NLL: Rock tie franchise record for wins with 9-8 W over Rochester

Phil Mazzuca celebrates his first NLL goal. Toronto Rock vs Rochester Knighthawks, March 4, 2023. (Photo: NLL)

It’s tough to say which fell faster on Saturday night in Hamilton: the records, or the gloves. Either way, the 10,229 fans at the Rock’s Stompin’ Ground (FirstOntario Centre) were Buzz, Buzz, Buzzing and had a Hell Raisin’ Good Time as Toronto won its eighth-straight game, 9-8 over the Rochester Knighthawks.

The Rock trailed from Brad Gillies’ opening goal, until Dan Craig made it 8-7 five minutes into the fourth quarter – a span of 50:03. The game was tied five different times, however. Tying the game 1-1, Craig cut through the middle, took a pass from Dan Dawson and put it behind Rylan Hartley after a Dodge Out of Hell. Dawson’s pass was career point 1,500.

Head coach Matt Sawyer said, “He’s such a special player, special person, and great teammate. I’m really happy he was able to do that on a night like tonight where we were also able to grab the win.”

Dawson echoed those sentiments saying, “When you can celebrate those individual accomplishments with a win, it makes it that much more special.”

Dawson used the milestone more as a point of reflection.

“I’ve been really blessed to play this game a long time,” he said. “As you get older, you realize how special these times are. It’s a reflection on all the people I’ve played with over the years.”

The win was Sawyer’s 58th as head coach of the Rock, passing Les Bartley for all-time in Toronto history. He was quick to praise others, however, saying, “I’ve had a lot of support since I’ve been coach here. It speaks more to the people involved with the organization, our whole coaching staff. It just happens that tonight was the night.”

It was a night that had a little bit of everything: The Good, the Bad and the Pretty, including a pair of second quarter scraps including a Brandon Slade and Ethan Schott fight that followed Bill Hostrawser and Tyler Biles trying to Wreck This Town in a long, spirited bout.

Sawyer said, “Billy’s always the first person to try and change momentum, and he found a willing partner.”

Tyler Biles vs Billy Hostrawser. Toronto Rock vs Rochester Knighthawks, March 4, 2023. (Photo: NLL)

His fight did appear to get the Rock offense Floatin’. Tom Schreiber flew through the crease on the power play for his second of the game. But Mike Hasen’s challenge revealed the Rock’s leading scorer landed in the crease before the ball crossed the line. Corey Small would close the gap to 4-3 before halftime anyway, with an outside shot around a Zach Manns screen.

Sawyer commented, “Even when it was 4-3, low scoring, that was a grind out there. The defense and goaltending was just outstanding.”

Hartley stopped 30 Toronto shots before halftime, finishing the game turning aside 56 Rock offerings – the most any goaltender has made this season in one game. His counterpart Nick Rose stopped 46 for the win, garnering praise from Dawson.

“Six-six is playing the best ball since I’ve known him.”

He said the netminder and defenders’ play gives the entire team confidence: “We know when our D holds them to under 10, we have a really good chance.”

Rochester led 7-5 going into the fourth quarter, where they were a perfect 6-0 this season. That record can now Slide Over, because Toronto opened the quarter with a goal from Manns. Phil Mazzuca scored the first goal of his NLL career on a breakaway just over three minutes later, and then Craig’s crease dive gave the Rock their first lead. Connor Fields broke up the run with his second goal of the game (he’d finish with seven points) before Slade took off in transition. Catching Rose’s outlet pass, it looked like Slade would wait for offensive help, but he cut to the net instead and dove across the crease for the eventual game winner.

The Knighthawks had a chance late to tie the game when Holden Cattoni snuck behind everyone. Brad Kri rushed off the bench, caught Cattoni on a back-check and popped the ball free.

Sawyer called it a ‘special’ play: “That’s one that doesn’t show up on the stats sheet.”

He credited the offense for getting off the floor, just as much as Kri’s potential game-saving defensive play, saying “If there’s a half second of hesitation there, Brad doesn’t get the opportunity.”

With Buffalo winning on Friday, the High Rollers, Toronto Rock, move into a tie for first in the East at 9-3. Rochester was the eighth consecutive team for the Rock to Get By, tying a franchise record.

Sawyer said, “We wanted it badly, just because of the importance in the standings.”

It’s a weekend of The Worst Kind for Toronto, having to play twice with a chance to set the franchise record in Philadelphia on Monday (spoiler alert: they did not).

Oh yeah, Saturday night was Country Night, featuring a halftime performance from Tim Hicks. No Truck Song here, Let’s Just Drink.