Friday night, two of the NLL’s best face off at Scotiabank Arena with the Toronto Rock welcoming the defending NLL champion Saskatchewan Rush. Fans in Toronto will be treated to cowboy boots, a lot of plaid and a live halftime show from Jade Eagleson during the team’s annual country night.
Toronto and Saskatchewan don’t play each other often, but their contests are usually competitive and intense. Tom Schreiber and Mark Matthews are capable of equalling each other’s offensive outputs, and it’s a toss-up as to which player will score the flashier goals. Each defensive unit works cohesively in front of their goaltenders.
The Rush are coming off a 13-10 loss to the Georgia Swarm. They fell down 5-0 early in Sunday’s first quarter which saw Evan Kirk replaced by Adam Shute, who had previously only played 64 minutes in the league. Shute ended up making 28 saves as the Rush got as close as 12-10 in the fourth quarter. Matthews and Marty Dinsdale each had hat tricks while Jeff Shattler scored two goals and seven assists, and while the Rush showed a late spark, they were unable to beat the 2017 NLL champions.
It’s still so early in the season that it’s hard to call two losses adversity, but the defending 2018 champs have shown they can be beaten. And the Rock, with a 5-1 record, are primed to hand them their third loss of the season which would drop their winning percentage to .500. It’s been a season that has seen recent powerhouses like the Rush and Swarm fall twice early. That’s opened the door for the Rock to soar to top spot in the East Division, while the Rush sit second, half a game back of the expansion San Diego Seals, in the West.
“[The Rush] are a championship calibre team,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer noted in speaking to torontorock.com. “They’ve been the cream of the crop for the last few years in this league. They’re well coached and they have a lot of skill… so we’ll have our hands full but at the same time it’s a good test for us to see where we stand against one of the best.”
The Rock are currently on a four-game winning streak. Last Saturday in Philadelphia they had a scare, falling behind 5-1 in the first quarter. The young Wings pushed hard but the more experienced Rock rode a five-goal fourth-quarter run to another win. Rob Hellyer, Adam Jones, Dan Lintner and Tom Schreiber all had strong games to overcome the Rock’s slow start. A comeback like theirs is certainly a morale booster but if given the choice they’d prefer to take the lead earlier.
“We want to have a strong first half but if you don’t you need to adjust and stick to the game plan,” Sawyer said.
If one team falls behind on Friday, they each have enough offensive weapons to claw their way back in. The Rock’s offense is answered by Matthews, Ben McIntosh, Robert Church, Ryan Keenan, Jeff Shattler and Curtis Knight.
It makes sense that most of the team’s matchups in the past three years have been high scoring when you look at the stars on each side. In 2018 Saskatchewan prevailed over the Rock 17-9, led by McIntosh’s five goals. Twenty-seventeen was the last time the Rock and Rush played twice, with each team winning their home game. The same happened in 2016, so history shows that despite the Rush’s recent championships, either of these teams is capable of beating the other.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. at Scotiabank Centre or on BR Live.