I almost feel like I have to apologize to the Toronto Rock. I did pick them to win this series and head to the Champions Cup final, but not with much confidence, and I actually changed my pick since I originally had Rochester. (Note that the IL Indoor “NLL staff Picks: Division Finals Game 2 and 3” page has my picks listed incorrectly – I picked Toronto to win both game 2 and the mini-game. I also picked Calgary to win game 2 and Edmonton to win the mini-game. 4 for 4, baby.) But the way Toronto played on Saturday, there was almost no doubt from the opening whistle that Toronto was the better team.
The game started with something odd – rather than announcing each player one by one like they always do, they simply said “Here’s the Toronto Rock!” and the whole team ran out at once. Maybe they decided that they wanted to be viewed as a team rather than a collection of individuals and so they dispensed with the introductions.
The Rock came out on fire. They scored on their first two shots (both by Brett Hickey) and then Stephan Leblanc scored to make it 3-0 just over 3 minutes in. The Knighthawks got on the board then and the Rock calmed down a little, but the Rock had possession down in the Knighthawk end for the majority of the first quarter. In the second, Rochester seemed to get frustrated and got into a bit of penalty trouble, leading to two Rock power play goals. Stephen Keogh scored his second of the night with just a couple of seconds left in the half to cut the lead to 8-3, but it was clear the Rock was in control.
As much as I was enjoying the lead and the intensity with which the team was playing, I had to keep my enthusiasm in check. I have seen enough lacrosse to know that being up by 5 at the half is no guarantee of a win. Not to mention that even if they wiped the floor with the Knighthawks in game 2, there was still the mini-game to play. Momentum (and penalties) might carry over, but the score would not.
In the second half, the Rock seemed to let their foot off the gas. They still seemed in control for the most part, but Vinc played a lot better and the Knighthawks started to get back into the game. By a minute into the 4th, they were only down by two. I don’t know about other fans, but I started to get a little nervous. But then the D clamped down again and the Rock got a couple more by Vinc. I thought the Knighthawks were going to pull their top players to rest them up for the mini-game, but they didn’t; they seemed to continue playing for the comeback win, even when it got to the point of needing four goals in 3 minutes or so.
Brandon Miller was playing very well but I thought the defense in front of him was outstanding. I also thought that Rochester wasn’t making the most of their possessions; they’d frequently shoot when there was more than 10 seconds left on the shot clock. Matt Vinc had an uncharacteristically bad game. He was better in the second half than the first, but he was giving up goals that he normally wouldn’t. It wasn’t that he wasn’t making the “holy crap” saves that he usually does, he wasn’t even making the “normal” saves that most goalies usually do.
Stephen Keogh came to play, scoring 6 of Rochester’s 8 goals and really looking good. He took a penalty right at the end of the game, which carried over into the mini-game, though I don’t think he knew that. He came out of the box after game 2 ended, and was told by the refs to go back. Some folks on twitter suggested the Knighthawks should have scored on their own net before game 2 ended to negate the penalty, but apparently there was a memo from the league before the playoffs saying that this would result in an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, as it should.
I was a little worried about the mini-game, since (a) Toronto had only scored 3 goals in the second half, and (b) Matt Vinc was looking much more like the Matt Vinc we expected to see. But the mini-game looked more like the first quarter, as the Rock came out on fire once again. I did not vote for John Lovell as Coach of the Year (well, I put him on the ballot but at #3 or 4), but now I think he should have been higher. They scored 7 goals on 8 shots in less than 7 minutes and completely deflated the Knighthawks. Vinc was finally pulled in favour of Angus Goodleaf but the damage was done by then.
So there have been 5 mini-games in the league in the past 2 years, and I’ve seen two of them. Have to say they’re very exciting to watch, but are they a good idea in general? That I’m not so sure of, but I may get to that in a future article. We’re now down to 2 teams and the first best-of-3 series since 1998. The Rush will be visiting the ACC next weekend, and I am looking forward to it.
Other game notes:
- Only 10,000 fans at the game, but it was certainly the loudest I’ve heard the ACC in a couple of years.
- There were several busloads of Rochester fans at one end, cheering loudly for the ‘Hawks. Unfortunately for them, “Hawks” and “Rock” rhyme, and so their chants of “Let’s Go Hawks!” quickly turned into chants of “Let’s Go Rock!” by the hometown fans. I thought it was great to see such a large group from Rochester, just like I love seeing tons of Bandits fans when they play in Toronto. It was a little disappointing to see that about half of them had left before the tiebreaker game was even over. Where did they go? Were they afraid the buses were going to leave without them? Also nice to see the Knighthawks salute them before they left the floor.
- Kevin Crowley is not just a great forward, he plays some pretty great defense too.
- Just like last week, Rochester’s defense intercepted a whole bunch of passes, but they really only scored one transition goal all night.
- A number of those intercepted passes came from Colin Doyle. I also noticed that Doyle took more shots through traffic than many others; he seemed to want to shoot even when it may not have been a good idea.
- Patrick Merrill took a penalty shot in the mini-game because the Knighthawks took a too-many-men penalty with <2 minutes left. In that case, the Rock could have chosen anyone on the floor to take the shot, so I’m curious why they chose him.