They said it was going to be Toronto’s defense versus Georgia’s offense, but it turned out that the Rock and Swarm were more evenly matched than anyone realized.
The two went at it in a playoff-like game Friday night at the Air Canada Centre in a battle for first place in the NLL. A thrilling comeback by the Swarm saw recently activated Johnny Powless assert their dominance in a 13-12 OT win.
“That’s lacrosse, it’s offense vs defense,” said Miles Thompson after the game. “There’s a lot of talk but us as the Swarm we don’t really get into that it, we just come to play our own game, we focus on our own stuff.”
Georgia retains their lead on the NLL as they look towards hosting Rochester on Sunday evening. The Rock had a quick turnaround and have already defeated the Rochester Knighthawks this weekend too, a Saturday night game 10-6.
The Swarm and Rock are two teams that will keep pace with each other all season, it seems – and maybe into the playoffs – first place will come down to whoever can beat the other.
Powless had two goals and three assists in his season debut. He joins an explosive Georgia offense that has already scored 104 goals this season, 15 more than anyone else. Five of their forwards are in the top 25 in league scoring, including Lyle Thompson who leads with 49 points.
Lyle Thompson had nine points on Friday; his brothers Miles and Jerome also contributed, Miles with three goals and an assist and Jerome with a goal and assist.
The Swarm’s sixth goal of the night was the first Thompson from Thompson and Thompson goal in league history, but it won’t be the last.
The Rock built a 5-2 lead after the first quarter and led 6-4 at the half. In fact, they only time they trailed was late in the fourth quarter after Kiel Matisz’s power play goal put the Swarm up 11-10.
The ACC exploded when Rock captain Brodie Merrill finally beat Mike Poulin on his fifth shot of the night to even the game. Rookie defensemen Latrell Harris gave the Rock back the lead 12-11 at 13:59 on a clear cut fast-break that saw him stop just short of the crease and pop the ball on bended knee over Poulin. Sandy Chapman scooped a loose ball out of a crowd to make the pass to the streaking Harris.
The ACC erupted again, and then yet again when Harris was assessed an interference penalty 12 seconds later as Chad Tutton, who had been denied in close by Rose twice, pushed into Harris who was slow to release the ball after a turnover. Fans in attendance did not like the call, to put it mildly. Even the NLL TV announcers were incredulous at the call.
Shayne Jackson tied the game with a power play goal with 3.2 seconds left.
“You always want to stay positive,” Miles Thompson said after the game. “We had a word that we had to say before that game, and my word meant ‘smile.’ What that meant to me was to just stay positive no matter the outcome, if you’re up or down you still have to have fun with the game and that just shows right there that by keeping that positive mind, we came out with the win.”
Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said Harris was upset with himself after the game but stressed that the loss should not be pinned either on the rookie or on Nick Rose, who got a piece of Powless’ OT shot only to have it bounce over his shoulder.
“No individual lost this game, we lost it as a team and as a staff,” Sawyer said.
Toronto’s defense, while asserting their physicality throughout the game, also gave up the most shots they have this season with 62. Rose stopped 49, a great effort against such a high-powered team. Georgia’s defense was no slouch either, facing 64 shots on goal. Tom Schreiber was in on every goal in the first quarter but was effectively shut down as the Swarm defenders keyed on him.
The atmosphere at the ACC on Nick Rose bobble-head night was electric. It was a fun game to play in, despite the loss, said the goaltender.
“The effort was there,” Rose said. “We made some mental mistakes but the effort carried us through that one. That was a great lacrosse game, unfortunately we came out on the wrong end.”
Rose still boasts the best GAA and save percentage in the league. His GAA is two points lower than his next closest competitor. Poulin gave Rose a run for his money Friday night.
Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said Poulin didn’t have any extra motivation to play the Rock, though.
“I don’t think he circles any game more depending on who we play,” Comeau said. “For a lot of guys it’s big game in Toronto because it’s kind of a home game for them. I know Poulin had a big following from his work there. We gave up a few shots early but I thought he played really well for us tonight.”
Indeed, there appeared to be a few sections full of Swarm fans; many with signs for Poulin including a large printed cut-out of his head.
Schreiber led the Rock with a goal and five assists. Kiern McArdle had a hat trick while Dan Lintner had two markers. Single goals were scored by Brett Hickey, Turner Evans, Stephan Leblanc, Damon Edwards and Merrill and Harris.
Miles Thompson’s three goals led the Swarm. Powless, Matisz and Jackson each had a pair. Singles were scored by Lyle Thompson, Jerome Thompson, Jordan MacIntosh and Jordan Hall. Lyle Thompson had eight assists and Hall had five.