The NLL’s East Division has a new leader after the Toronto Rock defeated the Georgia Swarm 14-9 at Scotiabank Arena on Friday night. Each team now sports a 4-1 record and a very impressive .800 winning percentage. They’re separated by the tiniest of goal margins.
It was a key win for the Rock who have been chasing the Swarm for three seasons. Indeed, it was their first win against the Swarm at home (and only second overall), and will be important in determining playoff seeding later in the season. Should the rivals keep pace all season, their third and final matchup on March 22nd could determine first place.
Defenseman Brock Sorensen believed the win had been a long time coming.
“We deserved to get that one,” he said.
Dan Craig led the Rock, who never trailed in the game, with a hat trick. Dan Lintner, Rob Hellyer, Adam Jones and Challen Rogers all had two goals each.
“That’s the best thing about our team, there are a variety of guys that can go off and have big nights,” Sorensen said. “It seems like there’s a new guy going off for three, four, five goals a night and it’s a different guy each night.”
Even more impressive than the Rock’s offense was their defense. Sorensen, especially, was tasked with keeping Lyle Thompson contained. Thompson scored three including a penalty shot goal but as one of the best players in the game, it’s almost impossible to shut him down completely.
“He was an area of focus for us for sure,” Sorensen said. “He had us for four last time we were here… to shut him down is a team effort. It took our whole defensive unit collectively to win that one.”
The Swarm may have had an inkling right off the bat that the night wouldn’t go their way. Lintner scored the first goal of the game 1:57 in, barely squeaking a shot through Mike Poulin’s pads. The Rock led 4-0 after the first quarter after some heroics by Kieran McArdle, Craig and Tom Schreiber. McArdle’s goal caused a standing ovation as he took a pass behind the net and twisted his stick to the front of the open cage as he leaped forward. Craig scored on a dive through the crease and Schreiber potted a tricky bounce shot.
“We had a little bit of a different mindset going into this game, attacking a little bit more from the left side,” Craig explained.
Shayne Jackson got the visitors on the board 29 seconds into the second. Thompson’s penalty shot goal came soon after as Damon Edwards interfered with a Swarm breakaway. Hellyer replied for the Rock but a shorthanded give-and-go between Jordan MacIntosh and Jackson showed the Swarm wouldn’t be giving up so easily. Craig picked up his second while Rock captain Challen Rogers scored on a breakaway for a 7-3 lead. Randy Staats scored on a power play and Holden Cattoni put a low bouncer in less than a minute apart late in the frame to cut the deficit to 7-5.
Rock head coach Matt Sawyer admitted that keeping the Swarm’s offense at bay was a difficult task, but he knew that his team could handle it.
“We got on a lot of hands and knocked down some balls and got some easy possessions,” he said, “but they have a lot of tough checks and you saw that with Lyle and Randy… Great team effort led by our defense and goaltending.”
Toronto’s third quarter three-goal run put them up a surprising 10-5, but the Swarm continued to fight back, going on a three-goal run of their own to make it 10-8. Thompson scored two back-to-back, the second coming as he beat every defender in his way only to run out of real estate, so he leaped forward to avoid the crease while tucking the ball in sideways past Nick Rose.
After that, Rose and the Rock defense took control. Georgia scored only once in the last quarter while the Rock piled on four more including an empty netter from Sorensen, his second goal in as many games, and a reward for the yeoman’s work he did on defense.
“We have a great group,” Sorensen said. “Front end, back end, we’re deep. And there are another five guys that are chomping at the bit that can support any position at any time too so we’re feeling good.”
Sawyer said though the Rock are a confident team, getting a win against a rival is a shot in the arm.
“We like what we have here. We believe we can play with anyone but we feel we play some of our best lacrosse against [the Swarm].”
The Swarm will try to temporarily take back first place tonight at Mohegan Sun Arena against the New England Black Wolves, while the Rock are off until next Saturday when they visit the Philadelphia Wings at Wells Fargo Center.