The Toronto Rock made a statement Thursday night at Blue Cross Arena in the opening game of the 2017 NLL season, defeating division rival Rochester Knighthawks 12-5.
The Rock were eager to shed any memory of their 2016 season and their strong preseason and first regular season win has done so. Granted, the competition the rest of the way may not be as easy but it’s a good start.
With six new faces in Toronto’s lineup Thursday and six for Rochester, fans will have to be patient as their teams find their new identities. There are even more players on practice rosters waiting for their chances later in the season. The first tilt was a good start for both from the goaltending out.
Nick Rose was solid in the Rock goal. You could make the argument that Rochester’s new, young lineup wasn’t getting great looks but Rose still stopped 43 shots, including 11 combined from known sharpshooters like Dan Dawson and Quinn Powless. Tyler Ferreira had nine shots. For Rochester, Matt Vinc also stopped 43 shots.
His less than stellar second period, in which Rochester was outscored 6-1, was the difference however. The quarter saw him briefly pulled for Angus Goodleaf, but Vinc returned in the third. He struggled a bit in front of a defense missing pillars like the Self brothers.
Also, the Rock’s transition was on fire in the second thanks to newly appointed captain Brodie Merrill. Merrill made direct passes to Brett Hickey and Kasey Beirnes before scoring himself, all in a span of 2:47. Rookie defenseman Jordan Magnuson, promoted Wednesday to the active roster in favour of Connor Buczek, scored his first NLL goal 25 seconds later taking advantage of Vinc playing with a regular stick after his goalie stick was chopped in half.
Quinn Powless put a stop to the Rock onslaught with a goal 17 seconds later, but the Knighthawks could not control the momentum. Beirnes scored again and Turner Evans picked up a goal on Goodleaf.
Toronto outscored Rochester 3-1 in the third quarter with Hickey, Mikey MacDonald, and Kieran McArdle tallying while Powless replied for Rochester.
There were no goals in the fourth quarter.
The Rock started on fire with Brett Hickey and Damon Edwards tallying early. Both returned to the roster after missing time due to injury in 2016. Hickey was injured partway through while Edwards missed the whole season. Wayne Van Every cut the lead in half but Kasey Biernes restored the two goal lead. Josh Currier, with his first NLL goal, and Joel Matthews tied the game for Rochester before the end of the first quarter.
The Rock never struggled to score in 2016 but with the loss of franchise players Colin Doyle and Josh Sanderson to retirement, the Rock had to look for someone to step up in their place. 2017 may prove to be a “score by committee” type of season with Rob Hellyer also out for the season. The committee started well in their first game.
Toronto’s highly-touted American prospects, Kieran McArdle and Tom Schreiber, had solid debuts. McArdle picked up a goal and two assists and Schreiber had three assists.
Sophomore Turner Evans had a good start with a goal and two assists. Fellow sophomore Dan Lintner was held pointless but had five shots and continues to show a physical side to his play.
Hickey, who scored 50 goals in 2015, led the Rock with three goals and two assists while Biernes had a hat trick.
Powless led Rochester with two goals while Currier had a goal and assist.
Merrill’s three points (a goal and two assists) puts him at 400 in his NLL career. He also had a team-high 14 loose balls in the game.
NLL sophomore Luc Magnan had one loose ball for the Knighthawks. Magnan was surprisingly cut by the Rock in training camp after a solid rookie campaign.
Each team had a power play goal while the Rock scored one shorthanded.
Toronto and Rochester will face off again in Toronto on January 28 at the Air Canada Centre.