NLL: Rock in late-season losing skid

The Toronto Rock have hit a losing skid at the worst possible time.

A 13-8 loss to the Buffalo Bandits on Friday night at the Air Canada Centre was the Rock’s third consecutive loss. It also means they have to wait another week to clinch a playoff spot with New England and Buffalo breathing down their necks.

Following their bye week, the Rock came out on fire building a 4-0 lead over the Bandits in the first quarter. They led 6-3 at the half, but by the time the third quarter ended, the Bandits were on top 9-6. It was like someone performed some Freaky Friday voodoo during halftime, so stark was the difference in both teams’ play in the latter half of the game.

Despite the 6-3 lead at the half, Rock head coach Matt Sawyer said it wasn’t good enough.

“We had an opportunity in the first half to get a jump on them and put more on the board,” he said.

Nothing went right in the second half. The Rock squandered a full five-on-three by giving up a shorthanded goal. Later, Brock Sorensen was hit with a five-minute high-sticking major. The Bandits capitalized twice on the extended power play.

“That was a bad stretch,” Sawyer admitted. “Anytime you go five-on-three you feel like you should automatically be able to score or at least should be able to create some momentum by getting some good looks. We weren’t good enough on that power play.”

Captain Brodie Merrill, who had two second-quarter goals, addressed the media after the game regarding the missed playoff opportunity.

“We have to learn from tonight and not dwell on it,” he said. “We’re still in a good position and excited about this. We’re going into Saskatchewan next weekend, one of the toughest places to play, against the best team in the league, so that gets us excited. Our fate is in our own hands. There’s still a lot to be optimistic about. We just have to get back to work and make some improvements.”

The Rock aren’t a streaky team. This losing streak is the longest streak of wins or losses for the team this season. They started out well, winning more than losing, but haven’t been consistent at home. Parity in the east is incredible; Buffalo, thought to be out of contention early, has clawed back and has a real shot at challenging for a playoff spot.

“We’ve left some opportunities on the table,” Sawyer said frankly. “Things don’t feel very good right now and they shouldn’t. We’re going to salvage things here and get better and move forward and when we do it’ll be rewarding.”

“We need to find a way to be better and take more of a critical look at what we’re doing,” Merrill said. “We have a lot of exciting lacrosse ahead, we just have to go out and seize it.”

Prior to the game, Billy Hostrawser was honoured with the Les Bartley award, which is given to the Rock player that best exemplifies the former coach’s emphasis on character and commitment, as chosen by the coaching staff.

Hostrawser was formerly the team’s enforcer; really, he still is, but he’s been smart about it this year. In 2016 he led the team with 85 PIMs in 15 games, a lot of them roughing or dead-ball contact penalties. This season he has only 14 PIMs and he’s played every single game. He’s turned into a smart, tough defender.

He had a great game Friday, scoring the opening goal on a fast-break – just his second of the season and fifth overall in his career. This is his first two-goal season.

Brett Hickey and Reid Reinholdt also had two goals each for the Rock. Kieran McArdle was credited with the Rock’s fourth goal of the game. His shot from the top of the circle was stopped but Kasey Beirnes stick-checked the loose ball from David Brock’s pocket and it rolled past Anthony Cosmo.

Buffalo was led by Dhane Smith and Mitch Jones with hat tricks. Ryan Benesch, Anthony Malcolm and Mark Steenhuis had two goals each. Blaze Riorden also scored.

Toronto’s loss meant that the Georgia Swarm clinch first place in the east division.