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Stone Age: Rock set to face endangered Mammoth

03/05/2013, 3:15pm EST
By Justin Millerson, Rock beat writer for NLL.com

Toronto will host Colorado for the first time since 2007

The Toronto Rock (6-3) host the Colorado Mammoth (2-6) at Air Canada Centre on Friday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Michael Martin)

The Toronto Rock (6-3) look to improve their league-best record when they host the Colorado Mammoth (2-6), who are entering a crucial back-to-back road weekend, at Air Canada Centre on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Watch the game live on TSN2 in Canada, ESPN3 in the U.S., ROOT Sports Northwest on satellite (DIRECTV channel 687 or Dish Network channel 426), The Comcast Network in the Philadelphia region, and on YouTube outside North America.        

Rock general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson said that despite the fact that Colorado is an unfamiliar foe, his team will be well prepared for the matchup on Friday.

“We certainly won’t be caught off guard,” Sanderson said. “Their team certainly doesn’t end [at John Grant, Jr.]. Arguably one of the best junior kids of all-time, Adam Jones is a threat. Gavin Prout and [John] Gallant have been around. I don’t think the record they have is truly a good measure of how good that team can be.”

The Rock will try to erase the memory of a fourth-quarter collapse to the Buffalo Bandits last Thursday. With an 11-8 advantage heading into the final frame, the Bandits offense exploded for five straight goals, ultimately outscoring Toronto 7-2 in the final 15 minutes for a 15-13 win.

“Without trying to discredit Buffalo, I thought it was one of our worst outings in...I’d even go back two years,” Sanderson said. “We weren’t very good; too many guys had an off night. In order to move forward, we are going to have to be a lot better than we showed against Buffalo.”

“We weren’t at our best and Buffalo outworked us, they were just the better team than us,” said Rock forward Josh Sanderson. “We’ve been better on the road and now we have to bring that game home.”

In the loss, the Rock fired 72 total shots, but they were only able to get 47 on target.

“[The lack of accuracy] is something we find when we get into trouble,” Terry Sanderson said. “We want our guys to shoot hard, finish hard and sometimes when the shots aren’t accurate, we find the ball is coming back into our end and we are facing transition situations. We are going to run into it at times, but we would like our guys to have better accuracy.”

Despite the divisional loss, Toronto still sits atop the Eastern Division with a one-game advantage over Buffalo and the Philadelphia Wings. The Bandits had a chance to tie the Rock in the standings last Friday but lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Wings in overtime to settle for a weekend split.

Josh Sanderson has played a vital role on the Rock’s offense this season. As part of Toronto’s balanced attack, the 35-year-old from Orangeville, Ontario, has collected 38 points (17+21) through nine games. His 17 goals have him on pace for 30 this year, which would be his highest goal total since the 2010 season.

Also part of Toronto’s balancing act – and perhaps the biggest part – is Rock forward Garrett Billings who won the NLL Player of the Month award for February. In four games over the month, Billings scored 30 points (12+18), including a season-high 11 points (6+5) in a 17-12 win over the Calgary Roughnecks on Feb. 15.  Billings now has 59 points (19+40) on the season, just five points back from Calgary’s Shawn Evans for the league lead.

“I know [Billings] get a lot of the accolades and he deserves them, but he’s just a part of the puzzle, he’s one of the guys we depend on,” Terry Sanderson said. “We are certainly please with what he’s done for us.”

Toronto forward Brandon Ivey suffered what Terry Sanderson called a “severe” ankle sprain this week and as a result, Toronto activated former Bandits forward Roger Vyse to the lineup to provide a veteran, left-handed shot when needed.

“We felt if we needed another lefty to go into the lineup, we would like to have somebody with a little more experience this time in the year,” Terry Sanderson said.

The Rock will host the Mammoth at Air Canada Centre for the first time since March 2007. Contributing to what was a difficult sub-.500 season for Toronto, Colorado captured a 13-12 overtime win. The Mammoth beat the Rock by a score of 19-12 at home last year.

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