The Toronto Rock are about to enter the unknown.
Friday night, Scotiabank Arena welcomes the San Diego Seals for the first time ever. The Seals, one of the NLL’s two expansion teams, have been playing like anything but with a record of 4-3, good enough for first place in the Western Division.
Rock head coach Matt Sawyer isn’t worried about facing the new squad, though.
“San Diego has everybody’s attention,” he said, “but we don’t get occupied with our opponent. We just worry about ourselves and we feel that if we can be at our best we can give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Seals may be the best of the West, but the Rock are on top in the East with a 6-1 record, their only loss back in late December. They’ve been perfect since, on a 5-0 winning streak, and defeated the defending champion Saskatchewan Rush 16-13 in their last game on February 1.
After a bye week and a snowed-out Tuesday practice, they’re well rested and ready for another tough challenge.
“We’re not looking at the standings,” said leading goal-scorer Adam Jones. “We have a lot of confidence right now but at the same time we know how fast that can slip away. Lose a game; lose another. We’re just going to keep pushing forward, one game at a time.”
The Seals are coming off a disappointing 14-6 home loss to the Vancouver Warriors, but overall have been surprising lacrosse fans with both their talent and tenacity.
Rock fans will get their first look at probable rookie of the year Austin Staats, who leads the Seals with 19 goals and 14 assists. Former Rock Turner Evans, who sits fifth in Seals’ scoring, will return to Toronto for the first time. Garrett Billings, who was loved in Toronto from 2010-2015, will also be back for the first time in a while. But one player Rock fans won’t see is former captain Brodie Merrill, on the IR after a hand injury suffered in a fight against Warriors’ captain Matt Beers. Merrill chose to leave the Rock during free agency to play for his brother Patrick in San Diego.
Friday is also Pride Night with the Rock, their first-such event, and one that has been a long time coming. The Rock have partnered with You Can Play and The 519 for the game as they work to grow the game of lacrosse within the LGBT community and spread the message that sports are for everyone.
“Organizations like the Toronto Rock that host these pride nights are just getting closer and closer to that sense of inclusivity in sport and making sure everyone feels welcome regardless of their sexual orientation,” stated Patrice Whiffen, an ambassador for You Can Play.
Every ticket sold will support The 519, a local organization dedicated to advocacy for the health, happiness and full participation of LGBTQ communities. It’s a safe space that has had a tangible, positive impact on Toronto’s LGBTQ community. Promoting inclusivity in sports is only a small part of their mandate.
“It’s great to have an outlet. Lacrosse was mine growing up,” said goaltender Nick Rose. “Including everyone is great for this organization. This is the first team in the NLL that I’ve been with that has done something like this and I think it’s awesome.”
Catch the Rock sporting rainbow tape on their sticks at 7:30 at Scotiabank Arena.