TORONTO – Brothers, coaches, friends and rivals, Lindsay and Terry Sanderson know each other intimately.
Riding a four-game winning streak, the Rock now enters this Battle of Brothers with thoughts on continuing the recovery from the shaky 0-4 start and a fifth consecutive victrory.
Coming off a bye week, the Rock (4-4, fourth in NLL East) were able to rest some aching bodies and come into the Philadelphia game with a healthy and rested squad.
“It’s going to be a pretty exciting weekend starting with our game with Philly,” said Rock head coach and general manager Terry Sanderson. “It’s something we’re looking forward to, especially after a bye week… and added to the excitement is the All-Star game and the Hall of Fame (induction); it’s going to be great.”
The Wings (4-3, 3rd in NLL East) and Minnesota Swarm (4-4, tied for 4th with Toronto in NLL East) are the only two division rivals the Rock have yet to face this year and they will do so in back-to-back meetings, with Philadelphia on Feb. 24 and Minnesota on March 3. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. at the Air Canada Centre.
A league-best powerplay and potent offence has been crucial to the Rock’s turnaround during the season. Terry Sanderson’s son Josh enters the game on top of league scoring with 54 points. Coach Sanderson knows he’ll need to continue to rely on Josh, Doyle and Manning to lead the offence while getting key contributions from offensive players including Matt Shearer, who has scored the game-winning goal in the past two games, Aaron Wilson and Rusty Kruger.
“We hope the confidence level is back up,” continued coach Sanderson. “I don’t know if we’re playing at the same confidence level we were last year, but it’ll show as we’ve got some big divisional games coming up.”
“I still feel our best guys have a ways to go to be at our best. They’ve got better, but our biggest problem from the start is that we forgot to realize you can’t just show up you’ve got to work really hard to win in this league,” Sanderson said. “Our better guys have realized this and they know they have to do what they do well and on a regular basis. Our support guys too… especially like Matt Shearer in the Rochester game. We need them to step up and contribute on a regular basis.”
Wings coach Lindsay Sanderson said he knows this weekend’s match will be a tough one, but equally important for both teams, with an opportunity to move into a tie for first place in the league with a win.
“We’re playing the best team in the league in my opinion and it’s going to take everything we can to get a win,” Lindsay said. “(But) when you’re on the road, all you have to worry about is yourselves and not everything that goes on with home games. We play a little more focused on the road.”
With the absence of former reliable backstop Dallas Eliuk in net, the Wings now look to Matt Roik to lead the squad.
“We’ve changed so many people that everybody’s trying to find their comfort zone,” said Lindsay Sanderson. “Matty Roik’s done a great job for us, and has probably been making the stops that Dallas would make for us.”
Other young guns include Luke Wiles and Chad Thompson of Orillia and Sean Greenhalgh of St. Catharines.
This will also be a return for former Rock defenseman Glenn Clark, who won five championships with the Rock. Lindsay Sanderson said he’s been a big part of the team’s improved short-handed play:
“Our short-man team has improved significantly because of Clarky,” he said. “It’s taken the heat off Tommy Hajek that he was put into last year because of his talent… Clarky’s taken the heat off our young guys like Tom. (Glenn) can take control back there.”
The Rock feels ready for the second half of the season and hope to continue the winning ways.
“It was nice for us to just sit back and watch some of the other teams battle,” said Terry Sanderson. “We still consider ourselves to be in a hole with the start we had, and we realize we still have a lot to do.”