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Edmonton – In what many felt was a must-win game for the Toronto Rock coming off a tough week on and off the floor, the team rallied together using a strong transition game, pinpoint passing and solid defense to defeat the hometown Edmonton Rush 14-9, evening their season record at 2-2.

With two teams known more for their defense and workman-like effort than their running, lacrosse fans at the Rexall Place could have been excused for their surprise at the early pace of tonight’s game. Long passes and quick transitions were the theme, but surprisingly didn’t result in a large number of goals. The Rock opened the scoring on a goal by Aaron Wilson, his 5th of the season, but the Rush responded with series of good offensive chances and a pair of goals by Kyle Goundrey.

The Rock offensive players struggled to find the mark in the first quarter, but the team received a lift late in the frame on two goals in 35 seconds from unexpected sources. The first was by Rock veteran Chris Driscoll who converted a long transition pass from Bob Watson, the second was by defender Scott Campbell. Thanks to a defense that bent but didn’t break, along with some stellar goaltending by Bob Watson, the Rock entered the break leading 3-2.

Toronto built on their late first quarter momentum in the second stanza. Jon Harasym found the back of the net for the first time as a member of the Rock to give Toronto a 4-2 lead and shortly after that, an outstanding set-up by Ryan Benesch led to an open net goal by Kasey Beirnes, his fourth of the season. Rather than sit back on their lead, the Rock heaped on more pressure and continued to push the ball down the floor in transition. They were rewarded for their dominance with another goal, thanks to a strong individual effort by Blaine Manning, his eighth goal of the season. That goal, which was the Rock’s sixth on only 15 shots, chased Edmonton’s starting goaltender Curtis Palidwor, who was replaced with Matt Disher.

The Rush responded on a transition goal by Edmonton captain Chris McElroy, but then Rock sniper Josh Sanderson capped off a five point half by scoring his ninth goal of the season. That restored the Rock four goal lead at 7-3 and capped off what was likely Toronto’s best all around quarter of the young season. The Rock kept Edmonton’s best offensive players off the floor for much of the quarter by controlling the ball and winning most of the one-on-one battles. As a result, they managed to out shoot the Rush 17-6.

Despite the Rock having the decided edge in play heading into the third quarter, the frame featured a series of momentum swings. First, Rush goaltender Matt Disher got the Edmonton crowd excited by robbing several Rock players on good offensive chances. Then Edmonton’s A.J. Shannon scored to bring the Rush within three goals at 7-4. The crowd enthusiasm was quieted when the Rock gamely responded with some quick strike offense on a power play goal by Manning, and then ten second later defensive stalwart Cam Woods scored a clever breakaway goal to make the score 9-4. Just when Toronto seemed to have full control of the game, the Rush fired back with a flurry of goals, including two just 32 seconds apart to bring the Rush within one goal, at 9-8. But in what would end up being the last momentum switch of the game, the Rock stalled Edmonton’s run with another power play goal, this time by Beirnes, his second of the game, to make the score 10-8.

Edmonton came out in the fourth quarter with a comeback on their mind and that was only enhanced by Chris Gill’s second goal of the game, cutting the Toronto lead to one goal. However, the Rock had other plans and slowed the Rush down by scoring three goals in 1:44, the first by Jim Veltman, then Wilson and Manning, his 3rd of the game and 10th of the season, to make the score 13-9. With firm control of the game, the Rock shifted their focus to ball possession, clock maintenance and air tight defense. The formula worked and Driscoll added his second goal of the game, this one an empty netter to seal a 14-9 Toronto victory.
The Rock had nine different goal scorers in the game, but were led by their big three offensive guns: Blaine Manning (3 goals, 3 assists), Josh Sanderson (1 goal, 6 assists) and Ryan Benesch (5 assists). At the other end of the floor, Bob Watson had an outstanding game allowing only nine goals on 46 shots and keeping the Rock in the early part of the game.

The Rock (2-2) will look to build on this win with an important home game at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday January 26th at the Air Canada Centre against the New York Titans (1-1).
-J. Nevins-

Toronto Rock