Toronto’s final home game of the year saw the Halifax Thunderbirds in town to help celebrate Indigenous Heritage Night. I’ve given some more details on that in my Weekly Report so I won’t repeat it all here but it was a great night and the specially-designed Rock jerseys were absolutely beautiful. The game itself was entertaining as well though I’m a little surprised at how much the Thunderbirds don’t look like the team that started the season 8-1.
We’ll start at the back and move our way forward. Nick Rose was outstanding, yet again, and IMHO has cemented his place among the three finalists for Goaltender of the Year. There are enough goalies having good seasons that I wouldn’t call him a lock to win it quite yet, but with the lowest GAA (among starters), the third-highest save percentage, and holding his opponents to single digits 11 times out of 15 games where he played >55 minutes, he gets my vote. In this game, he allowed six goals in the first half and made a couple of amazing saves, and then was even better in the second half, allowing a single goal. His defense really helped out here, as there were not that many really great scoring opportunities for Halifax. But more than once a forward made it through the defense and faced Rose one on one only to end up frustrated.
Latrell Harris continued his amazing season as well, picking up loose balls all over the place and turning them into transition opportunities. I also noticed Sheldon Burns more often than I have all season. I tend to think of Mitch de Snoo as a defender first, though he’s got more than a handful of goals this season. But at the very end of the second quarter, the Rock pulled Rose and put six runners out there, and who do I see on the right side but Mitch de Snoo. This was right after a timeout, so it’s not as if he got caught out there and didn’t have time to run off.
Up front, Challen Rogers stayed out on offense more often than usual, though he’s been doing that a lot this season. This time it resulted in his first hat-trick of the season (and first since April 2018). Dan Craig had another great game, picking up 4 goals and 5 assists, and Tom Schreiber also had 4+5, his highest point output of the year. Schreiber now leads the league in goals with 45, despite playing two fewer games than Joe Resetarits and one fewer than Keegan Bal, each of whom have 42.
Craig’s fourth goal was a thing of beauty and a great example of unselfish play. Challen Rogers started to head to the net and looked like he was going to shoot (he had just scored his third less than a minute before this), but then passed to Dan Dawson. Dawson also looked like he was going to shoot, but at the last second shot a pass cross-crease to Craig who quick-sticked it behind Aaron Bold. Either Rogers or Dawson could have shot it but opted to pass so the team had a better opportunity to score. This is why both of them have far more assists than goals, and a big reason why the Rock’s offense has been so strong this year.
On the Halifax side, Clarke Petterson and Austin Shanks scored some nice goals. While I didn’t hear Cody Jamieson’s name as often as I’m used to, he made his presence felt by more than one Rock defender, and fired a bullet over Rose’s right shoulder for his only goal of the game. A few weeks ago I described Dawson Theede as a guy who’s job is NOT to put the ball in the net, but is there to help those who do the scoring. The second part of this was correct, but the first part was wrong. He’s as dangerous as anyone else on the Thunderbirds.
Warren Hill started in net for Halifax and didn’t have his greatest game, allowing 8 goals in 21 minutes. Aaron Bold came in and finished the game, allowing 7 goals in 39 minutes. He had a much better game than Hill but the damage had been done by that point, and Nick Rose was playing too well to allow the T-birds to get back into it.
For the first time since their move to Hamilton, the Rock opened the upper bowl and saw attendance just north of 10,000. With the win, the Rock clinched a home playoff game. Hopefully the upward-trending attendance numbers continue.