TORONTO – With the host Toronto Rock leading by six goals as the final seconds ticked away on Jan. 27 against the Edmonton Rush, you could sense a collective sigh of relief at the Air Canada Centre, from players and fans alike.
And with that, the streak was finally over.
After dropping a franchise record four straight contests, the Toronto Rock managed their first win of the season on Jan. 27, a 14-8 triumph over the expansion Edmonton Rush, followed by a convincing 14-10 victory over the Calgary Roughnecks on Feb. 5.
That Rock’s first win of the season came against another winless squad meant very little to the Rock. The reality is that, due to the nature of a short 16-game NLL schedule, the game against the Rush was arguably a must-win for Toronto. The same can be said for the Feb. 5 game against Calgary and the upcoming Feb. 10 game against the Rochester Knighthawks.
It was all triggered by the unexpected 0-4 start.
“It’s a relief to get a win,” said GM-coach Terry Sanderson in an interview with the Canadian Press after the Edmonton game. “We couldn’t do anything until we got that monkey off our back.”
Sanderson noted, however, that the five-time NLL champion Rock have only taken a small step towards a possible return to the Champion’s Cup in May.
“We’re happy to (win) but we’re not kidding ourselves,” said Sanderson. “We know we’ve still got a lot of work to do, a lot of stuff to improve on.”
One such area that the Rock needs to address is their defense. Entering the game on Feb. 5 against Calgary, the club has averaged 12.4 goals against per contest, a mark that placed them on the bottom of the league in that category.
Bob Watson’s 12.94 GAA was also the highest among all NLL goaltenders.
However, the veteran netminder staged his best performances of the season in the Rock’s two victories, allowing just eight goals on 56 shots against Edmonton and limiting a potent Calgary offence to just 10 goals on 49 shots.
A six-year NLL veteran, Watson was quick to credit his teammates for the victory against the Rush.
“The guys showed they wanted to turn this thing around and I think we took a big step forward in doing that,” Watson told the Canadian Press.
Is it foolish to suggest that the Rock, winners of five of the past seven NLL championships, will be able to contend this year after such a dismal start? Perhaps. But if any team has the ability to turn a season right around, it just may very well be the Toronto Rock.
Despite their 2-4 record, there were several positives to be found during the past two victories.
Aside from allowing a season-low eight goals against the Rush, the Rock managed to score a season-high 14, including five from Aaron Wilson.
Wilson, a 5-foot-9, 175-pound forward enjoyed his best game of the season and helped relieve some of the offensive pressure from the “big three” of Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson and Blaine Manning. GM-coach Terry Sanderson was quick to note the importance of Wilson’s breakout game.
“I was very pleased with Aaron Wilson’s performance (tonight),” said Sanderson. “He was going to the net and getting some dirty goals … and that’s what we need from him.”
The Rock equaled that season-best offensive production against the Roughnecks on Feb. 5, winning 14-10.
Is it safe to say that the ship has been righted?
There is no doubt that the Rock began to feel a great deal of pressure after an 0-4 start. Perhaps that pressure will drive these defending champions to respond in a big way.
The Rock hope that the winning ways continue when they host division rivals, the Rochester Knighthawks on Friday Feb. 10, a 7:30 p.m. start.