Rock clinches NLL East Division
Jesse Gamble of the Toronto Rock (right) tries to evade the Rush's Aaron Bold during the first half of their game in Edmonton last night. Toronto won the game 12-11. (AMBER BRACKEN/QMI Agency)
At some point during the second quarter of Saturday’s game, the Toronto Rock became champions of the National Lacrosse League’s eastern division.
The Rochester Knighthawks had finished a 9-7 win over the Philadelphia Wings a few thousand miles away from Rexall Place where the Rock were battling the Edmonton Rush.
The Rock were putting on a nice display of lacrosse in that quarter themselves but had to withstand a tenacious Rush attack in the second half to escape from the Alberta capital with a 12-11 victory on the strength of Stephan Leblanc’s goal five minutes from the end.
The win means the Rock (9-7) will host the Buffalo Bandits next Saturday evening at the Air Canada Centre.
Needing either a win or a Philadelphia loss to finish atop the division for the first time since 2005, the Rock went to work right away.
Garrett Billings scored the first of five goals just three minutes into the game. Scott Johnston gave the Rock a 2-0 lead before Scott Evans cut the lead in half after the first period.
Colin Doyle, Billings and Brenden Thenhaus extended the lead to 6-1 midway through the second quarter before Aaron Wilson scored for Edmonton. Josh Sanderson and Shawn Williams traded goals to send the teams to halftime with the Rock up 7-3.
The Rush woke up the home gathering in the second half. Zack Greer scored in the top corner just seconds in. Then Brett Mydske cut the margin to 7-5 seconds later. Josh Sanderson and Ryan Dilks traded goals, but after Billings added his fourth to make it 9-6, Greer, Ryan Ward, and Williams scored in a five-minute span to erase the deficit.
Corey Small scored in the first minute of the final period to give the Rush their first lead but Billings added his fifth goal to keep the Rock even. Just second later though, Williams added his third to put the Rush in front. Kasey Beirnes tied it for Toronto with 10 minutes to play. Billings set up Leblanc with the winner then the Rock defence and goalkeeper Nick Rose, who ended with 32 saves, kept the one-goal win in tact.
Edmonton outshot Toronto 43-40. Stephen Hoar became the Rock’s all-time leader in faceoff wins during the contest. Billings had eight points to bring his season total to 114 but fell two-points short of the scoring title which went to Colorado’s John Grant Jr.