The Toronto Rock jumped out to a 4-1 lead, but the Georgia Swarm responded with a 9-2 run to capture Game 1 of the National Lacrosse League East Division finals 11-8 in Toronto Saturday night. Game 2 goes next Saturday at 7 pm ET in Georgia.
Given the way Georgia has scored all season and Toronto has been scoring lately, the goal count was surprisingly low in the first half. Dan Lintner was the only player to connect in the first quarter and the Rock went up 3-0 at the 3:47 mark of the second quarter. Three minutes later, Brett Hickey restored the three-goal lead by responding quickly to a Shayne Jackson marker.
Despite the lead, though, it felt like the Rock were missing opportunities to pull further ahead and momentum gradually shifted towards Georgia. Connor Sellars made a sublime pass to Jordan Hall for a transition goal with just under six minutes to play in the half to cut the lead to 4-2.
Both Brandon Miller for Toronto and Mike Poulin for Georgia were excellent in goal and they kept their opponents off the board for the first four and a half minutes of the third quarter. Joel White finally broke through with a brilliant goal. He came up with the ball in the Georgia zone and took off.
White’s quickness got him a step clear but Stephan Leblanc back checked hard to apply pressure as White approached the net. White protected his stick from Leblanc’s attempts to knock it and tucked a diving, cross-handed shot past Miller.
“Toronto likes to push the ball and we wanted to match their intensity,” White said after the game. That particular play, you see a little bit of an opening and see if you can get ahead of them, see what happens. We just wanted to match that intensity, make sure that we’re pushing the ball, just getting it up the floor and continuing to get it to our offense. That’s what we kept saying—that our offense was going to catch fire and what we can do to help on the back end is exactly what we want to do.”
With the score 6-5, a Kieran McArdle shot got through Poulin and trickled toward the goal line right near the post. Poulin spun around and dove to grab the ball with his hand but it looked like it might have been too late. Referee Todd Labranche signalled no goal and the Rock threw the challenge flag.
The play was so close that it would have been difficult to overturn the call on the floor either way, but replays did seem to suggest that the ball never completely crossed the line before Poulin was able to grab it.
The Swarm had stretched the lead to 9-6 when White made another nice play to more or less seal the deal. With Miller pulled for an extra attacker and three and a half minutes left to play, the ball bounced out towards centre. Reid Reinholdt put in a valiant effort to race after it and stop the ball from crossing the line for an over and back violation. White tailed Reinholdt, though, and snagged the ball before Reinholdt could overcome his momentum and get back to pick it up. White fought through Reinholdt’s check and raced in to deposit the ball into the empty net.
Toronto did manage a pair of extra attacker goals to close the gap to two goals with a minute and a half to play but Jordan MacIntosh finally shut the door with another empty netter in the final minute.
“Our effort was there,” said Rock coach Matt Sawyer about Toronto’s lack of production offensively. “It’s more about execution. We’re going to have to look at some things and regroup and make some adjustments. They really pressured us and were picking us up high in the zone and we had trouble shaking that and were running for our lives a lot of times and when we did clear it there wasn’t much time left on the shot clock. We’ll make some adjustments and get ready for Game 2.”
White led all scorers by adding three assists to give him five points. Hall had a hat trick and an assist while Shayne Jackson had two goals and two assists. Kasey Beirnes and Lintner each had two goals for Toronto while Leblanc (1 goal, 3 assists) and Reinholdt (4 assists) were the Rock’s top point getters.