Rock Looking To Bounce Back After Suffering First Loss
Oakville, ON – The Toronto Rock (2-1) will host the Buffalo Bandits (1-3) on tonight at Air Canada Centre at 7:30 p.m. in a titanic East Division showdown. These two teams make up the most bitter rivalry in the NLL and a Rock win tonight can put some distance between themselves and the pesky Bandits, just a little over a month in the regular season.
Last week at home, the Rock came into their matchup against the Rochester Knighthawks riding a two-game winning streak to open the season that included wins over the back-to-back defending NLL champion Saskatchewan Rush and the Knighthawks. Despite dominating every statistical facet of the game including a 57-32 edge in shots on goal, Toronto’s offence and transition game failed to produce results in a 9-8 loss to the Knighthawks.
“The transition game can be a tricky thing,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer. “It wasn’t there for us last week and it’s a part of our game that we’re counting on being productive for us in order to have team success. We will need to be better in that area of the game against Buffalo.”
The Rock’s offence will need to start to produce. Generating shots hasn’t been a problem. However, their shooting percentage of 13.9% is third worst in the league, only slightly better than New England at (13.8%) and Rochester (13.4%). Toronto also went from getting goals from eleven different players in the team’s 13-11 win over Saskatchewan to just four players finding the twine in the one-goal loss to Rochester.
“Collectively we need to remember what we are,” explained Sawyer. “We are going to need contributions from everyone each and every night. Ideally, you’re going to get scoring from multiple players. When everyone is contributing, we’ve proven to be a difficult team to defend.”
Toronto’s defence continues to be the bright spot. The 32 shots allowed against Rochester on January 28 was a season low after giving up 45 and 48 shots in their first two games of the season. The return of Damon Edwards and his transition game, the emergence of Bradley Kri as a dominant faceoff man and the continued elite defensive play of Captain Brodie Merrill have fueled a team defence that appears to be among the best in the NLL in the early going. Earlier this week, the Rock also moved Jordan Magnuson back to the active roster from the short-term holdout list and place Rob Marshall on the injured reserve – first level.
“We talk about the strength of our defence a lot, along with our goaltending, as the strength of this team,” said Sawyer. “Some nights when you are challenged to put the ball in the net, you just have to give up one less goal than you allow and our coaching staff and myself are very confident that this group will step up when called upon, especially as they mature with each game.”
While Nick Rose struggled in the first half against Rochester, the veteran goaltender settled down in the second half, making several key saves and gave the Rock a chance to win. Rose enters this weekend with the best goals-against average in the league at 8.33. What’s more impressive about Rose’s start is the fact that the second-best goals-against average of Calgary’s Frankie Scigliano is 1.67 goals per game higher at 10.00.
Reigning league MVP Dhane Smith has missed the last two Buffalo games, however the Bandits haven’t exactly struggled scoring goals, averaging 16.5 goals per game in the pair of outings minus the dynamic offensive threat. Picking up the slack has been Smith’s regular wingman Ryan Benesch who has 26 points (11+15) in four games to start the season. Mark Steenhuis and Mitch Jones have provided strong secondary scoring with 15 and 13 points respectively. Buffalo defender Nick Weiss and transition firecracker Alex Kedoh Hill have also been sidelined with injuries early in the season.
The Buffalo goaltending situation isn’t as clear as it has been in years past. Veteran Bandit and former member of the Toronto Rock, Anthony Cosmo, has struggled mightily and has played just 45 minutes so far this season, is 0-1 and has a goals-against average of 17.28 and a save percentage of .735. His counterpart Davide DiRuscio’s numbers are slightly better with a GAA of 13.24 and a save percentage of .772. The younger DiRuscio does have the Bandits lone win, a 21-15 decision over the Vancouver Stealth. Cosmo may be struggling, but don’t be surprised to see the Mississauga, ON native starting between the pipes tonight in the building he called home for the first four seasons of his career.
Tonight is also Country Night featuring the Boots and Hearts halftime show with a live performance from The Abrams. Fans in attendance will also have a chance to win some great prizes including a trip for 2 to Nashville, TN courtesy of Adventure House Travel, Boots and Hearts passes and more.
Great seats are still available for tonight’s game at the Air Canada Centre Box Office or online at torontorock.com.
Toronto will travel to Calgary to face the Roughnecks next Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET. The Rock’s next home game will be on Friday, February 17 against the Georgia Swarm at Air Canada Centre.