It ain’t over yet.
The Rock sent that message loud and clear on Friday night, taking down the Buffalo Bandits 12-9 at the ACC to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Despite being without Colin Doyle (who is out for the year because of a fractured vertebra in his neck – HE BROKE HIS NECK people), Brett Hickey, Patrick Merrill, Scott Johnston, Jamie Batson, Damon Edwards, and Bill Greer (did I miss anyone? Probably), the Rock managed to get it done against the top team in the East. That said, the Bandits didn’t really look like the top team in the East.
We’ll start from the outside and work our way in. Nick Rose was outstanding, yet again. I said a few weeks ago that he might be my pick for Goaltender of the Year, though Evan Kirk and Mike Poulin are right up there too. There were a couple of goals that he allowed on shots he didn’t see – at least I’m guessing he didn’t see them since he didn’t move at all – but he also made some really outstanding saves. Anthony Cosmo also had a strong game, making some great saves himself but just wasn’t quite as good as Rosey. The Bandits backup goalie, Steve Priolo (what, you thought it was DeRuscio? HA!), also made a great stop on the one shot he faced when a Rock player had a wide open cage with Cosmo on the bench.
Buffalo’s defense was generally good, with a few lapses here and there. Kasey Beirnes got a couple of goals from in close, and somebody (Sanderson?) was left alone on the doorstep at least once. Their transition was typically fast, but the Rock countered by sometimes leaving a defender down at the other end and going with only four O guys. This didn’t help the offense, but prevented the Buffalo transition from racking up the breakaway goals.
Toronto’s defense was excellent. The Bandits had lots of shot clock violations, shots from distance because they couldn’t get any closer (though Steenhuis did score one from the restraining line), and dumping the ball into the corner. They never scored more than two in a row, and had five leads in the first half, which all vanished. The only stat you really need to know: Dhane Smith was held to a single goal (Buffalo’s first goal) and a single assist (on Buffalo’s last goal). His goal was beautiful though – a bounce shot that was perfectly placed to hit the ground right under Rose’s dropping leg. Any slower or any further forward or back and it would have been stopped. Smith is by far the league’s leading scorer and hadn’t scored fewer than five points in any game this year. It’s amazing that a 4-10 team was able to keep him to only two points.
Neither offense was really clicking. There were lost of missed passes on both sides, and the Rock in particular seemed to make a lot of passes to someone who was completely covered or even double-teamed. Sure, if the pass is completed, you’ve got a man in close and a quick shot could surprise everyone, but it’s still a low-percentage pass and far more often than not led to turnovers. Dan Lintner and Turner Evans seem to be fitting in well with LeBlanc, Hellyer, and Sanderson (and Ross who played about half defense and half offense). If Sanderson and Doyle (BROKEN NECK) decide to hang ’em up after this season, Lintner and Evans won’t just step in and replace these two Hall of Famers without missing a beat, but the future of the Rock offense still looks pretty good.
As I mentioned, Dhane Smith was held to just two points; in fact nobody on the Bandits had more than four. They were doing less of the “pass it to the guy who’s double-teamed” thing than the Rock, but still missing players with passes and shooting wide of the net. Smith in particular missed the net a number of times. I remember watching him wind up and thinking “it’s Dhane Smith, this is going in” only to see him miss the net by a foot.
The injuries troubles continue for the Rock too. Right after the face-off to start the third quarter, Brock Sorensen was hit or turned his leg funny or something and fell to the ground, screaming in pain. My seats are 17 rows back from the Rock bench and despite the music playing, I could clearly hear his screams from centre floor. Play was immediately stopped and the ACC was silent for several minutes as the trainers tried to figure out how to get him off the floor. In the end, they mostly carried him, though he was able to hop on his right leg a little. His left leg never touched the ground and he did not return. Hopefully it looked worse than it was.
I wouldn’t say the Bandits got into penalty trouble, though the Rock did score three PP goals. But Buffalo got the same needless delay of game penalty twice. The ref whistled a change of possession, and Daryl Veltman immediately dropped the ball, but didn’t move. When the Rock player picked up the ball, Veltman immediately checked him. You can’t do that. He went to the box (a place with which he’s rather unfamiliar, see below) and Toronto scored on the power play. About six minutes later, Alex Kedoh Hill did exactly the same thing and also went to the box, though the Bandits managed to kill that one. Sometimes taking a penalty is necessary, in fact Luc Magnan took one in the third that probably prevented a Bandits player from being in all alone on Rose. But the delay of game one is not one of those. It’s completely avoidable and taking that one is kind of dumb.
These two teams meet again tonight in Buffalo, and my sons and I are making the trek across the border. As a Rock fan I’m hoping for a repeat performance, but as a realist I’m not expecting one. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Dhane Smith pull out 10+ points and knock the Rock out of the playoffs.
Other game notes:
- Nice to see Adam Will get a goal in his NLL debut, though having a guy named Will and a guy named Hill didn’t help me figure out who was on the floor.
- Daryl Veltman’s delay of game penalty was his first penalty since 2012. He now has nine penalties totaling 24 minutes in his entire career – eight seasons. Not bad.
- Weirdest challenge ever – Buffalo was credited with a goal which Toronto immediately challenged. The replay clearly showed the ball never went in the net at all. The ref who called it a goal was in the perfect position to see this, so I’m not sure how he thought it was a goal in the first place. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt though – in real time, it could have looked like it went in and bounced out very quickly. We’ve all see those goals before.
- When Chad Culp got called for holding in the first quarter, some Rock fans near the penalty box did the Buffalo “B-O-X B-O-X” chant. Sweet.
- At the beginning of the game, Bruce Barker announced something like “Let’s show the Buffalo fans how loud Toronto can be!” The clear answer: if we’re winning, not bad. If not, pretty damned quiet.
- Announced attendance: 9,237. Maybe if they included all the players, coaches, and peanut and beer vendors. No way there were 9,000+ fans at that game.
- Cool to see the @LacrosseBoss up on the Jumbotron, winning some power tools!