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Air Canada: Wings fly into Toronto for East Division tilt against Rock

02/02/2014, 6:00pm EST
By Wings beat writer Julie Kayzerman & Rock beat writer Justin Millerson for NLL.com

Rivals Philly & Toronto face off at ACC for primetime game on Friday night


The Toronto Rock (2-3) host the Philadelphia Wings (3-3) at Air Canada Centre on Friday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Graig Abel)

With both teams looking to move up in the standings, the Toronto Rock (2-3) will host their East Division rival Philadelphia Wings (3-3) at Air Canada Centre on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

In what's proved to be an inconsistent season for the Rock so far, the team has found success on their home floor. Both of Toronto's wins, which came against Calgary and Vancouver, were at the Air Canada Centre. Over those games, the Rock are averaging 16.5 goals per game. When compared to the 9.3 goals/game scored on the road, there's no secret something is different. Across the league, home teams are a sparkling 18-8.

“It's always easy to play at home when you got the fans behind you,” said Rock captain Colin Doyle. “That extra bolt of energy, they seem to provide that for you. Other than the home crowd, there is no other difference, but the [stat is a good point]. With the league being so close, you look for every advantage you can get.”

Besides the obvious outlook that the Rock can continue to tap their home advantage, Doyle said he hopes he and his squad can carry the positive momentum from last weekend's back-to-back games.

“We took good strides last weekend. I was a little disappointed with the loss in Buffalo, but when you see good signs from the team, it's a positive,” said Doyle. “We'll take those positives and get ready for what we deem as a good Philadelphia Wings team.”

Perhaps the most calming sign last weekend for the Rock was the emergence of Garrett Billings, Josh Sanderson and Kasey Beirnes, three guys who before Week 6, had a hard time finding the net. Heading into last Friday's game against Vancouver, the trio had just two goals a piece to their credit. Now two games later, the three of them have a combined goal total of 24.

“I think it was a case of three guys looking in the mirror and knowing how important they are to our team. Knowing that have to play a little harder, they did that. We know they had goals to give us and we got those on the weekend,” said Rock coach John Lovell.

Aside from just goal scoring, and despite the late 12-10 loss to the Bandits, Lovell is pleased with his team's competitiveness. The Rock pounced hard on the Stealth, particularly in the second half en route to a 17-12 victory. A night later, Toronto out-chanced their opponent with 49 shots on Buffalo goalie Anthony Cosmo.

“It was a disappointing weekend in some respects, but on the other hand, we like how we played. I really liked our compete level [in the Buffalo game], we may have run out of a little gas in the third quarter, but for the most part, I like how we played. I was pleased with the weekend,” said Lovell.

In Saturday night's loss, 17-year veteran Doyle scored his 1,280th career point while putting himself on pace for a 13th 60-plus point season. With NLL teams having to shrink their roster sizes this season, Doyle explained the changes in the game's play from his perspective.

“I don't know if it's me getting slower or the game getting faster, but you certainly notice the speed of the game. That reflects on having a smaller roster. Every player involved gets engaged. I think the quality of lacrosse will grow this year when we get into the nitty-gritty here,” said Doyle, who has 18 points (7+11) on the year.

On the roster front, the Rock acquired gritty defender Bill Hostrawser from Vancouver in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2014 NLL Draft and a fourth-round selection in the 2015 NLL Draft. To make room for the Hostrawser, the Rock released long-time roll player Stephen Hoar.

Coming onto a new team, Hostrawser will take some time to become familiar with his teammates, but the 23-year-old became acquainted with one Rock player last Friday night. Hostrawser, then suited up for the Stealth, and Rock defender Mike Lum-Walker dropped the mitts in a spirited affair.

Meanwhile, heading into a back-to-back weekend, the Wings look to earn another road win before returning home to host the undefeated Edmonton Rush on Saturday.

“We’ve had a couple of back-to-back weekends and this is the last one so we’re kind of looking forward to getting this behind us,” Wings head coach Blane Harrison said. “But having said that, certainly the task is before us and we always play Toronto well, they always play us and well—it’s always a bit of a smash mouth game and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

According to Harrison, the Wings are looking forward to the opportunity to play against the Rock’s good goaltending and season veteran team.

Coming off of a dominating win against the Vancouver Stealth last weekend, the Wings are ready to go out and pick up two more wins this weekend with their newly improved team chemistry, specifically on defense.

“We’re definitely feeling great after last weekend,” said Wings defenseman Chad Wiedmaier.

Wiedmaier addressed his satisfaction with the high numbers that the Wings offense has been putting up, however feels that prior to last week’s game, they “were all over the place” defensively.

“I think (last weekend) was the most consistent game we’ve played defensively,” Wiedmaier said. “We were obviously really excited to get our first home win, especially after having a bye-week. You could tell in pre-game everyone just wanted to get out there and get together and it turned out real well for us last week.”

However, although the Wings are feeling great about their win over the Stealth, Wiedmaier feels that his team shouldn’t rest on that feeling to get them through the rest of the season.

“We’ve still got a long way to go and get better,” Wiedmaier said. “With double-headers we need to be able to perform our best in each game. Every weekend is a big weekend, it doesn’t matter if it’s a single- header or a double- header. We have to be prepared because everyone in this league is a great team.”

As the Wings impressed immensely with their defensive chemistry last weekend, they are looking to repeat that system of play without falling back into their old habit of losing the game in the second quarter.

“We had a problem in our first couple of games where—it was always in the second quarter— we had too many big flies where we gave up too many points in a quarter and it ended up coming back to hurt us in one goal games or overtime games.” Wiedmaier said. “I think just really the one thing is a consistency thing. I feel like last week individually we all took care of what we were supposed to do and we were consistent with what we’re supposed to do as individuals and it turned out into a pretty good performance defensively.”

In order to compete with the Rock this Friday, Wiedmaier feels that the defense must be on their game with dedication to the game.

“It’s just a commitment to try and be perfect on every single shift,” Wiedmaier said. “You’re out there for thirty seconds at a time, but one little mistake with the talented players and the goal-scorers there are in this league, that’s a goal and every goal counts.”

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