NLL: Dawson has milestone night but Rock fall to Thunderbirds in OT

Graeme Hossack lays the boom on Mitch deSnoo. HAMILTON, ONTARIO – 2021 National Lacrosse League game between Toronto Rock and Halifax Thunderbirds at First Ontario Centre on January 15, 2021 in Hamilton, Ontario. (Photo by Ryan McCullough/Toronto Rock)

NLL fans lucky enough to catch a ball out of play go home with a unique souvenir. With no fans in attendance, it was a number of players who went home with souvenirs from Saturday night’s game at FirstOntario Centre. It’s a shame, really, that the building was empty because the Halifax Thunderbirds and Toronto Rock put on a show, a 14-13 Halifax overtime victory.

Rock head coach Matt Sawyer admitted postgame, “Once the game gets going, [the lack of fans] gets blocked out, you forget about it.” Even so, he said, “It would’ve been nice to have fans there, it was a heck of a lacrosse game… I’m sure it would’ve been rocking and real loud.”

Prior to the game, both teams made numerous roster moves. One of the biggest names returning to Toronto was Dan Dawson, who would dress for his 300th career game – second all time. Dawson was pointless until the fourth when, five minutes in, he assisted on Zack Manns’ hat trick goal. Seven minutes later, Dawson scored a one hand, backhand with the shot clock winding down to give him 1,447 career points, passing John Grant Jr. for second all time.

He commented after the game, “300 games is something that I’m lucky to have done and to play a sport that has given me and my family so much. I’m trying to cherish these moments and every game.”

Tom Schreiber also returned to the lineup, missing last week on the holdout list due to the birth of his daughter, Lillian Grace. Brandon Slade and Reid Reinholdt missed Saturday’s game on the injured list as did Justin Scott, Jordan McKenna, Rob Hellyer and Latrell Harris due to Covid protocols.

With the holes in the Rock offense, the team signed former first round pick Mark Cockerton, who played last season for Rochester. The offensive holes also opened space for some defensive players, including two-time transition player of the year Challen Rogers. The Rock captain had two goals and seven assists. Also joining the scoring in transition were Chris Weier and Jamison Dilks – both scoring the first goals of their career. Dilks would score twice.

Halifax got a return of their own with Austin Shanks coming back from injury. He scored 13 seconds into the game, one of five goals and eight points. Their roster moves included Connor Watson and Ryan Terefenko, in for injured Stephen Keogh, hold out Scott Campbell and Brad Gillies on the Covid list. Watson scored his first career goal off an outside shot that picked a corner in the early stages of the second quarter. That goal made it 6-3 and spelled the end of the night for Toronto netminder Nick Rose. He was replaced by Troy Holowchuk, who made his first career NLL appearance. Watson scored twice, part of five points. Terefenko assisted on Eric Fannell’s goal just before halftime for his first career point.

Holowchuk would play just over 51 minutes, allowing eight goals, making 27 saves.

Coach Sawyer praised the 21-year-old, “you couldn’t ask for more given the situation.” It was praise he also laid on the rest of his youngsters, “You can go down the line – Chris Weier, Phil Mazzuca gets put into the lineup, Jamison Dilks had a great game, everybody in the lineup tonight was good.”

Warren Hill played the entire game for Halifax allowing 13 goals on 65 Toronto shots, including some key saves in overtime. The Rock thought they may have scored off a Schreiber dive from behind the net. It was reviewed, and determined the ball went off the post. Toronto attempted the same play numerous times down the stretch, but Hill was equal to all of them. The winner came from former Rock player Stephan LeBlanc who curled to top spot and let a shot go straight down the middle. After the game, he called Hill a “horse”. He also referenced the marathon game, saying “I’m happy that it’s over.”

The goal gave LeBlanc a hat trick. “I was kind of on the schneid, so I’m really happy to contribute.”

The win moves Halifax to 3-0 in both the Eastern Division standings, and the Alterna Cup. Halifax and Buffalo are the only two teams in the league who remain unbeaten. Toronto, meanwhile, drops to sixth in the East at 2-3.