After both the Vancouver Stealth and Toronto Rock posted impressive opening week come-from-behind road victories over the 2014 Champion’s Cup finalists, the two National Lacrosse League squads know they cannot rest on their laurels.
The Canadian rivals meet at Langley Events Centre on Saturday, Jan. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET live on TSN2 and TSN GO in Canada & WatchESPN in the U.S. Watch the NLL live on Time Warner Cable SportsChannel in 2015 starting with the Toronto at Vancouver game on Saturday. Check local listings for broadcast schedule.
“That was certainly a good start,” said Stealth head coach Dan Perreault. “(But) we certainly can’t get comfortable with one win at the beginning of the year. We know we have to (keep) playing well.”
The Stealth beat the Calgary Roughnecks 18-14 while the Rock topped the league champion Rochester Knighthawks 13-12. Vancouver trailed early and was down at one point 94 before closing the gap to a pair of goals before halftime.
“We looked slow and a little sloppy, but saying that, it is some new guys together and the first game of the year.”
The Stealth went on an 11-0 run spanning the second and fourth quarters, including scoring the only six goals of the third quarter, to take the lead. One key was the play of Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards, who stopped 48 of the 62 shots he faced.
“We got our legs, T-Rich played extremely well for a period of over 20 minutes,” Perreault said. “He kept up in there so we had a chance to get on that run and once we started going, the ball started dropping.”
Rhys Duch led the offense with nine points (4+5) while Ilija Gajic (3+2), Tyler Digby (3+1), Caleb Wiles (2+1), Tyler Burton (2+0), Lewis Ratcliff (1+3), Mitch McMichael (0+3) and Johnny Powless (0+3) all had multipoint games.
Perreault said he wasn’t too concerned that Powless, his team’s prized off-season pickup, was held goalless in his Vancouver debut.
“Johnny is the type of player who makes everyone on the floor better,” Perreault said, adding that there were a couple of opportunities he was open, but the team failed to get him the ball. “We have to find him; it is going to take time and all of us working together.”
Like his Vancouver counterpart, Rock coach John Lovell echoed those thoughts, saying while it was great to open with a victory, the team has a lot of work to do still.
“I think the key for us (against Rochester) was that we were able to hang in there,” Lovell said about the fact his team always kept within striking.
Toronto trailed 3-0 5:01 into the game and never lead until Kasey Beirnes potted the eventual winner with under five minutes to play. Rob Hellyer (3+3), Stephen Leblanc (3+1) and Kasey Beirnes (3+0) led the offense while Josh Sanderson set up seven goals.
One of the keys in the game was loose balls as Toronto had a decisive 94-59 advantage in that category.
“When you get that many more loose balls than another team, you should win the game,” Lovell said.
The challenge this week will be to slow down a Stealth attack which scored on 18 of their 48 shots, an average of one of every three shots.
The Rock know they need to keep the pressure on Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards, who stopped 48 of the 62 shots he faced.
“That will be the challenge for us,” said Rock transition player Brock Sorensen.
Another key will be stopping the Stealth power play, which connected on all four of their opportunities against Calgary. Perreault knows his team will be in tough.
“We had our hands full with Toronto last year,” he said. “We certainly can’t get comfortable with one win at the beginning of the year. We know we have to play well.”
Overcoming the much talked about challenge of a depleted lineup, the Rock earned a 13-12 come-from-behind victory over the favored Rochester Knighthawks on enemy ground. Choosing not to get too worked up over an encouraging victory, Toronto is keenly focused on its next opponent – the Vancouver Stealth, a team fresh off a 18-goal performance in their season opener just days ago.
“We have to put that win behind us, we have a lot of work to do before going out to Vancouver,” said Sorensen, who is less than a week removed from his first game in a Toronto Rock sweater.
As Toronto’s season-opening win was in come-from-behind fashion, Vancouver shared the same fate. The Stealth, down 9-4 in the first half to the Calgary Roughnecks, scored an astonishing 11-straight goals to garner a 15-9 lead in the final quarter. The hunker down effort led to the eventual 18-14 final.
“They’re a great team, they came off a great win playing a very talented Calgary team,” Sorensen said. “The 11-goal streak is a representation of how talented a team they are, it will be a great challenge for us heading out west.”
With six new faces in the lineup this season (Brock Sorensen, Brodie Merrill, Jeff Gilbert, Mark White, Glen Bryan, Brett Hickey), Toronto felt the inevitable hiccups of a team reset in Week 1. The Rock fell to an 8-5 deficit late in the second quarter against Rochester, allowing many breaks and odd-man rushes in the process.
“I didn’t like our [defensive] game in the first half, like I said I think we are work in progress here and I think that was evident by the number of mistakes in the beginning of the game,” said Rock head coach John Lovell.
Toronto, particularly in the second half, tightened the screws on defence and outscored the defending champs 8-4 the rest of the way en route to what proved to be an encouraging display of perseverance. The Rock outshot Rochester 48-39 and gobbled 35 more loose balls in the effort.
“We made a couple of adjustments, got some better match ups and I thought we did a better job,” said Lovell said. “Certainly one of the big differences in the game was our loose balls, and it wasn’t just from the back-end, we got a lot resets from our offense. When you get that many more loose balls than the other team, you should win the game.”
While Toronto did get large loose ball totals from a few usual suspects – Merrill (15), Scott Johnston (11), Sandy Chapman (7), Josh Sanderson and Rob Hellyer also put up big numbers, complementing their stellar scoring efforts. The two combined for 21 loose balls and 14 points in the Week 1 conclusion.
Sanderson’s spirited seven-point effort (0+7) earned him the league’s Pinty’s Wingman of the Week honours now making him eligible for the Pinty’s Wingman of the Year award.
“It was emotional game for him,” said Lovell in regard to Sanderson playing his first NLL game after the recent passing of his father and league legend Terry Sanderson. “But it was one of the better games I’ve seen him play, he was determined with what he had to do, he was a leader on and off the floor and I think a lot of guys just fed off of his determination to play the game the right way.”
“It was special to watch him play that game and he was certainly the catalyst for us in the win,” he said.
League veteran Brandon Miller got the start in goal in Week 1 and proved just adequate for the win. Despite looking exceptionally sharp in the second half, Miller finished the game with a .692 save percentage. No clear starter has been named for Saturday night’s matchup.
“I’m not sure exactly what we’re going to do at this point. Brandon [Miller] doesn’t think he played a very good game, but he made some key saves when we needed it and that was another difference in the game,” said Lovell.
“I kind of have a plan for our goaltenders this year, I have to be aware that Nick Rose is also a proven number one goalie in the league and he’s got to get some work. We’re going to play it game by game and just go from there,” he said.
Story by Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) and Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo credit: Dan Brodie.