Toronto, ON – Long-time rivals and divisional foes faced each other with first place on the line, as the Toronto Rock and Buffalo Bandits renewed hostilities at the Air Canada Centre on Friday, March 4th. The Rock entered the night on a three-game winning streak and a triumph over Buffalo would put Toronto atop the NLL’s Eastern Division at the season’s halfway mark.
In the opening quarter, defence ruled the floor. Bob Watson held the Bandits scoreless until the 10-minute mark, when Buffalo’s Jason Crosbie opened the scoring. As time wound down in the first, Aaron Wilson answered for the Rock with nifty assists going to Doyle and Josh Sanderson. The score at the end of one – Buffalo 2, Toronto 1.
The second quarter featured beautiful passing on two Rock power plays, as up to four individual players had a touch before Wilson tucked the ball in.This came after Colin Doyle had already struck on the powerplay at 3:06. Toronto’s defense showed a few cracks later in the quarter as Bandit forward Dan Teat enjoyed two breakaways. The teams traded goals until Toronto forward Blaine Manning muscled his way out of the corner with the ball and hit Sanderson with a laser-like pass. Sanderson buried the shot to tie the score 6-6 with less than a second remaining.
Buffalo burst from the halftime break to fire three unanswered goals past a startled Rock goaltender Bob Watson. Toronto’s Matt Shearer’s second goal of the game stopped the bleeding as he demonstrated great patience to whip one past Buffalo goaltender Steve Dietrich. Defenseman Phil Sanderson added his second of the season to bring the Rock within one, but two markers by Rock defenseman Chris Driscoll could only keep the Rock within one goal of the consistent Buffalo offence.
With 17,756 fans on the edge of their seats, the final quarter was destined to be a tight one. Nobody went home disappointed. Doyle opened the scoring with his 3rd of the night to tie the score at 11-11. Both teams then put on a defensive show, shutting the door until the final 5 minutes of the game. Buffalo struck twice within a minute, with both Jason Crosbie and Mark Steenhuis registering the hat trick. The Rock, desparate and down by two, pulled Watson for the extra attacker. It worked to perfection, as Manning was set up for a stellar top corner blast that brought the fans to their feet. Now down by a single goal with less than 2 minutes remaining, the Rock pressed for the equalizer. Unfortunately, Rock-killer Crosbie finished off his amazing effort by potting his 4th goal into the empty net to give Buffalo the 14-12 win.
Goaltender Bob Watson, who faced 54 Buffalo shots, was named the game’s MVP. Top point-getters for the Rock were Colin Doyle (3G, 2A), Aaron Wilson (2G, 3A) and Josh Sanderson (1G, 4A).
Despite the loss on the floor, Ontario Special Olympics came out winners thanks to the Toronto Rock 4th Annual Charity Classic. The Rock, in partnership with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, raised $30,000 for Special Olympics programming in Ontario, featuring the sale of special edition third-jerseys and other terrific prizes packages donated by sponsors such as Tim Horton’s, Brine Canada, Budget Car and Truck Rentals, Joe Badali’s and the Westin Harbour Castle.