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Stories/Op-Ed

Rock, Knighthawks set for battle in key East Division Clash

After a tough start to the season, the Toronto Rock (2-2) look to keep their winning ways going when they take on the Rochester Knighthawks (2-1) on Friday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

After an 0-2 start, the Rock were a team searching for answers. Now, after two straight wins, the team is brimming with confidence.

Most of that confidence comes from the 24-7 pounding the Rock handed the hometown Vancouver Stealth on Saturday. The game was over early as the Rock started the opening half on an 11-0 run and led the Stealth 17-1 at halftime.

The 17-goal drubbing at halftime set an NLL record, beating the 16 goals the Montreal Express scored in 2001.

 

Rock offense at full confidence

Toronto forwards Tom Schreiber and Rob Hellyer both had career games with Hellyer (3G, 9A) putting up 12 points and Schreiber recording 11 (5G, 6A). Adam Jones was a force on offense again and registered 10 points (4G, 6A) in the victory.

Rock rookie forward Dan Craig, who made his NLL debut against the Buffalo Bandits on December 30, has also had a nice start to his career with nine points (5G, 4A) over his first two games.

“We played well in all areas of the game,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said of the win. “The offense was capitalizing on all chances and the defense and goaltending were strong. Overall, we’ve been a hungrier team the last two games than we were in the first two.”

Two weeks ago, the mood was entirely different as the Rock were outplayed in their opening two games and their high-powered offense looked out-of-sync. Now coming into Week 6, Toronto has scored 44 goals in its past two games and has the top three scorers in the league (Adam Jones – 28 points, Rob Hellyer – 24, Tom Schreiber – 23)

“Having an 0-2 record is one thing but we just weren’t happy with how we played either,” Sawyer continued. “That was the disappointing part. The response was exactly what we were looking for. It’s a tough league. The credit goes to our guys for turning it around.”

 

“Different mindset for Knighthawks this year”

Friday’s game featuring the two East Division rivals is the first of three between the two squads this season.

Rochester had a nice start to the season winning its first two games comfortably at home, scoring 37 goals on the Calgary Roughnecks and the Bandits. However, the team stumbled in its last game on the road, falling 14-11 to the defending NLL Champions, the Georgia Swarm, on December 30.

The Knighthawks will play their first game in 2018 this Friday after coming off a bye week in Week 5. In fact, Rochester plays its first back-to-back weekend of the season with the Rock on Friday before heading home to battle the New England BlackWolves on Saturday.

Rochester head coach Mike Hasen gave his team the week off last week before returning to practice this week. He credits his team’s early success to a new mentality this season.

“It’s a different mindset for the entire organization this year. We are looking to play quicker on the floor and, so far so good,” Hasen told NLL.com. “On the fitness side of things – we’ve ramped that up and everyone has bought into that. Everyone is playing well and playing as a group.”

 

Injury in net

In addition to its strong offense, the Knighthawks have been the NLL’s top team on special teams. Rochester has scored on five of seven power-play opportunities (71% – 1st in NLL), which is led by Joe Resetarits (4 PPG). The Knighthawks have also played well shorthanded, killing off 14-of-17 chances a man-down (82% – 1st in NLL).

Veteran Rock goaltender Brandon Miller did not dress for last week’s game in Vancouver after injuring himself in warmup against the Bandits the week prior. He was placed on the injured reserve and his status will be re-evaluated this week. 20-year-old Riley Hutchcraft made his NLL debut in the fourth quarter in the Rock’s blowout win against the Stealth and would serve as Toronto’s backup if Miller is unavailable for Friday.

Week 6 of the NLL season features five games across the league. With a win, both the Rock and the Knighthawks would be the first team in the East Division to reach three wins.

Friday’s game is a 7:30 p.m. ET start in Toronto. For ticket information, check out www.torontorock.com or tune in online to NLL TV for complete coverage.

 

 

Follow Matt on Twitter for more Rock updates at @MattCullenLive

 

 

 

 

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