Stephan Leblanc leads the Rock in goal scoring with 29 through 10 games this season.
When they hit the floor for training camp in late December, Rock management, coaching staff and players could not have imagined starting the 2014 season with a 4-6 record. Unfortunately, that’s the reality for the Rock, and a situation they’ve put themselves into with 8 games (4 home, 4 away) remaining in the regular season.
Even with veterans Chris White and Patrick Merrill out with injuries, things started off pretty promising for the team, who dominated the Calgary Roughnecks to start the season with a 16-11 win at the Air Canada Centre. Stephan Leblanc showed signs of what was to come potting 5 goals on the evening. Garrett Billings had a 10-point night garnering 1G-9A-10PTS.
The Rock then hit the road for two weeks starting January 10th in Buffalo where they played a brilliant first half, even shutting out the Bandits in the 1st Quarter, before running out of gas towards the end of the game and eventually coming out on the losing end of a 12-10 battle between the two bitter rivals. Inability to win on the road has been the biggest downfall for the team who went on to drop games in Rochester (12-8 on Jan 18th) in Buffalo (12-10 on Feb 1st) and most recently their western road swing to Alberta in Edmonton (10-9 on Feb 28th) and Calgary (19-13 on March 1st).
“We’ve played decent games on the road” said Head Coach John Lovell. “We just haven’t had the results, it’s pretty discouraging.”
While it’s easy to point the finger specifically to the defensive side of the ball, the Rock had 3 regulars in Chris White, Patrick Merrill and Bill Greer out of the line-up until the end of February, which forced Lovell into playing some of the rookies early on.
“Our issue has been depth because of the injuries. Instead of one or two young guys in the lineup, we’ve got four or five.”
Captain Colin Doyle added, “Our Depth has been challenged. It’s played a significant role in our outcome so far. We have to get better and play better as a whole, top to bottom. Injuries are never an excuse, but it has worn us down.”
It’s not all doom and gloom in Toronto. The team is 4-1 in front of their home crowd. Offence has been one of the strong points for the team. Garrett Billings had a huge month of February earning the Player of the Month award. Back-to-Back 9-point games helped catapult him to the top of the NLL scoring race. Perhaps the biggest surprise has been Stephan Leblanc who has already surpassed his goal total of 22 in 2013 at the midway point of this season he has 29 and sits second in the league race behind Dane Dobbie in Calgary. Captain Colin Doyle is still producing and netted his 500th career goal against Minnesota on February 22nd.
So what has to go right for the Rock? The team can look no further than 2012 to draw inspiration. The Rock were 4-6 heading into the midway point, before acquiring Nick Rose. Rose went 5-1 down the stretch and the team finished 9-7 and 1st in the East. That was also the season Garrett Billings finished with a team record 114 points, the third most in league history. The Rock will enter the second half of the season coming off a much needed two week break. Their first test will be against the 2-time defending champion Rochester Knighthawks.
“We have to show we can play on the road and I think we have the matchups to do it,” Said Lovell. “The schedule moving forward is a good schedule for us.”