“There wasn’t going to be any heartbreak tonight.” – Nick Rose
Everything finally went right for the Toronto Rock.
Their 14-12 takedown of rival Buffalo Bandits on Friday night at the Air Canada Centre was the embattled Rock’s first win of the season and it’s one they can be proud of. From the goaltending out, every team member came to play. Nick Rose made 38 saves, 10 players chipped in on offense, and the defense held league leading scorer Dhane Smith to only eight points. The Rock now sit at 1-6 on the season while the Bandits fall to 4-3.
Prior games had produced good or even great efforts from the Rock but bad bounces and other uncontrollable elements (read: Shawn Evans) left the Rock without anything to show for their labours. Their poor record doesn’t reflect the work that has gone in to preparing for the season.
“We’ve turned the corner in the last couple of weeks,” Nick Rose said post game. “I know the last two games it hadn’t paid off for us but we feel like we can play with anybody and tonight it was one of those feelings amongst the boys and especially the defense that we weren’t letting this one slip away.”
Rock head coach John Lovell was cautious in his assessment, knowing that 1-6 is still a large hole to climb out of when they’re still making mistakes. He did recognize the effort from his players though and credits the win to their work ethic.
“I said to them at halftime, of all the games we’ve played this year we’ve done a lot of good things,” Lovell recounts. “Things were working for our power play early and we probably should have had a lead, but I like the feeling when… you see the second effort going on, giving ourselves other opportunities, and if you keep that second effort up we have a good chance here tonight.”
Buffalo held a 2-0 lead through the first quarter as rookie Anthony Malcom scored just 22 seconds into the game, followed by Smith’s first of the game less than a minute later.
Toronto got on the board with a power play goal from Kasey Biernes 3:33 into the second quarter. Jesse Gamble streaked in on Buffalo goaltender Davide DiRuscio just 12 seconds later to tie the game before Stephan Leblanc and Rob Hellyer gave the Rock a 4-2 lead with two more quick goals. Ryan Benesch and Smith then traded goals twice for a four goal run for the Bandits to put them up 6-4, Smith’s latter goal on a five on three power play. Leblanc then scored shorthanded to leave the Rock only down one at the half.
“Theres always been one little thing and we’ve done things to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Lovell said. “I thought when we took the double minor at the end of the first half, those are little things that have hurt us from time to time but not tonight. We weathered a lot of stuff here tonight.”
Biernes and Darryl Veltman traded goals to open the third but Rock rookie Dan Lintner scored a pair of goals, the second a diving effort from the hashmarks which gave the Rock an 8-7 lead. Benesch and Smith put Buffalo back on top but Hellyer made it nine all at the end of three.
Mark Steenhuis gave Buffalo a 10-9 lead early in the fourth before Biernes’ hat trick goal tied the game again. Malcom picked up his second goal of the game before Toronto went on a for goal run from Colin Doyle, Hellyer, Josh Sanderson, and Rose, to put Toronto ahead 14-11.
Yes, Rose scored the insurance marker for Toronto with 1:17 left as he launched the ball into Buffalo’s empty net. Kedoh Hill got one back for Buffalo but with just 18 seconds left it was too late.
“I got the ball, I’ll put it in a special place but I’m a bit happier with the two points than the goal,” Rose said of his first NLL marker, also the Rock’s first ever goal scored by a goaltender. Fans gave Rose a standing ovation while chanting “Rosey! Rosey!”
“Our fans were really loud late in the game and once we got that lead I could feel it amongst the boys on the bench too, that there wasn’t going to be any heartbreak tonight,” Rose said with a smile. “We’ve have some pretty bad bounces this year but we weren’t going to let that happen…We’re going to feed off the fans and hopefully get back in the mix here.”
At the other end of the floor, DiRuscio made some noise in the Buffalo net in the first quarter when he actually literally stepped on Dan Lintner, who had fallen into the crease after a shot. Fans were rightfully upset as DiRuscio stepped not once, but twice, onto Lintner with his full 300 pounds. He was assessed a delay of game penalty on the play. DiRuscio clarified post game that he felt Lintner dove at him and was just protecting himself. Maybe he was just trying to help Lintner work out some knots in his back, who knows.
DiRuscio made 44 saves in the game.
Despite the theme of “Rivalry Night,” there wasn’t much extracurricular physicality. Buffalo was missing Chad Culp and Nick Weiss who both bring a physical element to the game, and Rock enforcer Billy Hostrawser didn’t see the sin bin once, concentrating solely on defense.
Lovell thought his defense played their best game of the season, limiting chances on Benesch and Smith.
“How about #37, one of the best defenders to ever play this game?” Lovell praised. “It’s pretty much by committee but I think Brodie Merrill took it upon himself to check their best guys and you saw how good he was tonight.”
The Rock held Smith to four goals and four assists, with Benesch picking up three and four, respectively. Smith picked up 13 points versus Georgia last weekend.
In prior games the Rock have gotten down a few goals and let the wind go out of their sails. Friday night they showed resiliency in coming back from being down a goal or two and eventually holding a late game lead.
“Our coach has been preaching the last couple weeks, he says ‘one more’ to us, and I was thinking one more save here,” Rose said. “Don’t worry about what happens the rest of the game, just this next one here. Every time they scored a goal we’d get a stop and answer with a goal of our own. I think we handled adversity pretty well here tonight.”
Lovell believed the rivalry game helped amp his players up.
“[All of our games have] been pretty intense,” Lovell said. “We know we’ve dug ourselves an incredible hole and that’s just the start. But you have to win one to get two, so we’ll just go from there. We haven’t lost faith or lost belief and we’ve worked just as hard in practices as we always have. There’s no quit in them.”