NLL: Rock win helps Toronto clinch playoff spot

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)

On the weekend of Wrestlemania, the Toronto Rock and San Diego Seals contested a feisty affair in Hamilton. Just like the 2022 version of the WWE’s marquee event, the Rock (from Toronto, not Dwayne Johnson) claimed back-to-back wins, winning 14-7, clinching a playoff berth in the process.

For the second night in a row, Toronto played without Dan Dawson. However, joining him on the sidelines was his right side tag-team partner Rob Hellyer. That opened up an opportunity for Aaron Forster, playing in his second game of the weekend.

San Diego jumped out to an early 2-0 lead off goals from Austin Staats and Wes Berg’s 30th of the season. The original Seals shot hit off the end glass and was caught clean by Berg, who put it past Nick Rose. A pair of late goals from Zach Manns on the power play and Dan Craig’s copy of Berg’s goal tied the game at two after the first quarter.

Another player in their fifth game of the season, Casey Jackson, converted a Dane Dobbie cross-crease pass to lead 3-2, 22 seconds into the second quarter. Then came the moment of the match.

Brandon Slade grabbed a loose ball and took off down the floor. Forster came out of nowhere, trailing the play, accepted the pass and netted a stupendous diving shot. Forster collided with Frank Scigliano who required attention from the trainer, but would stay in the game. The goal counted, but Forster was sent to the box, along with Brad Kri for unsportsmanlike conduct. Twenty-five seconds into the ensuing five-on-three for San Diego, Mitch de Snoo grabbed a rebound off a wide shot and beat not one… not two… not three…. but four defenders on his way to the net and picked a corner to give the Rock their first lead. Toronto killed the remainder of the penalties, and shortly after they did so, Craig struck again.

Toronto would later miss on their own two-minute, five-on-three powerplay despite hitting two posts and having a shot blocked by Berg with only two defenders on the field.

Forster’s game changing goal was his second in two nights. He said, “Being able to score in front of everybody is the best feeling in the world.” Everybody included over 8,500 members of Rock City on minor lacrosse night.

San Diego never recovered the lead, going stretches of 18:42 and 17:42 without goals. The stretch could’ve been longer if not for Jackson’s second of the game being called a good goal after review. Jackson had the ball behind the crease and attempted to dunk it past Rose. It was originally ruled no goal, but the call was challenged and put the Seals down 7-6, the closest they’d come to climbing all the way to the top of the ladder.

The fourth quarter looked more like a squash match with Toronto playing the role of superstar and San Diego being the hired indie wrestler named “Steve.” The Rock outshot the Seals 6-1, including four straight goals from Craig in 3:07. He finished with his first career sock trick.

When asked about missing Hellyer and Dawson, Craig said, “It’s always the ‘next man up’ mentality. There’s some guys we’d love to have here who simply aren’t… We definitely found it within the depth of the team to be able to get that [win].”

Fittingly, the game was not without some fireworks. Three separate off-setting scrums ended the fourth quarter, including a spirited tilt between Toronto’s Bill Hostrawser and former Rock, and current Seals’ captain, Brodie Merrill. When all was said and done, Toronto had a 14-7 victory.

It was a far cry from last week’s game at home, at least in the mind of Rock head coach Matt Sawyer, who admitted the adversity of the weekend may have fueled his squad.

“What was the one difference from the last time we played? It’s just our compete level and our commitment. They had their backs against the wall, and maybe that helped.”

Both Toronto wins on the weekend, combined with Philadelphia’s loss on Friday, and New York’s loss on Saturday clinch the Rock a playoff spot. And that’s the bottom line, because, well, the standings said so.