NLL: Rock aiming to be at their best at end of season

HAMILTON, ON – APRIL 02 : NLL regular season game action between the San Diego Seals and the Toronto Rock at the FirstOntario Centre on April 02, 2022 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. (Christian Bender/NLL)

It was a whirlwind weekend for the Toronto Rock. They travelled to Georgia without Dan Dawson and won 13-9. A night later, they returned home with Rob Hellyer joining the injured list, but still claimed a 14-7 victory over San Diego.

Over the course of 24 hours the team faced flight issues, flu and the normal bumps and bruises that come with playing professional lacrosse. But they battled it all to not just claim back-to-back wins, but also a playoff spot.

The wins come a week after Toronto lost 10-7 to Georgia, who played without Lyle Thompson. Head coach Matt Sawyer called it a “disappointing night” at home, coming off a bye. At the time, he said, “Those are just excuses. We knew what we were facing, and top to bottom, we need to be better.”

Jump ahead six days when Sawyer admitted the team did face adversity, but perhaps how they overcame those obstacles could be a key moment in the Rock season.

“Sometimes, you look back on seasons and you think, ‘what was the turning point?’ Maybe down the road we’ll look back on this weekend.”

Without two of their top righties, Toronto turned to Aaron Forster, who scored three goals on the weekend (seven points) and lefty Dan Craig who scored an impressive eight goals with a Saturday night sock trick.

Craig credited the team’s depth for the success: “When guys are out, it’s unfortunate. We’d love to have them here, they’re key guys of course. But it’s always next man up mentality.”

In their Week 17 loss, only three Rock players combined for six goals, all from the outside. Dawson said after the game, “We’re so lethal from the outside. There have been plenty of games where we’ve gotten away with it, but you’re not going to have consistency living and dying by the outside.”

This week still showcased Toronto’s lethal shooting, but also featured goals on the crease – including a diving score from Forster and a rebound from Craig – and an improved transition game, with a gritty solo effort from Mitch de Snoo, and a pair from Latrell Harris. That’s without mentioning captain Challen Rogers’ five-point evening.

Sawyer agreed Saturday, saying, “We were pretty good in all areas tonight.”

So, what changed? “They [the Rock players] had their backs against the wall, and maybe that helped.”

He recognizes the NLL playoffs are one-and-done. On the night Toronto seemed to put it all together, he said, “You need to have your game firing and clicking at the right time, because at some point there’s going to be a one-night, winner takes all. If you lose, you go home.”

With only four weeks to go before that time, it’s important to flip the switch. Says Sawyer, “Our focus is being our best at the end of the season.” If this weekend is any indication, the Rock are definitely progressing in that direction.