NLL: Guaranteed win night pays off for Rock

Corey Small celebrates! HAMILTON, ONTARIO – 2022-23 National Lacrosse League between the Toronto Rock and Vancouver Warriors at FirstOntario Centre on December 3rd, 2022 in Hamilton, Ontario. (Photo by Ryan McCullough / Toronto Rock)

“The boys saved Jamie some money here tonight,” smiled Toronto Rock head coach Matt Sawyer on Saturday night after his team won their home opener 19-8 over the Vancouver Warriors at FirstOntario Centre.

Team owner and general manager Jamie Dawick had guaranteed the fans a win, meaning if the Rock had lost, every fan in attendance would receive a ticket to a future game free of charge.

But it only took a few minutes into the first quarter for his guarantee to come true. It was 4-0 less than five minutes in, and 7-1 after the first 15.

“I believe last year we were 7-2 at home,” Sawyer said, in support of Guaranteed Win Night. “We like to think we put on a good product and it’s an entertaining night out… We like playing here in Hamilton and you’ll see that every night. We’re going to make sure we do everything we can to make sure this is a season to remember.”

It’s the Rock’s second season in the Hammer after moving from downtown Toronto and its sky-high rental costs. However, the team will be moving again after this season concludes as the FirstOntario Centre recently announced it will undergo a massive, potential two-year renovation. The Rock have not announced where they will play next season.

Vancouver scored three times in the second quarter but the Rock didn’t take their foot off their gas and led 13-4 at halftime.

Free agent Corey Small made his presence known early, scoring twice in the first quarter and finishing the game with a hat trick, two assists and 14 shots on goal.

“I knew the expectation of me coming in was to score goals, so it was a great pass from Schreiber on the fast break there, kind of an open net tap in,” Small said of his first goal, then added, “I’ll score those all day!”

Small showed no hesitance in his Toronto debut, coming off an ankle injury sustained during the summer with the Peterborough Lakers. Small missed the Lakers Mann Cup championship, but knew he had to be healthy for the upcoming NLL season, his first playing at home in front of family and friends.

“It’s one of the top [nights of my career] for sure,” Small said. “I spent the majority of my career away from home. In terms of family and friends being at the game this is probably the most family I’ve had at a game so it was really special. It’s one that ranks near the top and one I won’t forget. We got the win against an old team of mine so it was a good night.”

Fellow newcomer Stephen Keogh scored two goals and added one assists.

For the Rock veterans, it was business as usual. Tom Schreiber scored three goals and five assists. Captain Challen Rogers, playing exclusively out the front door this season, scored twice and added four helpers. Dan Craig had five points, Zach Manns had four, and Dan Dawson scored a single goal.

“We were very unselfish. Every one of our offensive guys chipped in with a goal at least,” said Small. “The best offenses in this league are the ones that are unpredictable and when its multiple guys doing the job it’s going to be hard for teams to play against. A few times Schreiber hit me with a pass I wasn’t ready for so I have to get used to that because he finds you every time you’re open.”

The Rock also had big contributions from their defense, as fans have come to expect. Mitch de Snoo scored three times. Josh Jubenville, Brandon Slade and Brad Kri each scored once.

“The first four goals were really transition goals coming from our back end,” said Small. “Those are backbreakers for other teams. We know our D is going to hold teams down, especially with Rosey, in net but when you score transition goals, that’s the difference maker in so many games.”

Rose made 53 saves and kept Vancouver out of it even on their nine power play chances, of which they converted on only two.

Toronto visits Rochester next Saturday, December 10th.