By Graeme Perrow
The Toronto Rock opened their 2011 season with a decisive 13-7 home victory over the Edmonton Rush at the Air Canada Centre. 2010 Rookie of the Year Stephen Leblanc led the Rock with 3 goals, while Garrett Billings, Kasey Beirnes, and rookie Aaron Pascas scored two each. Bob Watson was stellar in net, allowing only one goal in the second half. Whipper made 36 saves and his good friends the goal posts made a few each as well. Ryan Ward scored a pair for the Rush, who were simply outplayed tonight.
In recent years, it seemed like the beginning of the season always snuck up on the Rock. "What? You mean the preseason is over and we have to play tonight? Like, for realsies?" Because, you know, the schedule isn't announced months in advance or anything. The first game of the year (and from 2007 to 2009, the second through sixteenth as well) always seems to feature dropped balls, missed passes, passes to teammates who aren't there, or just dumb plays. Not tonight. The Rock seemed ready for this one from the get-go, even though they didn't score their first goal until 11 minutes in.
Rush goalie Matt Disher was solid in net – he actually made more saves (43) than Whipper did, owing to the fact that the Rock took 56 shots at him while the Rush only took 43 at Whipper. Disher did give up a lot of big rebounds, though I think there was only one or two that led directly to a Rock goal. I didn't think Edmonton's defense was really all that bad, but Toronto played the pick-and-roll to perfection, or so my friend Steve tells me. He actually plays lacrosse whereas I do not, so I'll take his word for it. I think Toronto's win came mainly because they put that little round thing in the Rush net more times than the Rush put it in the Toronto net.
Brodie Merrill did not have his best game ever. He was dropping passes and occasionally looked lost, though he did end up with 18 loose balls – ten more than anyone on the Rock. He almost blew a gasket in the first quarter when he had a breakaway and the Rush coach called a timeout. He looked at the ref who blew the whistle and held his hands out as if to say "What the fuuuuuuuuuck?", and the ref told him there was a timeout call. He slowly walked back to the Rush bench but didn't drop his hands or close his mouth until well after he got there. He then said about five words (unlikely "Perhaps not the best time") to the coach and went and sat down. In the fourth, Mike Hobbins and Brodie's brother Patrick Merrill managed a 2-on-1 with Brodie as the 1. Hobbins ran around Brodie like he was standing still (which, in fact, he was) and passed to Patrick, who scored. Brodie certainly did not look like the better Merrill on that play.
Some other random notes from the game:
- The opening Rock highlight reels showed a ton of fights, a number of solid hits, and the odd goal or save. I wholeheartedly disagree with this type of marketing. I've always told people that lacrosse is a rough game but it's not a violent game. Don't market the violence over a great passing play culminating in a score or the beauty of an over-the-shoulder goal.
- The Rock unveiled their new mascot Iggy (short for Igneous Rock). Not terrible, but it didn't do anything for me. Then again, I'm 41 so I kind of doubt I'm in the key demographic they were considering when they decided they needed a mascot. My 8-year-old son was sitting right in front of me, however, and he didn't seem all that enthused either. But much to my chagrin, he doesn't care much for lacrosse (or pro sports of any kind) anyway; he spent most of the game playing with the new digital watch he got for Christmas.
- No dance team! I guess they replaced the dance team with Iggy. Personally, I'd rather watch a bunch of beautiful and scantily clad young women dance around than a man with a permanent grin on his big plastic head, flexing his pretend muscles. But that's probably just me.
- Colin Doyle had a breakaway in the second and once he got to the crease area, did he bury a laser into the top corner? Dive across the crease and shoot behind the goalie? Bounce a beauty between Disher's legs? No, he took a weak shot directly at Disher's chest. My friend Jeff immediately thought of Alex Ovechkin – he can score backwards from his knees with multiple people pounding on him, but put him in a shootout and he can't find the back of the net.
- Blaine Manning took a ton of shots in the first half but either missed the net or hit Disher square in the chest. He finally scored one in the third and ended up with 5 assists.
- The Wave doesn't show up at every Rock game, just now and again. It went around the ACC in the fourth quarter, but clockwise. In the past, and just about every time I've seen it, it's always been counter-clockwise. My friend Faisal wondered if this is what it would be like to watch a sporting event in Australia.
- Something happened in the fourth quarter that I'm pretty sure I have never seen before. At one point, both nets were empty. The Rock had possession in their end, and Garrett Billings was set up near the Rush net, with Disher on the bench. Note that play was stopped at this point, so Disher would have had time to get to the net, but did not. The Rock net was also empty, also for reasons that escape me. The whistle blew, the Rock player launched a pass to Billings, and he was hit by a defender a split-second before he shot, so he missed the net. The Rock came rushing (ha ha) down to the Edmonton end and another Rock player scored in front of a diving Matt Disher who had come charging off the bench. There were several minutes left in the quarter at this point, so I have no idea why either net was empty, let alone both.
As I mentioned, I have never played organized lacrosse, so perhaps someone can enlighten me on something I've seen a number of times, including at least once last night. Play is blown dead and before play resumes, the attacking team pulls their goalie. They have five attackers in the opposing team's end, and another attacker with the ball way back in their own end. The whistle is blown, the guy with the ball starts running, passes to another attacker, and immediately runs to the bench. The goalie then runs out and goes back to the net. WTF? Why bother with the switch? Why couldn't the goalie make the pass?
Both teams next see action next Saturday night. Edmonton travels to Boston, while the Rock head to Rochester.