The Toronto Rock offense sent a message to the rest of the NLL on Saturday night.
Stop us…if you can.
The Rock (4-2) pounded the New England Black Wolves (4-2) with a resounding 21-9 victory in front of 9,125 fans at the Air Canada Centre Saturday in Toronto.
Leading 12-9 late in the third quarter, the Rock reeled off a nine-goal run to end the game and crush any hope of a New England comeback. Tom Schreiber recorded a career-high 12 points (5G, 7A) while Adam Jones continued his strong campaign with 9 points (5G, 4A). Rock veteran Rob Hellyer was dangerous on every possession. He also finished with 9 points (4G, 5A).
The Rock have now scored 82 goals over their four-game winning streak.
“We are getting more comfortable with each other,” Schreiber said on the offensive success. “It’s about keeping an even-keeled attitude and remaining confident. With Robby [Hellyer] coming back and Adam Jones with us now, it’s a whole new outlook. Everyone’s goals have changed. We have to keep it going.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of Toronto’s offensive onslaught was that New England was one of the league’s top defensive teams coming in. The Black Wolves had allowed just 26 goals in their past three games.
New England had little offensive punch on Saturday – especially in the second half – with no player registering more than three points. Two-time NLL MVP Shawn Evans finished the game with just three assists.
Toronto now sits on top of the East Division – tied with New England – with its fourth straight win. It’s the first time the Rock have won that many since the team took six straight back in the 2015 season.
The Rock’s offense was impressive but even more so were the defense and goaltending. Toronto has held opponents to under 10 goals in each of the last three games.
Leading 14-9 heading into the fourth quarter, Toronto goalie Nick Rose and the Rock shut out the Black Wolves 7-0 in the final frame to cruise to victory. Rose was fantastic in Toronto’s crease with 46 saves on 55 shots, including several highlight-reel stops.
“Goaltending and defense go hand-in-hand,” Rock coach Matt Sawyer said. “That’s how you win championships. We challenge that group to be the best on the floor every night. We continue to get better every game. We expect to be better next game.”
Leading 3-2 after the first quarter, the Rock and their fans honored long-time forward Stephan Leblanc with a video tribute. The 32-year-old had spent his entire nine-year NLL career with the Rock prior to being dealt to New England on Dec. 20. Leblanc watched the tribute intently from the bench but showed no emotion. He received several pats on the head from his new teammates as the crowd gave him a loud ovation.
Once the game picked up again in the second quarter, Jones – who was tied for the NLL lead with 36 points coming in – scored his second of the game just 19 seconds in to the quarter. After goals from Schreiber and Kieran McArdle, the Rock had put together a five-goal run and enjoyed a 6-2 lead at 3:30 of the second.
But the Black Wolves went on their own run that was capped by Leblanc’s first at the Air Canada Centre as a visitor. The Dundas Ont., native has fit in nicely with his new team, putting up 16 points over his first four games coming in to Saturday’s game. He capped New England’s three-goal run by beating his former netminder on the short side for his eighth goal of the season. Leblanc’s marker brought the Black Wolves back into the game, trailing 6-5 at 7:20 of the second.
Leblanc finished with two goals against his former team. He left late in the fourth quarter after a scramble in front of Toronto’s net. The veteran forward took a knee to the head and did not return. He received 6 stitches above his right eye.
“I’ll be okay,” Leblanc said after the game. “It’s just funny. I played my whole career with no stitches and the game I come back to Toronto, it happens. It was weird being a visitor. The Rock are a really good team. We needed to be a lot better.”
New England came into the game on a three-game winning streak but trailing 6-5 in the second, the Black Wolves lost all momentum and were outscored 15-4 en route to their second loss of the season.
The Rock led 10-7 at halftime and squashed any possible late New England comeback with four goals in the opening 2:04 of the fourth quarter. The Rock outscored the visiting Black Wolves 7-0 in final frame.
Goaltender Aaron Bold started the game for New England but was pulled 45 seconds into the fourth quarter after Hellyer made it 16-9 for the Rock. Bold allowed 16 goals on 51 shots and was replaced by Doug Jamieson for the rest of the game.
Former New England defender Sheldon Burns gave his former backup goaltender a rude welcome to the game by scoring seconds later. Burns, playing against his former team for the first time, scored twice and was dangerous in transition. He now has six goals on the season.
“One of the more underrated stories of the season is how well Burns has fit in,” Schreiber said of the 26-year-old defender. “He’s been great. [Lacrosse] is a game of runs. Teams are going to get momentum. On offense, it doesn’t matter who scores. However the ball goes in the back of the net, we’ll take it.”
The Rock close out their three-game home stand next Saturday, Feb. 3 against the Calgary Roughnecks at the Air Canada Centre. The Black Wolves head into a bye week and are next in action on Feb. 9 against the visiting Buffalo Bandits at Mohegan Sun Arena.
Three stars selected by the media:
- Tom Schreiber (TOR) – 12 points
- Adam Jones (TOR) – 9 points
- Nick Rose (TOR) – 46 saves on 55 shots