Game report: Halifax @ Toronto

Friday night featured the first game of the 2022 NLL playoffs and if you don’t think playoff lacrosse is just a little more intense than the regular season, I urge you to check out Halifax’s visit to Toronto Hamilton. Actually Colorado’s visit to Calgary was pretty intense as well, but I’m just talking about the T-Birds/Rock game here. As the second seed in the East and the home team, the Rock were the favourites but in a one-game winner-take-all showdown, we know anything can happen. Both teams have a ton of firepower up front, solid defense and transition, great goaltending, a proven leader as their captain, and are well-coached. We all knew this was going to be a fantastic game.

And we were right. The Rock wasted no time getting the home crowd into it, scoring the first five goals of the game, two of which came within a minute of the previous one. Halifax didn’t score until more than twelve minutes had elapsed and began to chip away at the lead, but the Rock took a 9-3 lead into the half. The Thunderbirds came out flying in the third though, as Jake Withers scored on the opening possession only twenty seconds in. They kept the Rock off the board for more than nine minutes while scoring four to make it a two goal game. The Rock scored a couple late in the third to get back to a four-goal lead.

The fourth quarter started off similar to the third – Halifax scored 28 seconds in, kept the Rock scoreless for seven minutes, and scored four times. But the four in the third got the Thunderbirds back into the game; these four tied it and only fifteen seconds after the fourth, Dawson Theede gave the Thunderbirds their first lead of the night. It was short-lived though, as Tom Schreiber scored his third to tie the game less than two minutes later. The next seven and a half minutes featured fast breaks, stifling defense, and great saves at both ends, but no goals. For the second time in their last three meetings, the Rock and Thunderbirds went to overtime tied at 13.

Challen Rogers scores the OT Winner

In overtime, both teams got some chances early but the defenses were strong. The Thunderbirds got a couple of shots off but they weren’t great scoring chances, and I’m not sure the Rock managed a shot at all – until a broken play resulted in a breakaway chance for Rock captain Challen Rogers, and he made no mistake, burying the shot and sending most of the home town crowd home happy.

I say most of the crowd because there were a lot of Halifax fans in the arena, so T-birds goals were almost as loud as the Rock goals, particularly late in the game. But this was the loudest and most engaged that I’ve seen Rock fans since their move to Hamilton. The fourth quarter and overtime featured some of the most exciting lacrosse I’ve seen all season and everybody in the arena was fully into it.

The Rock defense was amazing in the first half, particularly the first quarter. Shots just weren’t getting through so Nick Rose didn’t have to make a ton of difficult saves. Passes were blocked and intercepted, and the ball was stripped from the Halifax forwards numerous times. Halifax was a little sloppy in the offensive zone but that improved as the game went on. By the third quarter, it wasn’t the Rock’s defense getting worse, it was Halifax’s offense getting better that allowed them to cut down the lead and eventually grab it for themselves. Huge kudos to the Thunderbirds for never giving up, a quality we’ve seen from this team all year.

The Thunderbirds got strong games from Clarke Petterson and Cody Jamieson, as expected, and Ryan Terefenko also played very well. On the T-Birds offense, Jamieson, Petterson, Evans (who was scratched), Shanks, and Keogh get a lot of the attention. Eric Fannell doesn’t get as much fanfare, but he also played a strong game.

Other game notes:

  • Latrell Harris scored a crazy goal in the first quarter. He came down on a partial breakaway but was on his wrong side, so at the last moment he sort of switched hands and shoveled a backhand shot past Warren Hill. Harris had a career year in 2022, setting or tying personal bests in goals, assists, points, and loose balls, all in four fewer games than his first three seasons. He also picked up no penalty minutes at all. He was even mentioned in Transition Player of the Year talk, and on a team with Challen Rogers and Mitch De Snoo, that’s saying something.
  • Speaking of underrated transition players, I was impressed with the play of Tyson Bell on Friday night. He scored a goal, added an assist, and grabbed 10 loose balls but regardless of the numbers, he was just everywhere on the floor doing whatever needed to be done to make the team successful. I imagine he’s one of those “hate to play against but love as a teammate” kind of guys.
  • At one point, Graeme Hossack manage to singlehandedly pin the 6’6″ 215-pound Dan Dawson against the boards for about five seconds to kill the shot clock. That is one strong dude.
  • I mentioned earlier that Nick Rose didn’t need to make many difficult saves in the first quarter because of the Rock’s strong defense. Don’t take that to mean that Rose didn’t play well or didn’t come through when his team needed him. Rose allowed more goals than he had all season but still played very well and was particularly strong near the end of the fourth when the T-birds pulled Bold for the 6-on-5. He made some big stops in the dying seconds before the ball managed to get by him, but a replay clearly showed the time on the clock was 0:00 before that shot was even taken.

The Rock now move on to the Eastern conference finals, facing the winner of tonight’s Bandits/FireWolves game.

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