With their playoff lives on the line, the Toronto Rock headed out on the road to face the Calgary Roughnecks in what was a crucial match-up for both teams. By the night’s end, Calgary had confirmed their spot in the playoffs, while the Rock saw their post-season dreams come to an end, despite a valiant effort, in a 12-11 overtime loss to the Roughnecks.
With critical games that had significant playoff implications being played across the National Lacrosse League, the Rock knew their focus needed to be on the task at hand – winning a tough road game. With that said, this game featured a number of compelling side stories, including the inspiring return of injured Rock goaltender Bob Watson.
The game was also the first between the teams since their blockbuster trade of superstars Lewis Ratcliff and Josh Sanderson. Early on, the Rock seemed to have the clear advantage in that trade as Ratcliff torched his former team, scoring three straight goals to stake Toronto to a 3-0 lead in the first five minutes of the game. Despite the early scoring fireworks, the first quarter lacked much of the physical edge fans of these two teams have grown to expect when the Rock and Roughnecks square off. However, it was still a tightly contested and entertaining quarter that got more intense with Calgary scoring two goals in a row to cut the Rock lead to 3-2.
The early stages of the second quarter looked very much like a track meet and even though that style normally doesn’t fit in the Rock’s game strategy, they definitely had their running shoes on tonight. Toronto extended their lead with a gritty goal by Mike MacLeod, his first for the Rock. Then Cam Woods and Blaine Manning scored back to back breakaway goals to extend the Toronto lead to 6-2. Clearly the race was not over though, as the Roughnecks did some running of their own, scoring two goals in nine seconds to bring Calgary back within two, at 6-4.
The Rock answered that outburst with Rob Marshall leading a two-on-one with Lewis Ratcliff and burying his 6th goal of the season to make the score 7-4. But not to be outdone, the Roughnecks continued the seesaw affair by scoring two goals before the end of the half, the second of which was tallied by former Rock standout Josh Sanderson, to cut the Toronto lead to 7-6.
The third quarter started with another scoring flurry that saw the teams trading two goals each to make the score 9-8 for Toronto. The Rock snipers were Aaron Wilson, recording his 26th goal of the season, and Peter Lough, netting his 3rd. Toronto then answered a Roughneck goal and extended their lead to 10-8 on Lewis Ratcliff’s fourth goal of the game and 39th of the season.
The goal was a turning point as it came on a delayed Calgary penalty, which ended up being five minute major. Unfortunately, any momentum the Rock had hoped to gain on the advantage was negated when they failed to capitalize on the long power play, which kept the Roughnecks within striking distance heading into the final quarter.
Toronto’s hopes were buoyed early on in the fourth, as Rock captain Jim Veltman’s tenacity around the Calgary net was rewarded with a goal past Roughneck keeper Steve Dietrich. That marker increased the Rock lead to 11-8, but amazingly, that would be the last Toronto goal of the night. From that point forward, the game slowed in pace and became a tactical struggle with the Rock trying to smother the Roughnecks on defense and use the entire shot clock at every opportunity on offense.
While that strategy worked for much of the quarter, the Rock’s defensive shell simply couldn’t withstand the Roughneck pressure, and ultimately gave up three goals in a row to tie the game. Despite the obvious momentum shift, the Rock still had a chance to win the battle on the last possession of the game, but they were not able to take advantage of the opportunity, sending the game into sudden death overtime.
In the extra frame, each team had several possessions and the game was extended by key saves from both goalies. However, the match and the Rock playoff hopes ended nearly three minutes into the overtime period on an outside shot by Tracy Kelusky, sealing the Roughneck comeback victory and sealing the Rock’s fate.
With victories earlier in the evening by division rivals New York, Rochester and Buffalo, the loss officially eliminated the Rock from the post-season chase for the first time since the franchise moved to Toronto starting in the 1999 season.
The Rock were led offensively by Lewis Ratcliff with 6 points (4G, 2A) and Blaine Manning with four (1G, 3A). As was the case for most of the season, the Rock defensive unit was also extremely strong, and goaltender Bob Watson put in another strong performance tending the Toronto net.
The Rock (7-8) will play their final game of the season on Sunday April 27th at 1:00PM in the Air Canada Centre against the Philadelphia Wings. The game will have playoff implications for the Wings, but more importantly, it will mark the final game for legendary Toronto team captain Jim “Scoop” Veltman. The first 5,000 fans at the ACC will receive commemorative Jim Veltman bobbleheads and the first 10,000 fans will receive “Scoop” cheer cards. Fans are encouraged to come out and celebrate the career of one of the greatest all around players to ever play the sport. The game will also be broadcast online via the B2 Network. A high-speed internet connection and a current version of Microsoft Windows Media Player will be required to watch the game. Fans can access the webcast by clicking the B2 Network icon at www.torontorock.com