The Toronto Rock started 2015 with three straight wins. That possibility was gone after game one this year. The 2015 Rock won 10 of their first 12 games. While that’s still technically possible in 2016, I’m going to go out on a limb and call it unlikely.
The Rock’s first two games had different expectations. One was against a team that finished well under .500 last year and missed the playoffs. They are a much improved team this year, but it was still a game that the Rock probably thought they should win. The other was against the perennially strong Rochester Knighthawks, 12-6 last season and only a year removed from three straight Championships. Nobody would count the Rock out entirely, but even they would probably agree that a win in that game was slightly less likely than the Georgia game. But regardless, the outcomes were the same: for the most part, they were barely in either game and lost them both 12-7.
There were also a number of similarities in the two games besides the score. Colin Doyle had two assists in each game, Turner Evans had one. The goalies saved around 3/4 of the shots they faced (Rose 74.4%, Miller 73.3%) while the opposing goalie was well over 80% (MacDonald 83.3%, Vinc 85.1%). They scored a single goal in the second half of game 1 and two in the first half of game 2. Put another way, they went over 71 minutes scoring 3 goals.
In the first quarter, both teams were missing the net all over the place. At one point a few minutes in, there had been about 8 shots between the two teams and only one didn’t miss the net entirely. The Knighthawks got better. The Rock didn’t. They were missing the net a lot but also missing passes and being intercepted and as Mike Wilson said on twitter, they were playing like they’d never played together before. They were rushing transition chances, shooting early in the shot clock, and there seemed to be a lot of cross-floor passes through traffic, many of which never reached their intended target. They really needed a quarterback out there to set up plays and settle things down when guys wanted to shoot early, but Josh Sanderson, who’s filled that role very well for years, was obviously not available.
Colin Doyle has also filled that role in the past, but he just didn’t seem up to it on Thursday. Quite honestly, he looked old and slow. He’s never been Mr. Speedy anyway, but there were times where he’d cut to the middle, receive a pass, then miss the net. Or cut to the middle and miss the pass entirely. By the fourth quarter, it looked like each of Doyle, Hellyer, and Hickey were thinking “I need to score a couple to get us back into this” and so they’d be shooting when they probably shouldn’t have been.
Now, they were also facing the Knighthawks defense and Matt Vinc, so you can’t fault them too much, but I’ve seen many games where an offensive unit is playing well but the defense is just too good, and this wasn’t that.
Brandon Miller played pretty well, for the most part. He made a few “OMG how did he stop that?” saves, but also let in a few “OMG how did he not stop that?” goals too. The first two Rochester goals were identical shots over his left shoulder, and the third was under his left arm. He seemed to have a three minute span in the first where he couldn’t see anything and let in three goals, but then settled down after that and most of the rest of the Knighthawks goals were scattered.
Dan Lintner made his NLL debut and almost scored, though his foot was on the crease line so it was reversed. He’s small and quick and totally not the same player as Kevin Crowley but he may fit in well on this offense, assuming this offense begins playing at the level they’re capable of. I’m not sure if Luc Magnan is a defender who’s fast or more of a transition player (generally defined as “a defender who’s fast”). He did play some solid defense and had a couple of transition chances though didn’t bury them. He’s no Damon Edwards but since Edwards is injured, you could do worse than having Magnan to replace him.
The bottom line: The Toronto Rock have the biggest home floor advantage in the league. The vast majority of Rock players (possibly all of them?) live near here so very few of them have to travel great distances for games here (then again, that’s true for some visiting teams too). They have a great practice facility and lots of veteran players. There’s no excuse for not being prepared for this game, especially after getting beaten the week before, and they weren’t.
Other game notes:
- On a rare Thursday night, the announced attendance was 9387 but I doubt that many people were actually there. Didn’t look like 9k to me.
- Dan and Paul Dawson were both wearing white leggings and mismatched shoes. The leggings were weird enough but the shoes were dark on the inside (i.e. the left side of the right shoe and vice versa) and light on the outside (right side of right shoe, left side of left). I noticed at least two other Knighthawks (Searle, Llord) who were wearing the same shoes.
- Rob Hellyer must have tried the ol’ roll (not shoot)-the-ball-through-the-five-hole trick at least four times. Never worked.
- For the second straight game, the Rock seemed to lose their discipline right at the end of the game and in both cases, it was unexpected players that got involved. In game one it was Colin Doyle, in game two it was Brett Hickey. After Hickey and Jon Sullivan were sent to the box, Derek Searle cross-checked some Rock player (don’t remember who) in the back, and Billy Hostrawser took exception. They fought and Searle took his hits and went to the box. Rock owner and GM Jamie Dawick wasn’t happy about it, calling Searle “some rookie punk” and said that he got his ass kicked and deserved it. While I don’t entirely disagree with him (though the fact that Searle’s a rookie doesn’t play into it – hitting someone from behind at the final buzzer when you just won by 5 is a dick move regardless of your NLL experience), I’m still unsure how I feel about an NLL executive making those kinds of comments. The fans, definitely. The coach or players, sure. But the GM? He’s got to keep a cooler head, in my humble opinion.
- I know I’ve said this before but the music guy needs to change things up. When the Rock are down late in the fourth, playing the theme from Mission: Impossible is probably not the message you want to send. Play it when the Rock are winning (by a few) or don’t play it.