Toronto – The Toronto Rock finished up the season with an inspired comeback against eastern division rival the Philadelphia Wings. A crowd of 15,322 fans showed up to say goodbye to their beloved captain Jim Veltman and the Rock gave them plenty to cheer about. The team battled back from an early 7-1 deficit to tie the game at 14-14 with 4:40 left in the fourth quarter. With Taylor Wray of Philadelphia in the penalty box, the Rock pressed for the game winner only to see Athan Iannucci score his fourth goal of the game with 43 seconds left to give the visitors the 15-14 win.
The game was a tribute to Jim Veltman, the only captain the team has had in its ten year history, who is retiring after an illustrious 16 year career that included five championships with the Rock and three with the Buffalo Bandits. Veltman leaves the game as the all-time leader in loose balls with 2417 more than 600 more than number two on the list, John Tavares. Veltman also holds the single season record with 226 loose balls, he was a six time NLL All-Star, a 12 time NLL All-Pro, the 2004 NLL MVP and 2002 NLL Sportsmanship Award winner. Veltman has also earned the respect of his peers as demonstrated by the tributes and accolades that poured in all week and were shown on the scoreboard during the game this afternoon.
Unfortunately for Rock fans the Philadelphia goaltending duo of Rob Blasdell and Brandon Miller refused to give Veltman a going away victory. Toronto fired 73 shots at the Philadelphia goalies, many of them quality opportunities only to be turned away. Blasdell turned aside 30 of the 37 shots he faced and added three assists while Miller stopped 29 of the 36 shots fired at him.
However, the team gave their captain a fitting send off playing a physical game, fighting for every loose ball, outshooting the Wings and battling back to bring the game within one.
The Rock dug themselves a deep hole in the first quarter. Jason Crosbie opened the scoring just 56 seconds into the game to give the visitors an early 1-0 lead and Jake Bergey made it 2-0 before Veltman brought the crowd to their feet with a hard shot over Blasdell’s shoulder to cut the lead to 2-1. Philadelphia continued to press scoring the nest four goals in just a 1:50. Toronto coach Glenn Clark replaced goaltender Bob Watson with backup Mike Poulin before the Wings scored on their first shot to make it 7-1. Poulin then stopped 21 of the next 28 shots he faced including several big saves that allowed the Rock to get back into the game. The teams exchanged goals late in the first quarter giving Philadelphia an 8-2 lead after one quarter.
Toronto caught fire to start the second quarter as Scott Campbell scored just 27 seconds into the period and Blaine Manning took a feed from Veltman to score on the power play. Lewis Ratcliff then scored the goal of the game reaching from behind the net and tucking the ball into the top corner. Crosbie scored his second to stop the Toronto comeback but goals by Aaron Wilson and Campbell’s second cut the deficit to just two at 9-7. Philadelphia added a late goal to send the teams to the locker room with the score 10-7 for the Wings.
Miller replaced Blasdell to start the second half and Toronto tested him early and often but it was Philadelphia that scored first in the quarter. Van Beek and Rooney each scored to increase the Wings lead to 12-7 but once again the rock fought back and both Ratcliff and Manning scored their second goals of the game bringing the score to 12-9 heading into the final quarter.
The teams exchanged goals early in the quarter before Iannucci scored his third of the game to give the Wings a 14-10 lead with 9:50 left to play. Once again it seemed as if Philadelphia had the game in hand but the Rock would not give up and Kasey Beirnes started the comeback with a power play goal. Ratcliff and Marshall scored 9 seconds apart to make it one goal game and Aaron Wilson completed the comeback with another power play goal. After making two outstanding saves Poulin was down on the ground and Iannucci scooped the loose ball and fired it into the empty net adding to his single season goal scoring record, finishing the season with 71 goals.
Following the game, most fans remained in the building giving Veltman a standing ovation while tributes from coaches and players from around the league played on the scoreboard. Every player stopped to talk to Veltman as the teams shook hands and Veltman ran a lap around the arena waving to the fans and throwing his equipment to some dedicated fans in the crowd.
“It has been a great ride and I look forward to what comes next,” said Veltman following the game. “The only regret will be next season when I see these guys going out onto the floor because I love being out there playing when they give an effort like that.”
The Rock finish the 2008 season with a 7-9 record.