to the replay to correct it. It makes you wonder if the call would have been reversed if the Rock hadn’t challenged it.

The frustrating moment:

  • The Rock took three Too Many Men penalties. Once in the third, they sent five men out when they were killing a penalty. It looked like they just forgot that they were on the PK. In the fourth, they took a “normal” too many men penalty, and while killing that one, they took another one – they just forgot again and sent out five players. That’s when Billings scored, otherwise the Rock would have been down 5-on-3.

The scary moment:

  • Andrew Suitor was covering Kevin Crowley in the New England end, when Crowley gave Suitor a fairly innocent-looking push and Suitor dropped and did not get back up. A few minutes later, he was carried off the floor and did not return. I remember watching the Minnesota game in 2013 when he blew out his knee and was carried off the floor then, and so this seemed eerily familiar. He missed the rest of that season (11 games), so hopefully this injury isn’t as bad as it looked.

Other game notes:

  • We’ve all seen the kiss cam, the dance cam, and recently I’ve seen the “show us your muscles” cam in some arenas. Ah, the joys of watching the Jumbotron feed over the internet. Anyway, the Rock started a new thing during this game: the beer belly cam. Yes, they showed men with, um, significant girth around the middle section, showing off what they had. I really hope that idea dies a quick and painful death.
  • After the game, my son spotted a wallet sitting in a cup holder a couple of rows ahead of us. He asked the guy sitting next to it if it was his, and he said “Oh, yeah, that’s mine.” On our way out, we heard a different guy frantically talking to the usher about losing his wallet. He said he was sitting “right there”, pointing to where Nicky had found the wallet. We told the usher we’d found it and she went to talk to the other guy who claimed it. She came back with the wallet but when they went to check what was in it (i.e. hopefully some picture ID so we could tell whose it was), it was empty. No cash, no ID, nothing. The guy who said it was his was nowhere to be found by then. Douche.
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