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He be GB: Garrett Billings helps Rock tune out Stealth, 17-12

01/31/2014, 10:15pm EST
By Rock beat writer Justin Millerson for NLL.com

Toronto defends home turf vs. Vancouver to start back-to-back weekend

In the first game of a back-to-back weekend for both teams, the Toronto Rock (2-2) defeated the visiting Vancouver Stealth (2-4) by a score of 17-12 before a crowd of 11,234 at Air Canada Centre on Friday night.

Garrett Billings scored five goals while Josh Sanderson and Stephan Leblanc also stood tall as the trio each had eight or more points to help the Rock earn their second win of the season.

“It was a character win for us,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “I didn't like the start we had, but we stuck to the plan in terms of being willing to work shift after shift.”

The Rock, once down 6-2 in the first quarter, quickly licked their wounds and found their scoring groove, something that's been virtually absent since Toronto's Week 2 win over the Calgary Roughnecks. The Rock's 17 goals on the night is just one less than the total over their previous two losses.

“We've been struggling a little bit offensively, but six offensive guys played tremendously, which is great to see,” said Rock forward Kasey Beirnes, who scored three tallies on the night.

Beirnes, Sanderson and Billings each had just a pair a goals heading into tonight's game.

After Toronto forward Sanderson opened the game's scoring at the 1:12 mark, Vancouver followed up by going on a 6-1 run in a span of 10:59. Vancouver got goals from six different players during the run including tallies from Nick Weiss, Rhys Duch, Cliff Smith, Lewis Ratcliff, Cody Bremner and Mike Grimes. Toronto's lone goal during the span came from Colin Doyle who potted his seventh of the year. Rock forward Rob Hellyer closed the quarter scoring with 51 seconds remaining cutting Vancouver's lead to 6-3 heading into the second frame.

After being pushed back on their heels, the Rock controlled the play early on in the second quarter. Defender Damon Edwards and Billings each scored within the frame's first six minutes to bring Toronto back within striking distance. Smith, on his second tally of the game, breaks the Stealth's 6:43 silence to put Vancouver ahead 7-5 with less than five minutes left in the half. Toronto, with no plans to roll over, got a pair of tallies from Jesse Gamble and Beirnes in a span of 40 seconds to tie the game 7-7 as the first half closed.

Billings, with his fourth point on the night, opened the second half scoring just 1:50 in to give Toronto their first lead since the game's first goal. The Rock's 8-7 advantage lasted 7:15 before Stealth forward Alex Gajic tied the game with a power play tally. Toronto finished the quarter strongly going on a 3-1 mini-run to forge ahead 11-9 heading into the final frame.

The Rock carried their momentum into fourth quarter scoring three times in a span of 3:17 chasing Vancouver goalie Tyler Richards out of the goal. After a tally from Josh Sanderson at the 5:41 mark, Veteran goalie Matt Roik relived Richards of his duty. After which, the Stealth made things interesting going on their own 3-1 mini-run, but a late goal from Beirnes cancelled any chance for a comeback. Finally, the game was put away for good as Gamble scored Toronto's 17th goal on an empty net.

The victory puts the Rock back at .500 in the standings, just a game and a half behind the East Division leading Buffalo Bandits. Toronto will have a chance to close the gap even further when they head to Banditland tomorrow night for the teams' second tilt of the season.

“We feel a lot better than we would've if we were 1-3 [heading into tomorrow], I can tell you that,” said Rock captain Colin Doyle. “We made a conscious effort to play with a purpose tonight, but we're going to have out hands full tomorrow it's going to be a good one.”

The loss for Vancouver is yet another game that fell out of their grasp. Coming off of a heart breaking 9-8 loss last weekend to the Edmonton Rush – a game in which they lead 7-2 – the Stealth surrender another sizable lead en route to their fourth loss of the season.

“It was a carbon copy of last week's game. We had a big lead and we had an opportunity to push it even further,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “They got on a roll and we couldn't stop it."

“I think what needs to change is we can't allow big runs,” said Stealth forward Smith. “We can't let two bad shifts spiral out of control.”

Vancouver has now lost three straight, falling to second last in the West Division standings ahead of only the Colorado Mammoth. The Stealth will have a chance to redeem themselves tomorrow night against the Philadelphia Wings on the road.

“Guys who get paid to score goals need to start scoring them,” said Hall. “We need to shake up the lineup a little bit and see if we can get back on track tomorrow night.”

Billings (5+4) and Leblanc (1+8) led all scorers on the night with nine points each while Sanderson (3+5) followed up with eight points.

Duch (2+3) and Smith (3+2) lead all Stealth scorers with five points each while Bremner (1+3) and Tyler Digby (1+3) followed close behind with four points a piece.

Rock goalie Nick Rose enjoyed a solid night between the pipes making 35 saves on 47 shots for a .745 save percentage.

Opposing goalie Richards, before leaving the net 5:41 into the final frame, allowed 14 goals on 54 shots for a .741 save percentage. Roik, in relief, allowed two goals on eight shots in 9:18 of play.

Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:

1) Garrett Billings
2) Josh Sanderson
3) Cliff Smith

The game aired live on TSN2 in Canada and on ESPN3 in the U.S. and the Rock will visit the Buffalo Bandits tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. ET which will be broadcast on both channels. Meanwhile, the Stealth head to

Philly to take on the Wings at 7:30 p.m. as well live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

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