The Toronto Rock are hitting the airways and the airwaves this weekend. The National Lacrosse League East Division’s third-place team will make their first flight of the season, heading to Alberta for critical games against the Edmonton Rush at 9:30 ET Friday night and the Calgary Roughnecks at 9pm ET Saturday night. The games are available for television viewing: both will air live on ESPN3; the Rock’s visit to Edmonton will be on the TSN main channel while Saturday’s game in Calgary will be on TSN2.
The Rock would love to have the same success they had last year when they went on their Alberta weekend. Toronto opened their 2013 season with the western swing and won both games, downing Calgary 13-11 on January 12 then edging Edmonton 10-9 the next day. Toronto players know it won’t be easy, though, especially if they play the way they did in the last seven minutes of their game last weekend, when they just held on to beat the Minnesota Swarm 14-12 after leading 13-4 going into the fourth quarter.
“You forget as quickly as you can about the last seven minutes,” Rock captain Colin Doyle said of the Swarm contest. Doyle, who scored his 500th career goal and 799th career assist in the Minnesota win, said his team puts a lot of emphasis on focus, being ready to play and doing the little things right, but that they got away from that towards the end of the game and it almost cost them.
“I think that’s going to come into play big time this weekend because it’s no joke going out there,” Doyle added. “You make a mistake and nine out of ten times it’s going to end up in the back of your net, just like it did [when Calgary beat] Rochester the week before. So you focus on trying not to make mistakes, on trying to make them earn their chances, and really trying to work them over when we have the ball. It’s a daunting task going out there. Those are two really good teams.”
In fact, to this point in the season, Edmonton has clearly been the best team in the league. The Rush are a perfect 7-0 and four of their seven wins have been by three or more goals. They’ve beaten six different teams, including both of last year’s Champions Cup finalists, the Rochester Knighthawks and Vancouver Stealth. The Rush have allowed only 54 goals, fewer than eight per game. And while in recent seasons they haven’t been the most prolific offensive team, they’re putting up a tidy 12 goals per contest so far this season.
Calgary has been even better than Edmonton offensively, scoring 13.25 goals per game to lead the league. They boast the league’s defending scoring champ in Shawn Evans, who is once again on pace to break the 100-point barrier, as well as the league’s leading goal scorer this year in Dane Dobbie. The pair make a deadly right-left combo of forwards, and they have plenty of other talented players to work with.
The Rock can’t even think about Calgary until after the game in Edmonton, said Toronto defender Rob Marshall. “We’ve got to go into this weekend taking one game at a time,” Marshall said. “We’ll get through the game in Edmonton then we’ll go to the game plan for Calgary, and we’ll just go from there.”
Marshall reiterates Doyle’s point that the key is maintaining focus throughout the game, which they weren’t able to do against Minnesota. “We’ve got to stick to our game plan. We just let up in the last 7-10 minutes,” Marshall said. “They came back and made it a two-goal game, basically all because we got away from our game plan, got away from doing the little things and it almost kicked us in the butt and haunted us.”
Of course, the Rock have plenty of weapons of their own as they head into this weekend of battle, starting with the league’s leader in assists (42) and points (58), forward Garrett Billings. And they’ve had success against these teams, both last year when they swept that opening weekend and won three of four overall against them, and this season when they downed Calgary 16-11 in their home opener. The Rock won’t be complacent, though, as they recognize they’re likely to face a much better Roughnecks squad than they did that night.
Even the travel, which clearly presents its challenges, has a silver lining, Doyle says. “It’s good to get on the road with the guys, spend some time together, it can be a really good weekend for us. You get to spend lots of time together. This is our first flight all year. The focus is on winning those games, but it’s great to spend time with the guys. I cherish that. When you’re done playing the game those are the things you’re going to miss.”
While the chance for team bonding and forging last memories is great, though, Doyle makes no bones about the main purpose of his team’s trip to Alberta this weekend. “We’re going to be ready for the game Friday. We can’t even really think about Saturday cause we’re going in to an undefeated building and we’ll get a chance that you don’t really get a whole lot to knock an undefeated team off. We’ll be ready to go.”
And the Rush and the Roughnecks will be ready and waiting for the Rock, and for what should be a tremendous weekend of lacrosse.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rate This Story: