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Rock Solid: Toronto Over Calgary, 12-11

The Toronto Rock (4-1) maintained the top spot in the East Division and denied the Calgary Roughnecks (0-4) its first win with a thrilling 12-11 victory before a crowd of 11,716 at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

Brandon Miller earned his 50th career victory while Rob Hellyer posted his 50th career goal as the Rock staved off a late Calgary comeback to improve to 2-0 on home floor this season.

An 11-8 lead with 7:20 left on the clock is the position Miller and the Toronto Rock enjoyed before the Roughnecks fired three-straight goals in a span of 1:44 to tie the game at 11 goals a piece. The late surge put a looming NLL milestone in jeopardy, but thanks to a Josh Sanderson goal with 1:44 remaining, veteran goaltender Miller was able to enjoy something very few have been able to achieve – the elusive 50th career NLL win between the pipes.

“I’m pretty happy about it,” said Miller, who started his career ten years ago with the Stealth franchise. “This is a league I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid, I always wanted to play in it. To get 50 wins is pretty big and I’m proud of it.”

Young veteran Hellyer also nabbed his own milestone on Saturday night by scoring his 50th career tally in 36 total games played. Hellyer played the roll of young prospect for his first three seasons in the league, but over his last two, the 22-year-old has scored 42 goals, an effort that has raised eyebrows across the league.

“It feels good, I had no idea [the milestone] was coming,” said Hellyer. “It’s great to be a regular in the league now and know your spot.”

“I think all he needed was an opportunity,” said Rock head coach John Lovell of Hellyer. “I think he’s matured a lot since he’s been with us. He’s a great kid and he’s going to keep getting better which is a good thing for us.”

Calgary forward Dane Dobbie opened the game’s scoring by squeezing one past Brandon Miller under three minutes after first whistle. Following nearly six minutes of scoreless play, Rock leading goal scorer Rob Hellyer tied the game scoring his 50th career tally on the doorstep. After Dobbie gave Calgary a 2-1 lead seconds later, the Rock scored three-straight to garner a 4-2 heading into the second quarter.

The Rock continued what eventually became a 5-0 run after Hellyer and Kasey Beirnes both found the net early in the second frame. Transition player Peter McFetridge broke Calgary’s silence, keeping the game close at 6-3 just past the quarter’s halfway point.

Less than a minute later however, Brett Hickey scored his first of two unanswered goals, extending Toronto’s lead to 8-3 with 5:37 left in the half. The Roughnecks, keeping it close, got tallies from Shawn Evans and Jeff Shattler to close the first half with 8-5 score.

In a much quieter third quarter, Toronto and Calgary traded two goals a piece to keep the game within three goals heading into the game’s final 15 minutes. Toronto defenders Brock Sorensen and Damon Edwards sandwiched an Evans goal each scoring tallies on the penalty kill. Calgary forward Curtis Dickson scored his first goal of the game to close the frame shrinking the deficit to 10-7.

Beirnes and Evans swapped goals over the quarter’s first half. Calgary then followed up with a 4-0 run to tie the game at 11-11 with 3:12 to play. A minute and half later, Josh Sanderson scored the game’s final tally on a cross-crease pass to give Toronto the eventual 12-11 victory.

“At different times, we were guilty of not looking after the ball,” said Lovell of the late game collapse. “But again, I was happy with our defense although it was unfortunate to allow 11 goals in a game.”

The loss for Calgary plunges them deeper in the basement of the West Division, a spot they have felt very little since the team’s inception in 2002. Despite another loss however, the Roughnecks showed glimpses of good defensive play which resulted in allowing a season-low 12 goals against.

“I think that’s a step forward for us,” said Evans. “Overall, I thought we played a pretty good game, we only allowed a couple goals in the third quarter. [Frankie] Scigliano played great in net, he made the stops he needed to make.”

“You got to take some positives out of this,” said Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky. “I thought our defense buckled down in the second half and our offense is still a work in progress, but we had some really good individual efforts tonight.”

A week after veteran goalie Mike Poulin was yanked from goal against Edmonton (allowed 14 goals on 35 shots), Calgary backup Scigliano got the nod between the pipes on Saturday and played admirably. The 23-year-old stopped 40 of 52 Rock shots for a commendable .769 save percentage. Meanwhile, Miller, amid his historic evening, allowed just 11 goals on 57 shots earning him a save percentage of .807.

Evans (4+6) led all shooters with ten points in the loss. Dickson (3+2) followed up with five points of his own.

Hellyer (2+5) led all Rock players with seven points in the victory while Sanderson (1+5) followed close behind with six points.

Calgary will host the Buffalo Bandits at the Scotiabank Saddledome next Saturday night while the Rock (bye in Week 6) won’t play again until Valentine’s Day when they host the Minnesota Swarm.

Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:

1) Brandon Miller
2) Brett Hickey
3) Shawn Evans

By Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Dave Abel.