Just one night after an impressive 16-4 victory in Minnesota, the Toronto Rock (6-1) defeated the Minnesota Swarm (3-4) once again, this time with a 14-9 home win before a Valentine’s Day crowd of 8,668 at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
In a well-balanced attack, six Rock players posted four points or more to help Toronto complete a weekend home-and-home sweep against the Swarm. The effort pulls the Rock further ahead of the East Division pack, giving them a 2.5 game advantage over the second place Buffalo Bandits.
“Like most games, we just wanted to get our legs underneath us,” said Toronto Rock head coach John Lovell. “We knew Minnesota would come out hard tonight, they’ve had some success this year.”
It took less than 24 hours for both clubs to pack up and travel north of the boarder for a highly anticipated rematch, but for the Rock, there was no shortage of energy. Toronto mounted 54 shots on goal while going 4-for-7 on the powerplay.
As the usual suspects – Rob Hellyer, Josh Sanderson and Stephan Leblanc – provided their spark, the Rock enjoyed big secondary scoring from Brett Hickey (3+1) and Kevin Ross (2+3).
“Unselfish character, honesty and how they play the game,” said Lovell of his team’s early success. “Our plan is to be honest and stick together.”
“It’s a solid weekend for us,” said Ross. “We got a real good thing going on here. This is where I want to be.”
Minnesota’s Logan Schuss opened all scoring by firing a shot from in close just a minute after first whistle. After nearly six minutes of scoreless play, Kasey Beirnes answered back with his 14th and 15th goals on the year 32 seconds apart to give the Rock an early 2-1 lead. Minnesota countered with with a pair of tallies late in the frame, but Stephan Leblanc, with just a minute remaining, closed the quarter by netting his first of the game.
Toronto came out roaring in the second quarter, scoring three-straight goals over a 3:08 span to garner a 6-3 lead. Minnesota, breaking a 6:29 silence, pulled within a two goals after an unassisted Jordan MacIntosh goal with 10:49 left in the second quarter. To close the half, Rock sharpshooter Rob Hellyer and Brett Hickey sandwiched a Matisz goal to bring the score to 8-5 after 30 minutes.
The third frame featured back-and-fourth play as the two teams traded two goals a piece. Over the 15 minutes, Andrew Suitor and Shane MacDonald sandwiched Stephan Leblanc and Brett Hickey goals, advancing the score to 10-7 heading into the final frame. Furiously pulling away, Toronto opened the quarter by going on a torrid 4-1 run. Schuss scored a late goal with just over two minutes remaining, capping the eventual 14-9 final.
With the win, Toronto remains perfect on home floor after three games played at the ACC.
“We’re going to learn from this,” said Swarm captain Andrew Suitor, who snagged a goal open the second half. “We’re a young team, but we can’t use that as an excuse.”
“We’re going to take this, study the film and educate ourselves,” he added. “We can’t sit on this, there’s no rewind in this league.”
Over the two losses, the Swarm were outscored 30-13 by the Rock, a striking concern for Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan as his team moves past the quarter poll of the season.
“Sure, there’s some concern,” said Sullivan.” “When you’re not willing to pay the price to get inside, you’re not going to score. These goalies are too good.”
The Swarm loss and a Rochester 15-10 win over the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday night has the East Division tightly wrapped. Just a half game separates the second place Buffalo Bandits from the now last place Minnesota Swarm, who over their next eight games will play within the division five times.
“The good thing for us is we have a week off,” Sullivan said. “We’ll give the guys a week to really think about it, then we’ll really get at them. I think we’ll bounce back, we’ve been pretty resilient all year.”
Rock backup goalie Nick Rose got the call in net and played nicely. In his second start of the season, Rose stopped 40 of the Swarm’s 49 shots for a neat .816 save percentage.
“Our defense is unbelievable, I don’t even have words for it at this point,” Rose said. “To give up four last night and nine tonight is incredible.”
Zach Higgins got the nod in goal on the other end of the floor, but was pulled after Toronto’s sixth goal. Brodie MacDonald, in relief, played the remaining 41:52. The two combined for 14 goals allowed on 54 shots for a .740 save percentage.
Leblanc (3+4) and Josh Sanderson (1-6) led all shooters with seven points a piece in the victory. Hellyer (2+4) followed up with six points of his own.
Shayne Jackson (0+5) led all Swarm players with five points in the loss, while Matisz (2+2) followed close behind with four points. Swarm rookie Shane MacDonald, the fifth overall pick of the 2014 NLL Draft, completed the “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a fight, assist and goal, which was a highlight-reel dive and dunk for his first career NLL goal.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Stephan Leblanc
2) Nick Rose
3) Kevin Ross
By Justin Millerson (@RockBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.