Buffalo, NY – One of the strongest catalysts for the growth of professional lacrosse is a short season. With only 16 games, many regular season match-ups take on a playoff atmosphere. The intensity is palatable and the arena crackles with excitement. Such was the case on Saturday evening at Buffalo’s HSBC Arena. With over 11,300 energized fans in attendance, the Toronto Rock took to the floor looking to avenge a 14-12 loss at home on March 4 and take a 2-1 season series lead over their arch rivals, the Buffalo Bandits.
Buffalo drew first blood as Dan Teat opened scoring just 0:49 into the first, assisted by John Tavares and Pat McCready. Things got chippy early on, as players endlessly hacked at each other. Matt Shearer countered for the Rock with his 11th of the season and first of the night at 9:09. Buffalo’s Rich Kilgour took a 2-minute penalty when he illegally checked Patrick Merrill from behind, opening the door for Colin Doyle to score the Rock’s second of the night at 13:00. Play continued fast and tight right up to the dying seconds of the quarter when John Tavares dropped in the tying goal for the Bandits at 14:41.
Close checking play resumed in the second, but Matt Shearer fired his second of the night past Buffalo’s Steve Dietrich less than three minutes in. A Rock penalty at 4:13 resulted in Buffalo’s 1st power-play goal of the night from Dan Teat. The border rivals traded goals for the rest of the quarter until Colin Doyle gave whipped one past Dietrich on a solid feed from Matt Shearer. The goal gave the Rock a 7-6 lead at the half.
Coach Terry Sanderson weaved his halftime magic again, as the Rock found new life in the 3rd quarter, outscoring the Bandits 3-1. Manning put away his first of the night just three minutes into the third. Unfortunately, the Rock were not able to capitalize on two Buffalo penalties. Colin Doyle finally broke through with one at even strength to widen the lead. Buffalo’s Dan Teat answered at 12:10 with help from Mark Steenhuis to bring the Bandits to within two. But Toronto’s Matt Shearer rounded out scoring in the third when he scooped up the looseball just steps over the centre line and torpedoed it past Dietrich to beat the shot clock.
A three-goal lead is never safe in pro lacrosse. So Blaine Manning went to work, depositing one in the back of the net to extend the Rock lead to four goals. Buffalo coach Darris Kilgour then yanked goalie Steve Dietrich for Derek General. The Bandits responded quickly as Mark Steenhuis slipped one past Watson at 5:24 to complete his hat trick on the night. The Rock were then penalized with a bench minor at 8:17, but were able to kill it off despite a strong offensive push by the Bandits. Bob Watson was spectacular for Toronto, especially in the second half where he only allowed two Bandit goals and made 18 of his 41 saves. Jim Veltman capped the scoring at 14:27 to ice the win. The 12-8 final score put Toronto atop the Eastern Division at 8-3, and gives them a 2-1 series advantage over Buffalo. The Bandits could have clinched a playoff berth with a home win. Rock high point-getters on the night included Colin Doyle (4G,2A), Josh Sanderson (3G, 2A) and Matt Shearer (2G, 3A).
Toronto’s next home game takes place on Friday April 1, 2005 when they face the 2004 National Lacrosse League Championship Calgary Roughnecks. Tickets are still available for Rock 911 Night through Ticketmaster outlets online at www.ticketmaster.ca , by phone at 416-872-5000 or in person at the Box Office at the Air Canada Centre. For more details on the night’s special events, check out the 911 link on the Rock home page.