NLL: Rogers the Rock hero; Thunderbirds go down in OT

HAMILTON, ON – May 06 : NLL playoff game action between the Halifax Thunderbirds and the Toronto Rock at the FirstOntario Centre on May 06, 2022 in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. (Christian Bender/NLL)

“There’s nothing more exciting than one game, win or go home. It’s basically a game seven,” said Toronto Rock head coach Matt Sawyer following Toronto’s 14-13 overtime win over the Halifax Thunderbirds. Under normal circumstances, that’s a true statement. On Friday night, it was an understatement.

Halifax fought back from a 9-3 halftime deficit to tie the Rock at 13 midway through the fourth quarter. Outside of the final media time out Toronto hit a crossbar and Nick Rose made back-to-back acrobatic saves three times, including stopping Ryan Terefenko on a breakaway before recovering to stop Colton Armstrong point blank. With the clock winding down, and Aaron Bold (who replaced starter Warren Hill 12 minutes into the game) on the bench, Rose then stopped Clarke Petterson’s shot and Stephen Keogh’s rebound. Newly activated Dawson Theede grabbed the ball and put it behind Rose, but not before the siren ended regulation.

Dan Dawson had possibly the best chance in overtime. Late in the shot clock, he grabbed a desperation pass from Rob Hellyer in his first game since April 1st. Dawson, with a defender all over him, worked towards the crease where he jumped, shooting the ball one handed through his legs and was stopped by Bold.

On the ensuing Halifax possession, Challen Rogers tipped the ball past the top forward and took off with a clear path between him and Bold. Rogers faked just enough to freeze the Halifax netminder before twisting his shot back short side. As the ball crossed the line, Rogers leapt into the end boards, fireworks went off in the rafters, and Bold was left to walk out of his crease with both gloved hands on his head. Everyone seemingly in different stages of disbelief.

“I was fortunate to be in the position I was in,” said Rogers. “If you look at our defense, there’s guys that do that all the time. Latrell [Harris], Mitch [DeSnoo], Jubes [Josh Jubenville]. I was just fortunate enough to be in the right spot at the right time, and to be positioned to make a play.”

It’s a position he was in due to Rob Hellyer’s return to the lineup. “If Robbie wasn’t playing tonight, Challen is playing offense,” admitted Sawyer. “To have someone who is as good as he is defensively be able to do what he does offensively in those special situations, there hasn’t to this point been a player like that.”

Even Thunderbirds head coach Mike Accursi gave credit to the Rock captain. “Challen does what Challen does.”

A five-goal run in the fourth quarter gave Halifax their first lead of the game with less than 10 minutes to play. Said Accursi, “We just kind of broke it into five minutes. Win each five minutes and we did that for a good chunk of the second half.”

For Sawyer, it was almost ironic. “We’ve been a second half team. It’s all been about our slow starts… It was the total opposite here tonight, but we found a way to win.”

Rogers echoed his coach’s comments, “A lot of the times, we’re losing in those situations… A lot of teams, they score nine or 10 goals somewhat in a row, and you could quit. For us to stick with it and fight back, is just a great team effort.”

Halifax Stats

Bold’s relief appearance put him over 1,000 playoff minutes played in his career. He allowed nine goals off 41 Rock shots. Jake Withers was his usual dominant self at the faceoff circle, especially during the comeback run. He won 21 of 31 draws, directly correlating to Halifax scoring two goals in a less-than-a-minute span three times. Scott Campbell needed one loose ball for 800 in his career. He scooped five. Captain Cody Jamieson led the offense with five points (two goals). Clarke Petterson also finished with five points (four assists).

Halifax’s power play, which was last in the NLL and just three for 13 against the Rock in the regular season, finished a perfect two-for-two with Jamieson and Shanks scoring in the third quarter.

Toronto Stats

Nick Rose made 41 saves off 54 shots for the overtime win. Tom Schreiber scored a hat trick, part of his five-point night. Also with five points were Rob Hellyer in his return and Zach Manns (both scoring a pair). Rogers’ OT winner was his lone goal, and came off one of his 15 loose balls. Mitch de Snoo scored twice in transition.

Announced attendance was 7,241. However, Rogers admitted, “Right before overtime started, that might’ve been the loudest I’ve ever heard our crowd… To get a win in such an exciting fashion in front of them is a special moment.”