Toronto Rock down Calgary Roughnecks in season opener for both teams


The Toronto Rock got off to a great start to the season by getting off to a great first quarter, riding a 7-3 lead after 15 minutes to a 16-11 win over the Calgary Roughnecks in the first game of the National Lacrosse League season for both teams Friday night. Stephan Leblanc led the assault for the Rock with 5 goals and 2 assists while Garrett Billings quietly put up a 10-point night with 1 goal and 9 assists. Jeff Shattler scored 4 goals and 2 assists and Shawn Evans 1 goal and 7 assists for the Roughnecks in front of over 11,000 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

Toronto took control of the game right off the hop, seeming to win every loose ball battle and looking like they just had more focused energy than the Roughnecks from the opening faceoff. Colin Doyle opened the scoring on the power play at 4:33 and Billings connected just 26 seconds later. A couple of minutes after that, Jesse Gamble broke away shorthanded and tucked a shot over Mike Poulin’s shoulder and just under the cross-bar to make it 3-0 for Toronto.

Dane Dobbie pulled the Riggers back within one with back to back power play goals, but Toronto regained momentum by outscoring Calgary 4-1 the rest of the way in the quarter. After looking a little shaky through that first period, Poulin settled down and played very well the rest of the game and so did the Roughnecks. They still had too many defensive breakdowns for their coaching staff’s liking, though, giving the Rock high-quality scoring chances that they took advantage of to maintain their lead.

“We came into this game very prepared,” Leblanc said after the contest. “We know what Calgary brings to the table. You’ve got to show them a lot of respect and tonight we were on our game and we were able to bury a couple and it’s a big win for us.” Leblanc was left wide open on a couple of his goals. He said he benefits from the people he plays alongside. “When you play with Josh Sanderson and Colin Doyle they seem to leave me open a couple of times and I’m just thankful to get my opportunities and be able to bury.”

Both teams were potent on the power play. Toronto scored four times on eight man advantages while the Roughnecks connected on each of their three power plays. A big difference was that Calgary’s physical game got them into trouble on numerous occasions when they went over the line, while the Rock showed good discipline and sound judgment.

Calgary showed a tremendous amount of resilience, working hard in the second half to try to get back into the game. It just seemed like every time the Roughnecks got a bit of a roll going, Toronto was able to respond with a bit goal or a big save from Nick Rose, who made 40 stops in the game to earn the win. Thanks to a solid defensive effort in front of him, Rose wasn’t tested with high-quality shots as often as Poulin was, but the Toronto netminder was equal to the task when he needed to be.

Toronto rookie and first-round draft selection Ethan O’Connor had a big debut, scoring an empty-net goal after picking up a pair of assists and looking very comfortable in his first game on the big stage. His first shift wasn’t exactly pretty; he ran into a referee just outside his own crease, never really regained his balance and fell to the turf, knocking the ball loose from a teammate and almost turning it over to Calgary. With the win under his team’s belt, though, he was able to laugh about it after the game.

“It was the kind of thing that never happened in your career before, especially the ref one. It was like, where the hell did he come from,” O’Connor said. “I don’t think it was nerves, more that it just happened. I felt I was pretty settled from the beginning, I was calm. To me it was just fun going through the warmups, being able to practice here yesterday at the ACC, getting on the floor, seeing the arena. It was just fun the whole time. It was really nerves to overcome, it was just great to be here.”

O’Connor said the whole experience was a blast and that he never really felt nervous. “I felt that today was a lot more comfortable than even the preseason games. The preseason games you’re still trying to make the team, you’re trying to make the active roster, so you’re kind of holding back a little, maybe being more tentative. But here it’s, you know the guys have your back. You’re not going early but you’re going when you feel you can and we were able to get a couple of good breaks out of it today.”

Both teams get back in action next Friday night. Toronto travels to Buffalo to face the Bandits while Calgary plays host to the Colorado Mammoth in their home opener.

NLL.com game story
Box score

Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at stamplax@hotmail.com.

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