Two playoff bound teams will collide Friday night when the New England Black Wolves visit the Toronto Rock at Scotiabank Arena.
The 10-6 Rock, currently third in the East Division, are still on the hunt for a home playoff game. They need to win their last two games and the Bandits need to lose their two games for it to happen, but the Rock won’t be worrying about the Bandits when the ball drops on Friday.
The 8-7 Black Wolves had some nervous moments in the last few weeks thanks to surging Rochester and Philadelphia teams, but New England clinched its playoff spot last weekend with a 17-14 win over the San Diego Seals.
Last weekend against the Seals, the Black Wolves came out strong, leading 7-2 after the first period after seven different players found the back of the net. They increased their lead to 13-5 at the half but they stalled in the third as the Seals fought back with nine goals in the second half. The ‘Wolves allowed five straight goals through the third and fourth periods, including three straight on the power play. They also allowed three straight goals with an extra Seals attacker to end the game, but were able to hang on for the win.
The Rock split their games last weekend with a home win over Buffalo 12-11 and a 12-10 road loss in Rochester. Against Buffalo, the Rock led 6-4 at halftime but allowed the Bandits to rattle off four straight goals in the third period to take the lead. Toronto tied it at eight, then nine, then 11. Brandon Slade scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals in his biggest game in a Rock uniform. Rob Hellyer was also on fire for the Rock with four goals.
In Rochester, the Knighthawks played spoiler, handing the Rock their fifth consecutive road loss. They rode a five-goal second period to a 7-3 halftime lead. The Rock fared better in the second half after shaking off the bus legs, but despite strong performances from Tom Schreiber and Johnny Powless, weren’t able to overcome the early deficit.
New England won the only meeting between the two clubs so far this season back on February 24th, 13-11 at Mohegan Sun. Most of that game was even with Toronto holding a slight edge until the ‘Wolves scored five-straight in the fourth quarter. In 2018, the Rock took two of three meetings between the clubs.
The Rock are led by Tom Schreiber (79 pts), Rob Hellyer (77 pts) and Adam Jones (48 pts). Jones missed five games after suffering a lower-body injury in the game against New England. His only game back since then was against Buffalo last Friday where he put up a pair of goals and five assists. He was scratched as a precaution against the Knighthawks, but the Rock hope he’s healthy enough to go this week since a lot of their offense flows through him on the left side.
In Jones’ absence, Johnny Powless, Kieran McArdle and Dan Craig have spread the scoring around. Captain Challen Rogers is the Rock’s biggest threat on transition while Bradley Kri and Damon Edwards have been holding things down on the back end.
New England is led by Callum Crawford’s 93 points, Stephan Leblanc’s 76 points, Tyler Digby’s 67 points and Reilly O’Connor’s 63 points. Crawford’s 38 goals are third in the NLL and his 55 assists are sixth. Joe Resetarits’ 17 points in four games since being traded from Rochester has added a new dimension to the Black Wolves’ offense. Brett Manney and David Brock patrol the defensive end while Andrew Suitor keeps the Wolves’ opponents accountable.
In goal, Nick Rose sits ninth in the league with a goals against average of 11.90 and is eighth in save percentage with .768. Rose was lifted in favour of Riley Hutchcraft after Rochester’s 11th goal on Saturday. Hutchcraft has allowed only three goals in his 47 minutes of play over the season, and did not allow a goal in the 22 minutes he played against the Knighthawks, so the Rock know they have a capable backup should they need him.
In New England’s net, Alex Buque and Doug Jamieson have split time. Buque is slightly ahead of Rose with a 11.80 GAA while Doug Jamieson is 11th at 12.38. Jamieson has an impressive .782 save percentage, good enough for fifth in the league, while Buque is 10th with .763. Whichever goaltender gets the start on Friday will prove to be good competition for Rose in Toronto’s net.