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Southern Hospitality: Swarm Knock Off Rock, 12-7

Behind three first-quarter goals from forward Johnny Powless, and a 35-save performance from Brodie MacDonald in net, the Georgia Swarm (1-1) earned its first victory of the 2016 season in a 12-7 win over the Toronto Rock (0-1). A noisy crowd of 9,087 fans witnessed the first professional box lacrosse game in Georgia at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena on Saturday evening.

“It was awesome,” Powless said post-game of the fans following the first home game of the year. “…It was nice and loud. It’s a great place to play.”

Powless scored three of the game’s first seven goals, and struck for consecutive tallies to tie the game for the first time at 3-3 and gave Georgia its first lead at 4-3, in the opening 15 minutes. Toronto and Georgia traded 2-0 runs to open the contest.

“It looked like it was headed like last week with a lot of goals early,” head coach Ed Comeau said after the win on his team’s performance. “Then, credit to our goaltending and defense. They really made some big saves and some great plays in the second half.”

Toronto netted two of the first three goals to open the second quarter, taking a 6-5 lead, but would be held scoreless by MacDonald for over 40 minutes of play, including stopping all nine shots he faced in holding the Rock scoreless in the third quarter. In the second half, MacDonald stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced.

“He played awesome,” Powless said after the game about Georgia’s netminder. “The defense played awesome and that’s what we needed on the field.”

Georgia was led offensively by Powless, who added an assist to his four-goal night. Forward Shayne Jackson (2G, 3A) and rookie F Randy Staats (3G, 4A), who has recorded a team-high 14 points (6G, 8A) through his first two career games in the NLL.

Captain Jordan MacIntosh had a strong night in the face-off circle, winning 57-percent of the faceoffs (12-21) while T Ethan O’Conner went a perfect 2-2.

In total, the Swarm outshot Toronto 44-42, while both teams converted twice on power plays; Georgia went 2-for-5, while the Rock went 2-for-7, and did not convert on a five-minute power play in the third quarter.

Georgia wraps up its brief two-game home stand next Sunday, Jan. 17, against the New England Black Wolves, with the opening face-off slated for 2 p.m. ET.

The Rock were held scoreless for almost 40 minutes and managed to score just one goal in the second half.  Georgia’s starting goaltender, which was maybe a bit of a surprise, Brodie MacDonald stopped 35 of 40 shots he faced to win the Swarm’s first ever home game after relocating to Georgia from Minnesota in the off-season.

“We had a 5-minute major and two other partial power plays to work on and had nothing to show for it,” said Rock head coach John Lovell.  “I thought we did everything we needed to do in the first half to give us a chance to win.  Our transition game was working well in the second quarter and we just didn’t finish.  I was a little disappointed we were down by one (at halftime).  Our offence just wasn’t clicking and hitting their spots and that’s the name of the game here tonight.”

Brett Hickey and Rob Hellyer combined early in the first quarter to give the Rock a 2-0 lead.  The goal trading began from there and the first quarter came to a close with the two teams tied 4-4.

The second quarter was much the same with Georgia opening the scoring.  Hellyer and Stephan Leblanc each scored their second goals of the game and the Rock led 6-5, less than five minutes into the frame.  The Swarm rallied with two more goals, 92 second apart and carried the one goal lead into the half, up 7-6.

MacDonald’s goaltending combined with the Swarm’s defence really came to the forefront in the third quarter.  Georgia’s back end held the Rock to just 9 shots on goal and the big Swarm netminder stopped every one of them.  The home side stretched their lead to 9-6 after three quarters.

Another pair of goals were on the board in the fourth quarter before Hellyer’s third goal of the game broke up the seven-goal run and ended the Rock’s 39 minute and 32 second scoreless drought.

“We were settling for outside shots and not trying to get to the middle of the floor and I think that caught up with us,” said Rock captain Colin Doyle who played in his 209th career game in a Rock uniform to become the all-time leader in that category.  “They buried their chances and we weren’t earning ours, I think that’s pretty clear that’s the way the game went and they took it to us.”

Rock goal scorers were Hellyer with a hat-trick, Leblanc with two and Hickey and Gilbert each had singles.  Nick Rose made 32 saves on 43 shots in a losing effort.

Toronto will have a short turnaround with practice resuming on Tuesday evening, followed by a pair of games with Rochester this week.  The first of which will be Thursday night at 7:30pm at Air Canada Centre in the Rock’s home opener.  Friday will be a day off and then Rochester and Toronto will get together again one week from tonight at the Blue Cross Arena for the back half of a home-and-home on Saturday, January 16th.

Three Stars of the Game:

1) Johnny Powless
2) Randy Staats
3) Stephan Leblanc