The Toronto Rock went into Friday night’s game against the Vancouver Stealth looking for more goal scoring from Garrett Billings, Josh Sanderson and Kasey Beirnes. They got it in spades as they came back from an early 6-2 deficit to win going away, 17-12. Billings scored 5 goals and 4 assists and Sanderson (5 assists) and Beirnes (1 assist) each added 3 goals in the convincing Toronto victory, which pulled them even for the season at 2-2 while dropping the Stealth to 2-4. Cliff Smith led Vancover with 3 goals and 2 assists and Rhys Duch added 2 goals and 3 helpers.
Sanderson got the scoring underway, running a perfect pick and roll with Stephan Leblanc just over a minute into the game. Leblanc earned his first of 7 assists on the play. After that, though, Vancouver got an edge in the game with 6 of the next 7 goals. Their defenders got into the act on the first and last goals of the run. Nick Weiss scooped up a loose ball caused by the hard forecheck work of Tyler Garrison and tucked a ball past Nick Rose for Vancouver’s first. On the sixth, Mike Grimes quick-sticked home a perfect pass from Ilija Gajic on a transition break.
Rob Hellyer got some momentum back for the Rock with a hard overhand shot just outside the left foot of Tyler Richards with a little under a minute to play in the first quarter and Toronto was on its way back. The momentum swing continued a few minutes into the second. Goalie Nick Rose, who had 3 assists in the quarter, got his first and prettiest with a delicate lob pass into the stick of a galloping Damon Edwards, who fired a shot in for a shorthanded goal to pull Toronto within two.
Then Billings got into the act. The star forward had scored only twice in the first three games of the season. “Coming out of Rochester, I might have hit six posts that game, so I was pretty frustrated,” he told IL Indoor. “I just needed them to start dropping in the net for me so it was really nice when that one did.” Billings received a diagonal pass from Bill Greer and took a shot bounced off of Richards’ shoulder and dropped into the net. Billings’ relief was evident when he leapt into Greer’s arms to celebrate.
Toronto outscored Vancouver 4-1 in the second quarter to tie things up at 7-7 heading into the half. Once again, as they had in last week’s 9-8 loss to Edmonton in which they surrendered a 7-2 lead, Vancouver just didn’t have a lot to answer with in the second half. The Stealth were able to respond to a couple of Billings goals in the third to keep it close but then the Rock went on a 5-0 run during which they just seemed to have more energy than Vancouver did.
Beirnes said that rather than making adjustments at halftime, the Rock focused on the positives. “We figured out what we were doing that was successful. [Offensive coordinator] Blaine [Manning] and the coaches just said let’s keep doing that until it isn’t. It worked out well,” Beirnes said.
The fourth quarter featured a pair of fights, the first at the Air Canada Centre in a couple of years’ worth of games. Rookies Ethan O’Connor of Toronto and Nick Weiss of Vancouver squared off three minutes into the frame for a spirited tilt. Another pair of young players dropped the mitts with a minute to go when Toronto’s Mike Lum-Walker threw down with Billy Hostrawser.
Both teams are back in action tonight. Toronto heads down the highway to take on the first-place Buffalo Bandits while Vancouver flies off to Philadelphia this morning to get ready for a matchup with the Wings.
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