Rob Hellyer did everything he possibly could to help his Toronto Rock to a home opener win on Friday night at Scotiabank Arena, but his 10 points couldn’t stop last-minute heroics from Lyle Thompson which gave the Georgia Swarm the 12-11 win.
Denied on a penalty shot with 59 seconds to play, Thompson found an open lane 35 seconds later to score the deciding goal in a game that was back and forth all the way. Thompson had four goals and one assist, helping his team move to 2-0 on the season while the Rock fall to 1-1. Hellyer’s total was five goals and five assists.
“Lyle, just – every time you think you’ve seen him do everything, he does something different,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said in a Swarm press release. “He’s a hard guy to play against and makes everyone else around him better. There are some nights when you need that one guy to take control and make things happen… Lyle was great tonight and did so many little things, as well, to contribute to the victory.”
Toronto led 2-0 just 2:46 in but two consecutive goals from Holden Cattoni tied things at two halfway through the first. Nick Rose got a piece of Cattoni’s first shot before it trickled in, and the second was a bounce shot on the power play that beat him stick side. Rookie defenseman Adam Wiedemann, nephew of long time Rock captain Jim Veltman, scored his first NLL goal after chasing down a loose ball in front at 13:02 to give the Swarm a 3-2 lead.
Thompson stepped around a defenseman to beat Rose 1:46 into the second for his first of the game. Swarm captain Jordan MacIntosh raced Hellyer down the floor shorthanded at 3:54 and scored on a twister for a 5-2 Georgia lead. That lead didn’t last long; Hellyer’s redemption came as he sandwiched a Creighton Reid marker to tie the game at five. Thompson’s second, on a vertical jump through the crease, followed by a Zed Williams’ goal, put the Swarm back up 7-5 at the half.
The Rock’s power play, which was perfect in Buffalo last week, operated at only 50% (2/4) in this game. Tom Schreiber scored the only goal on a five-minute opportunity to start the third. Kieran McArdle followed that up later in the period with a shorthanded blast from the restraining line that tied the game at seven. Bryan Cole gave Georgia back a one-goal lead to end the third.
Johnny Powless’ tying goal 28 seconds into the fourth meant that the game was a fight to the end. Randy Staats’ 100th career goal put the Swarm up one, then Mike Poulin’s point-blank save on Dan Lintner allowed Cole to pick up the loose ball and fire it down to Connor Sellars on a transition break for a 10-8 lead.
Toronto then stole the lead back with a three-goal run to lead for the first time since the first quarter. Hellyer’s fifth goal of the game – the Rock’s 11th – put the 10,123 fans in attendance on their feet as their team peppered Poulin with outside shots.
Thompson went airborne to tie the game at 11 with 2:45 left. He was then awarded the penalty shot after the Rock were caught for illegal substitution as Jason Noble was sprung on transition. Rose kept the crowd going with a pair of great saves, but Thompson silenced the crowd shortly after.
“From a player’s standpoint it might just be Toronto,” Thompson said of the energy in the arena to BR Live’s Ashley Docking after the game. “I feel like we have a pretty solid rivalry with them and every time we come here it feels like a playoff game.”
The two teams face each other again on January 18th again in Toronto.
Next Friday the Rock host the Philadelphia Wings at 7:30 p.m., while the Swarm host the Vancouver Warriors on Saturday at 7:05 p.m.