If you were just looking at the Toronto Rock’s (4-2) and Calgary Roughnecks’ (1-5) records coming into this Week 9 matchup, you might have thought that Toronto would have ran away with a win to extend their win streak to five games.
Yet, on the contrary, the Roughnecks, who have fallen just short of victories in their last two nail-biting games, stunned the 10,000+ fans inside the Air Canada Centre by stealing a win away from arguably the NLL’s hottest team, ultimately defeating the Rock 16-8.
Toronto Rock head coach Matt Sawyer explained the lost simply. “We got what we deserved and they deserved the win,” Sawyer said post-game. “We weren’t willing to put in the effort and pay the price that we needed to to be successful. So, hopefully this is a good learning lesson and we get better and move on, but we got what we deserved.”
The Roughnecks defense was strong all game and were led by their 20-year-old goaltender, Christian Del Bianco who had his best game of his young career collecting a personal-best 47 saves on the night including nearly two dozen consecutive shots to end his epic night on a high note.
Early on in this one, the Roughnecks came out as the more aggressive of the two teams. They were not only getting more shots on goal but were penalized twice for slashing and check from behind minors. Their penalty kill unit allowed just one goal on the man down and were even able to snag a short-handed goal in the process.
It wasn’t until the 1:21 mark in the first-quarter that the scoring really got going in this non-conference battle. In those final 80 seconds, three goals were scored (two from Toronto and one from Calgary). The scoring rush continued in the beginning stages of the second quarter with two more Rock goals -coming nine seconds apart- to gave the home side their first lead with 12:33 to go in the second-quarter.
The Roughnecks were able to fight back in the latter part of the first half scoring two of the last three goals to cut the Rock lead to 6-5 going into the break. The six goals scored by the Rock through the first-half tied their second-lowest production in the opening 60 minutes this season.
Zach Currier, the Roughnecks dynamic rookie, helped the Roughnecks get the ball moving on offensive collecting three assists in the first half to set a career-high -he finished the night with four helpers. For the Rock, Adam Jones tallied for points including a goal and three assists to lead Toronto with four points through the first half of play.
Toronto’s Rob Hellyer made it a 7-5 game with his early second half score on Del Bianco but the game was about to be flipped on its head.
The turning point in the match came midway through the third-quarter when the Rock’s Adam Jones was charged with a five-minute spearing penalty. The Roughnecks scored two critical power play goals on the man up to tie the match at 7-7, and they were just getting started.
When asked about the game-defining penalty after the match, Coach Sawyer admitted that the team will have to go back and see how that play developed and how the penalty came about. “We have to get a better look at that on tape, but we allowed two goals off it” he said. “but we had the ball three times, threw it away and gave them an extra minute and a half, so I guess I can update you on [the play] once we go back and study and analyze it a little bit more.”
The Rock penalty kill has been one of the lowest points of this team during this very successful start to 2018 has been the worst in the NLL so far this season. At home, they had only stopped one power play chance this year and had the NLL’s worst overall penalty kill in 2018 sitting at a poor 34.8%. On the night they would stop 2-5 Calgary power play opportunities.
Following Tom Schreiber’s first and only goal on the night to retake the lead for the Rock, the Roughnecks began a run late in the fourth-quarter that didn’t end until the final buzzer. The Rock, who had not given up more than five scores in a row all season long, surrendered nine consecutive Roghnecks tallies as they watched the match and their four-game win streak slip away as the seconds in the final period ticked away.
Curtis Dickson, Dane Dobbie and Loewen each had two goals during the 9-0 run that lasted 17:10 while Wesley Berg, Tyson Bell, and Holden Cattoni all added a score for themselves. Del Bianco helped to fuel the Roughnecks offense making save after save including the Rock’s last 19 shots on goal going back to late in third-quarter. His saves ranged from run-of-the-mill to highlight reel material, but it did’t matter what the Rock were throwing his way, Del Bianco had an answer for everything down the stretch. It was only the fourth time dating back to the start of the 2017 season that the Rock had been shutout in a quarter.
With the win, the Roughnecks avoid tying the worst start in franchise history moving to 2-5 on the year and have tons of momentum on their side. The Rock, had a chance to have their first win streak of five or more games since early 2015, but will have to start a new streak somewhere down the road if they want to continue to hold a playoff spot.
“Our next [game] is against Rochester,” Sawyer said. “We have an opportunity to go in there and get one back, get back on track. It’s a game where, if we can be successful, we can win the tiebreak, so it makes that game much bigger with how we played tonight. For us, we want to part our best foot forward but we’ve got some work to do.”
The Rock now stand at 4-3 on the year and are jammed in the middle of an extremely tight Eastern Conference where the top-4 teams are all separated by just one game. The Rock will head to Rochester next week to play a Knighthawks team that has now lost five in a row after losing Saturday night to the Buffalo Bandits. That game will be featured on NLLTV.com on February 10th at 8:00 pm EST will conference positioning very much on the mind of both squads.