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Lax Magazine: Stevens On Champion’S Cup Finals Opener

NLL Hall of Fame writer Neil Stevens was in Toronto to take in Game 1 of the 2015 NLL Champion’s Cup Finals between the Toronto Rock and Edmonton Rush, a game that saw the Rush run away with a 15-9 road win. Read more about the opener by previewing Stevens’ recap on Lacrosse Magazine below and find the full story on LaxMagazine.com.

“Speed, great goaltending, unyielding defense and superior shooting — the Rush had it all, and the decisiveness of their 15-9 win in the opener of the NLL’s best-of-three championship series suggests that they will finish off the Rock back home in Edmonton on Friday night,” Stevens writes.

Speed: the Rush, younger thus faster, were engineering quick transition breaks before Rock forwards could get off the floor.

Goaltending: the Rock used both Brandon Miller and Nick Rose and neither could outplay Aaron Bold.

Defense: the Rush checkers kept Rock shooters on the perimeter so effectively that the Rock managed only four goals from near the Rush crease, and that includes one that bounced in off a Rush defenseman.

Shooting: the Rush had only five more shots on goal than the Rock but had superior shot placement.

There was a common element in all of these facets of Edmonton’s game.

“Work ethic,” Bold replied when asked for his analysis. “50-50 battles and just work ethic and just determination.

“We came in with a game plan of outworking them. They’re an older team. They’re a very, very talented team. They got back into it a little bit and we had to steamroll it and we were fortunate to do that by taking advantage of their slow transition a little bit and just keep on running. It caught up to them. We capitalized on transition and the (scoring) opportunities we had.”

There were barely 9,000 spectators in the 19,800-seat Air Canada Centre, which was a disappointing crowd given that Toronto finished first overall during the regular season and had knocked off defending-champion Rochester in the division final at home the previous weekend.

Toronto led 2-0 after Kasey Beirnes got credit for a goal when the ball caromed past Bold off teammate John LaFontaine and Brock Sorensen ran the floor to score on a 3-on-2 rush.

Edmonton got the next six.

Mark Matthews started the run with an overhand bullet into a bottom corner of the net behind Miller from the top of the power-play setup. The way the six-foot-five, 230-pound lefty changes the position of his stick on the downward swing of his shot leaves goalies simply guessing as to where the ball is going to go.

A high Matthews shot from a distance tied it, Ben McIntosh dashed free into the middle of the Rock zone to accept a Robert Church pass and score, Church wiggled around Sorensen and scored while falling into the crease, Jarrett Davis beat Miller for a short-handed goal off a fast break, and Riley Loewen, positioned to the left of Miller, fired a ball into a top corner of the net. That made it 6-2 early in the second quarter, and Rock coach John Lovell sent in Rose to replace Miller.

A quick-stick Beirnes goal from a Rob Hellyer pass and a top corner goal by Hellyer from the top of the power-play setup narrowed it to 6-4 but, as they did all night, the Rush roared back to strengthen their position. McIntosh fired in a bouncer, Jeremy Thompson shot into an open net off a rebound with Rose down and Adrian Sorichetti kept the ball on a 3-on-1 break to plant it in a top corner of the Rock net to make it 9-4 just before halftime.

The third quarter was the only quarter in which Toronto outscored Edmonton.

Lovell sent Miller back onto the floor to start the second half and Kevin Crowley scored from the top of the right side. That was offset by another Matthews bullet from the top of the power-play setup. The Rock looked to be mounting a rally when Josh Sanderson trotted out of a corner to the left of Bold to bounce one in and when Colin Doyle ran across the middle of the zone before flinging in a ball with an overhand shot.

Offsetting mid-zone goals by Church and Crowley left it 11-8 for the Rush. That’s when Bold made his biggest save of the night. Damon Edwards got a breakaway but couldn’t beat Bold. Edmonton scored the next four goals, starting with one by Greer late in the third quarter off a pinpoint Matthews pass to the front edge of the crease that got through despite Greer being manhandled by Sandy Chapman.

”That was a key goal,” said had coach Derek Keenan. ”They were kind of inching back. The plan is the plan but guys still have to make plays and we had guys make plays _ Greer, Matthews, the whole group.”

Thompson opened the fourth by scoring after evading Hellyer, who had been unable to get off the floor after a change in possession, and Greer and Church scored with bounce shots to make it 15-8. Miller was lifted a second time and Rose returned to the Rock crease. Toronto’s Brett Hickey scored the last goal at 7:57 of the fourth quarter. Edmonton was content to manage the clock with extended possessions the rest of the way.

”We closed it out pretty strong,” said Keenan.

Studying tendencies of the Rock goalies leading up to the game was helpful, said Matthews.

”We watched a lot of film on what Miller does and he likes to guess,” said Matthews. ”So we changed up our shots as much as we could. Early there, in the first (quarter) a bunch of them went in, and when you get a goalie change it’s awesome for the offense and we didn’t look back.”

Keenan made sure his players were well-prepared all over the floor.

”We shot the ball well,”he said. ”We paid attention to a shooting plan.”

”We did a lot of e-mailing and talking and had a good practise Friday night and a lot of game film,” said Matthews. ”Our coaches did a great job. We stuck to the systems they implemented from the start of the season and it paid off.”

Click here to read the full story by Neil Stevens on LaxMagazine.com. Photo by Graig Abel.