Rochester – 15 regular season tries had been unsuccessful for the Rock franchise in trying to earn a win in Rochester, but their 16th trip to the Blue Cross Arena proved to be a fruitful one as Toronto downed the Knighthawks 12-9.
The first quarter was all Rock despite surrendering the first goal of the game. The Rock defence answered the bell early, getting key stops following each goal the offence was able to deliver.
The Knighthawks actually held a slim one-shot advantage, 12-11, after one quarter but Bob Watson was magnificent behind the Rock defence.
Matt Vinc, the centrepiece of the John Grant trade with Colorado in the off-season, struggled in the early going as the Rock had success against him from all over the floor.
Garrett Billings scored his second goal of the game just 13 seconds into the 2nd quarter but it didn’t do much to upset the Knighthawks even though it pushed the Rock lead to 7-2. Rochester outshot and, for them more importantly, outscored Toronto 3-2 in the second quarter to shave the deficit to just three goals, trailing 8-5 at the half.
“We were playing real well in the early going,” said Rock head coach Tory Cordingley. “I was pleased with our game.”
Much like the third quarter of a week ago against Edmonton, the Rock D and the goaltending of Watson kept their opponents scoreless while the offence added another pair to increase the Rock advantage to 10-5.
Stephan Leblanc continued his career-long goal-scoring streak rounding out his hat-trick in the 4th quarter by scoring twice. Billings, Colin Doyle, Blaine Manning and rookie Aaron Pascas all scored a pair of goals for the Rock. Kasey Beirnes had a single.
Watson’s 23rd save of the game, which was his first stop of the second half, was the 6,000th of his career. Watson finished the game with 53 saves. He is third all-time in career saves behind only Pat O’Toole who currently serves as the goaltending coach for the Knighthawks and the retired Dallas Eliuk.
For Watson the 6,000th save might have been a nice milestone but finally being able to get the piano off his back and get a win in Rochester was huge for him and also the Rock franchise.
“When we get lost on D, he comes up with huge saves,” says Cordingley. “He’s a phenomenal leader and such a calming influence in room. I’ll say it again and again, he’s the best to ever play the game.”
The Rock will return home Friday night to face the Boston Blazers at Air Canada Centre at 7:30pm. The game will be broadcast live on TSN2. They will then hit the road to face the Buffalo Bandits in their home opener the next night at HSBC Arena. Game time in Buffalo is 7:30pm.