The youth movement in Toronto did it again.
The Rock built an 8-2 lead over the Saskatchewan Rush by halftime on Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre before defeating the defending champs 13-11. The Rock move to 2-0 on the season while the Rush are 0-2.
Of the Rock’s 11 different goal scorers, only four have more than two years in the league under their belts. Challen Rogers, Tom Schreiber and Reid Reinholdt all scored the first goals of their careers. Phil Caputo scored his first as a member of the Rock and Mikey MacDonald led the team in the first quarter with two goals. Kieran McArdle also added a goal. Sophomore Turner Evans had a five point night with a goal and four assists.
Some “older” defenders had big games as well. Bradley Kri, in his third full NLL season, had a goal. Jesse Gamble had one goal. Damon Edwards had two, showing he is at the top of his game coming back from a season off due to injury. He was denied several times by Aaron Bold on transition attempts early in the game but scored two in a row including a shorthanded fast break goal that put the Rock up 5-0 after the first quarter.
Veteran Kasey Biernes also had a goal and reached 1000 career shots on goal in the contest. Biernes also sits six assists away from 300.
Nick Rose made 34 saves in the game, out-duelling Bold solidly in the first two quarters. Four penalties in a row to the Rock in the third quarter led to four power play goals for the Rush and allowed them to get back in the game, but resiliency is never something this Toronto team has lacked. Even last season when wins were hard to come by, the team never lost faith in each other. Even with so many new faces on the roster the Rock are a cohesive unit already. Instead of panicking, the Rock just set to work on defense.
“Really thats something that we talked about in the dressing room,” head coach Matt Sawyer said. “It’s real easy to play this game when everything is going your way which you saw in the first half and when things aren’t, it’s really a tell of your character and it was good for us to see that.”
After being outscored 6-3 in the third quarter, the Rock didn’t allow a goal for nearly eight minutes of the final frame. When the Rush finally did break through again, twice in a row, McArdle replied eight seconds later. Reinholdt scored the insurance marker. Ryan Keenan potted one last in the minute for the Rush but it was irrelevant as Rose shut the door.
“It’s a game of momentum,” Reinholdt said. “We had it at the start, they had it in the middle and it evened out at the end.”
Reinholdt was signed by the Rock as a UFA in the off-season. He was promoted to active roster this week and had three points in his first game.
“I almost blacked out to be honest,” he chuckled at his goal. “I just remember catching the ball and had a little pressure from the front so I back-pedalled quickly and I figured the goalie would be on the post so I tried to tuck it short-side.”
The Rock were without their usual host of injured players. Added to that were Stephan Leblanc, who may return next week, and Brett Hickey, sidelined earlier in the week with a lower-body injury the Rock hope won’t keep him out for long. With those two out of the lineup, the onus was on the new kids to do their best in their first game in Toronto.
“We relied on each other, we didn’t have those (veteran) guys to lead us so we just looked at each other to move the ball a lot and everyone got their opportunities,” Reinholdt said.
The Rock have a bye week before hosting the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday, January 28.