By Matt Cullen/NLL.com Staff Writer
With four games in the next two weeks, the Rock kick off their toughest stretch of the season, starting with a vital set of back-to-back games this weekend on the road Friday against the Georgia Swarm before returning home to the Air Canada Centre to face the Vancouver Stealth on Saturday, March 25.
Following this weekend, the Rock travel to Vancouver for the back end of the home-and-home series against the Stealth on Friday, March 31 before traveling across the continent for another road tilt against the division rival New England Black Wolves two days later. The Rock play five of their final seven games on the road.
“The next two weeks are very important,” Rock head coach Matt Sawyer told NLL.com. “Two back-to-back weekends, I don’t want to say it’s going to ‘make-or-break’ which way we go but every game is important.”
Despite the daunting schedule, coach Sawyer is stressing that his team’s focus remains on the next game.
“We’ll focus on Georgia first and then worry about Vancouver,” Sawyer said looking ahead to this weekend. “We have a really good group. We are comfortable and happy with where we are right now. Obviously, we would like to have a couple more wins but we are sitting second in the East and in a playoff spot.”
The Rock are 1-0 this season in the second of back-to-back games, beating the Rochester Knighthawks 10-6 on Feb. 18. The Rock should also get a boost as six-foot-six defenseman Brock Sorensen could return for one of the two games this weekend. Sorensen, a four-year veteran, played 15 games for Toronto last season before tearing his ACL on April 15, 2016. Sorensen and forward Turner Evans – who has missed the last three games with an ankle injury – were both moved to the active roster this week. With the extra bodies, Sawyer knows the key to success this weekend is keeping his players as fresh as possible.
“We put a few fresh bodies in the lineup [last time in Rochester]. Hopefully we’ll have that option this week as well.”
Saturday’s game in Toronto features the Canadian rival Stealth making their only regular-season trip to the Air Canada Centre. After a 15-11 loss to the visiting Buffalo Bandits last Friday, the Stealth aim to avoid a second-straight setback. Vancouver currently holds the final playoff spot in the West Division – a game ahead of the Calgary Roughnecks while one back of the second-place Colorado Mammoth.
“We just find that every week is important,” Stealth head coach Jamie Batley told NLL.com. “For us, one week we are in third, the next we are in fourth. We are trying to keep pace every week – trying to keep ahead of Calgary and trying to catch Colorado at the same time.”
Prior to Friday’s loss, the Stealth had won three of four games, bouncing back from a five-game losing streak spanning from Jan. 14 to Feb. 12. The Stealth should also be well rested for Saturday after an eight-day break but coach Batley insists the game plan doesn’t change against a potentially tired Rock squad.
“We don’t think about where our opponent was the night before,” Batley emphasized. “We are always looking to get a good start. I think that’s being prepared and getting a good start is always key.”
Saturday’s all-Canadian matchup in Toronto is a 7 p.m. ET start and it will also celebrate the birth of organized lacrosse in Canada. With Canada preparing for its milestone 150th birthday on July 1, fans in attendance will get a taste of what’s to come this summer.