The Toronto Rock are rolling, and now find themselves in first place in the National Lacrosse League after a 14-7 win over the Vancouver Warriors on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena. The win is the Rock’s third in a row at home and vaulted them over the Buffalo Bandits and tied them with the Halifax Thunderbirds with a 6-2 record. The Rock hold first by virtue of their win over the Thunderbirds, who they face again next Friday in Halifax.
“Going on the road those three wins are a big boost for us,” said Rob Hellyer. “We got a little bit of help in our division Saturday night from other teams so I think we’re sitting pretty good right now.”
Both the Bandits and the Thunderbirds lost on Saturday.
The Rock’s last non-divisional game was against San Diego on December 14, having faced both Rochester and Buffalo twice and Halifax once since then. Besides one loss to the Bandits, the Rock and their divisional opponents have proven the North Division to be the NLL’s most exciting.
“[These wins] should [give us confidence] but each and every week is your next biggest game,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer.
The Rock and Warriors used to be cross-coast rivals until the introduction of the Thunderbirds, a true Eastern Canadian team. Regardless, there is still quite the rivalry between the Rock and the Warriors. Heading into the game, the Rock held a 9-1 advantage over the franchise since their move to Vancouver in 2014.
Many people would have picked the Rock to win this game, but the Warriors were never out of it, even leading 3-2 and 4-3 in the second quarter. But then Reid Reinholdt kicked off a four-goal run for the Rock with 5:29 remaining in the half, cutting by a defenseman and diving towards Eric Penney in the Warriors’ goal. Rob Hellyer’s second of the night followed on a power play. Challen Rogers snuck in close and converted Reinholdt’s pass, and Hellyer fooled Penney by looking for the pass it 7-4 Rock.
On Hellyer’s bobblehead night, it should come as no surprise that he led the Rock in scoring with a sock trick (six goals).
“Robbie’s had a lot of special performances,” Sawyer said. “He’s a special player and he does it all the time for us. Sometimes he gets overlooked because it’s expected of him.”
Hellyer said he’d had maybe one sock trick before in his career. For his success in this game he was quick to credit his teammates.
“We’re playing as a unit and that’s the big thing. Moving the ball really well and everyone’s getting chances and we’re making the most of them.”
Hellyer ended the game tied with Warriors’ forward Mitch Jones for the lead in league goal scoring with 26. Jones was held to two in the game.
Toronto outscored Vancouver 4-1 in the third. Vancouver’s only goal came as Joel McCready completed a hat trick. Rogers and Dan Dawson each scored a second, Hellyer his fourth, and Scott Dominey finished the quarter with an amazing transition goal, something for which he is quickly becoming known. Josh Jubenville scooped up a loose ball at centre, shot on Penney, who was running back from the bench, but was stopped. Dominey snagged the ball out of the air and put in with one hand on his stick.
“We didn’t start the game how we wanted to but we found our legs and got some separation there,” Sawyer said. “They had really good pressure on us. We weren’t playing fast enough, we weren’t ready all over the floor.”
Hellyer said it was a slow process.
“They’re so big. They have a lot of great D guys that take up a lot of room. We just broke them down and used our speed and starting making our shots count.”
Hellyer capped his night by scoring both goals on a five-minute major to Owen Barker.
The Rock will practice Tuesday before heading off to Halifax where they hope to increase their lead on first place in the NLL.