The Toronto Rock (11-6) clinched third place in the NLL’s Eastern Division with a 13-12 win over the New England Black Wolves (8-8) on Friday night at Scotiabank Arena. The Rock are still chasing a home playoff date, while the Black Wolves will finish fourth.
It was another close win for the Rock, who keep finding new ways to squeak past opponents. It was their eighth game decided by one goal. An additional four games have been decided by two goals.
“I know it’s been a lot,” said head coach Matt Sawyer. “You’re always wanting more. We might have liked a little bit of separation but maybe that’s what we are. The reality going into the playoffs is that there are going to be tight games… We’ve been good and hopefully that helps us move forward.”
The game was close for the full 60 minutes with the teams tied after the first. New England held a one-goal lead at halftime and Toronto held a one-goal lead after the third quarter.
Toronto built a 3-1 lead 4:46 into the first quarter, but Callum Crawford scored on a penalty shot at 9:48 and 40 seconds later Tyler Digby strong-armed his way to the net to tie the game at three. Less than a minute later Adam Jones scored a blast from the restraining line to restore the Rock’s lead but Reilly O’Connor dove from behind the net with four seconds left to re-tie it.
The early part of the second was quiet except for Colton Watkinson’s breakaway goal that put New England up 5-4. Rob Hellyer scored on a delayed penalty at 7:07 to tie the game at five but the ‘Wolves responded with two quick goals. Hellyer’s second of the game was a sidearm shot that got Toronto back within a goal but they trailed 7-6 at the half.
“At times we shot ourselves in the foot,” Sawyer said. “One step forward, two steps back but we sure put together a good fourth quarter there and the offense was real good in the whole second half.”
The Rock started the third with a three-goal run. Dan Craig picked up a shorthanded rip at 3:06. Hellyer went far-side for a hat trick goal 21 seconds later, and Tom Schreiber picked up his own rebound 21 seconds after that. Digby got one back for New England but Johnny Powless replied with a quick stick. The ‘Wolves tied the game at 10 later in the quarter as Crawford scored through traffic on the power play and O’Connor beat Nick Rose with a bounce shot 25 seconds later.
It looked like the fourth quarter would start with a clean slate until Schreiber’s bounce shot with .9 seconds left found its way through Doug Jamieson’s five-hole on a six-on-four opportunity.
“Tom was really creative (tonight) and I know he’s been getting questioned a bit” Sawyer said. “Tom’s a heck of a player and he’s always out there striving to make his teammates better. He works hard and he’s driven so it was good to see him have some success here tonight because confidence is a powerful thing in all sports and that should give him a boost.”
Up 11-10, the Rock reeled off two more goals early in the fourth for a 13-10 lead. Dan Lintner slammed home Schreiber’s backhand pass at 3:02. Lintner then grabbed Dan Craig’s rebound off the boards and passed it right back to him as Craig ran straight in on Jamieson unopposed at 4:22.
“We’ve been patiently waiting for that. A lot of that falls on me,” Schreiber said. “It’s been a tough stretch for me. It’s good to put a few in there and hopefully continue to build. The good news here is that we still have another game in the regular season and we can really peak in the playoffs, so we’ll just try to stay the course and keep getting Ws.”
The last time the Rock and Black Wolves played each other, Callum Crawford was suspended one game for a hit to Brad Kri’s head. Tempers boiled over at the end of this one with Billy Hostrawser getting in Crawford’s face before the rest of the players on the floor converged. As the refs settled things down, Hostrawser squared off with Andrew Suitor as the teams prepared to shake hands.
“It’s two teams that are competing for a win and division rivals. A little bit of bad blood probably from the last game but that’s just lacrosse and I’m sure the fans enjoyed it,” Sawyer said. Indeed, most of the 9,829 fans in attendance remained at their seats well after the final buzzer ended.
Prior to the game the Rock retired the jersey of long time captain Jim “Scoop” Veltman in a special ceremony. Veltman, the captain of the Rock from 1999-2008, brought the team five NLL titles during his tenure. He is the third former member of the Rock to have his jersey raised to the rafters along with Bob Watson and Colin Doyle.