The Halifax Thunderbirds made their first trip to Toronto on Friday night to face the Rock, fresh off a bye week. Toronto came into the game with a 1-1 home record and looking to rebound from a 10-8 loss against the Buffalo Bandits. Halifax, meanwhile, would try and keep their overall 6-0 record perfect, though they had relied heavily on strong second half performances in previous games.
The first quarter started quick with back and forth transition play. Brad Kri, on his way off the floor after his helmet was knocked off, blocked a shot and on the ensuing power play Kyle Jackson would open the scoring on a dunk shot behind Nick Rose. Toronto would answer three times before the end of the quarter with two of those coming off transition breakaways from Damon Edwards and Scott Dominey.
Said Dominey after the game, “Matt Sawyer preached transition all week. My game is mostly transition, so it played into my hands.”
Jake Withers is among the best faceoff men in the league, and he showed it again to start the second quarter winning three straight, leading to two early and tying goals for Halifax. The Thunderbirds would take the lead after Damon Edwards was called for embellishment, and Clarke Petterson capitalized. A minute later, the Rock would score two in 40 seconds including a diving Reid Reinholdt goal and a loose ball chase from Adam Jay, goals that returned the lead to Toronto. They’d add two more before the half, including a Challen Rogers buzzer beater to lead 7-4 at the break.
With the Rock facing a number of injuries, head coach Matt Sawyer praised the work of his transition defenders saying, “We needed to speed the game up tonight. It’s been one of our strengths. Those guys needed to score for us with only six guys up front, and they did a great job.”
Toronto’s record when leading at halftime stood at 2-0 coming into the evening, but all the talk coming in was the ability of Halifax to come from behind. Could they do it again in the second half? The scoring would have to wait as the period started with a scrap between Sheldon Burns and Mike Burke. Burns would best Burke, but it was Halifax who would gain the momentum as Austin Shanks scored in his first game back from injury. After a Dan Dawson power play marker, Rob Hellyer and Dominey would score 28 seconds apart on Withers’ second faceoff loss to that point in the game. Halifax would kill off a five-minute power play, but a buzzer beater from Hellyer would give Toronto an 11-5 lead heading to the final frame.
Those waiting for the Halifax comeback would get their wish in the fourth quarter. Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said the team knew the run was coming, it was just a matter of when.
“We talked about it at halftime. We knew they’d give us a push, so it was just a matter of being ready.”
Halifax would score the first four of the period – two on the power play, including Ryan Benesch’s 446th career goal to pass Shawn Williams for eighth all time and a stellar shorthanded individual effort by Cody Jamieson. However, this time the comeback would fall just short as David Brock put one in the empty net in the last minute to hand the Rock a 12-9 win, and the first loss for the Halifax Thunderbirds.
Toronto will set up for a rematch against Buffalo on Sunday, February 9th while Halifax will have a bye week before returning home to host Saskatchewan. The Thunderbirds will host the rematch between themselves and the Rock February 21st.