The Toronto Rock (10-5) clinched the East Division regular season title for the second-straight year with a 10-9 home win over the second-place Rochester Knighthawks (6-7) in front of a season-high crowd of 13,073 at Air Canada Centre on Sunday afternoon.
The Rock carried a 10-7 lead late in the fourth quarter, but Knighthawks forwards Joel McCready and Dan Dawson scored in the latter half of the quarter to cut Toronto’s lead to 10-9. Rochester had an opportunity to tie the game with four seconds remaining after Toronto defender Cam Woods, on an attempt to clear, threw the ball into the crowd. On the final play of the game, following a stoppage, Dan Dawson fired the ball off target.
“These games are of more value, they mean more,” said Rock head coach Troy Cordingley. “I was pleased with out effort, we still have a lot to do, but we are getting better at home and that’s a good sign.”
Toronto captain Colin Doyle was a late scratch for Sunday’s matchup as his wife was expecting the birth of their third child. Even without the league’s reigning Player of the Month, the Rock enjoyed a balanced attack up front as six Toronto forwards recorded three or more points on the afternoon.
“We heard early this morning,” said Cordingley about Doyle’s absence. “It was a real gutsy win for us. That’s our captain, our leader. But I’ve said it time and time again, we have a lot of leaders in that room.”
In a dramatic turnaround from last week’s first-quarter effort, the Rock showed a good level of consistency to start the game. On 15 shots, Toronto scored five times on Rochester goaltender Matt Vinc, a far cry from the shutout first quarter total in Week #13.
“We wanted to get a good start out there, they played last night so we wanted to jump on them early like they did to us last week,” said Rock forward Josh Sanderson, who had a goal and two assists in the victory.
Toronto got out to a 3-0 run over the first 8:22 of the game. Rochester’s Joe Walters and Dan Dawson answered with a pair of goals just 25 seconds apart to cut Toronto’s lead to one goal. In a busy final four minutes in the first frame, Kasey Beirnes and Cody Jamieson traded goals before Toronto’s Stephan Leblanc capped off the quarter scoring his 21st goal of the season, extending Toronto’s lead to 5-3 after 15 minutes.
The second quarter proved to be much quieter as only three goals were scored during the entire frame. Toronto’s Rob Hellyer and Rochester’s Johnny Powless traded goals 3:49 apart while the next goal from the Rock’s Sanderson came 9:09 later to give Toronto a 7-4 lead heading into halftime.
Rochester’s Corey Vitarelli and Toronto’s Roger Vyse traded goals within the first 2:33 of the third quarter. Powless followed up just 2:35 later to cut Toronto’s lead to 8-6. Both teams played shutout lacrosse during the final 9:52 of the third frame.
The fourth quarter – a little busier than the previous two – saw Rochester claw their way back into the game scoring three goals to Toronto’s two.
With the loss, Rochester, though still in possession of second place in the East Division, drop below .500 in the win loss column and surrender two of three games to the Rock this season.
“We had an opportunity, but we missed a lot of little opportunities during the course of the game,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen.
After Rochester’s strong first quarter against the Rock last weekend, it was the Knighthawks who struggled out of the gate on Sunday afternoon. Rochester fell behind 5-3 in the first quarter and failed to catch Toronto over the final three quarters of the game.
“It was the slow start that killed us tonight,” said Rochester forward Dan Dawson. “We’re going to learn from it, there’s no quit in this dressing room which is a great thing, but it just goes to show how important a good start is for this team.”
After the first quarter, Vinc was brilliant in goal. After giving up five goals on 15 shots in the first quarter, he allowed only five goals on 39 shots over the final three frames. Vinc, the reigning Defensive Player of the Week, finished the afternoon with 44 saves on 54 shots for a stellar .815 save percentage.
At the other end of the floor, Toronto goalie Nick Rose allowed nine goals on 42 shots for a solid .786 save percentage. The victory on Sunday marks the fifth time this season Rose has allowed fewer than 10 goals in a game.
Toronto forwards Garrett Billings (2+4) and Beirnes (3+3) led all scorers with six points on the afternoon while Leblanc (2+2) added four points in the win.
Jamieson (1+4) lead all Knighthawks scorers with five points while Dawson (2+1) finished second with three points.
Toronto went 3-for-5 on the power play while Rochester went 0-for-3 with the man advantage.
The Rock will play their final regular season game next Saturday on the road against the Philadelphia Wings. Rochester will play back-to-back games for the second-consecutive week with games – both on the road – against the Calgary Roughnecks and Edmonton Rush.
The Rock will host a first-round East Division Semifinal playoff game at Air Canada Centre on Sunday, April 28 at 3 p.m. ET.