By Graeme Perrow
The Toronto Rock planned to avenge last week's OT loss to the Buffalo Bandits in Saturday's rematch at the ACC in Toronto, and that's just what they did, defeating the Bandits 8-5 the lowest-scoring game of this young NLL season. The total number of goals in this game was less than either team scored in last week's game; in fact they came pretty close to tying the record for least total goals in a game (which also featured the Rock at the ACC, they defeated the Albany Attack 7-4 back in the early 2000's). The score at half-time was only 3-1, an almost unfathomable half-time score for lacrosse. Bob Watson, once again, was absolutely outstanding in net for the Rock. Whipper made 50 saves, only allowed five goals all night, and went for 33 minutes without allowing any. When was the last time an NLL goalie allowed zero goals in two different quarters in the same game? How about two consecutive quarters? Buffalo's Angus Goodleaf was very good, and allowing the Toronto offense only 8 goals is pretty impressive. He only faced 35 shots, which is more of a statement on the Buffalo defence than the Toronto offense.
From the very beginning of the game, it was apparent that this one would be more like the infamous pre-season game between these two teams (which was called in the third quarter after a bench-clearing brawl) than last week's game was. Last week, there were some roughing, slashing, and holding penalties, but nothing crazy. But crazy doesn't begin to describe the first period of this game. Stats from the first quarter alone:
- 17 penalties (70 minutes + 3 game misconducts) for Buffalo, 18 (64 minutes + 2 game misconducts) for Toronto.
- four fighting penalties each
- at one point, there were six Rock players and five Bandits in the penalty box. Given the game misconducts and the players actually playing on the floor, the Rock had more players in the penalty box than on the bench. This is when I wished I had brought my camera to the game.
- The game started at 7:08pm. At 7:30, we'd played 5 minutes and 12 seconds of lacrosse. The first quarter didn't end until 7:54, taking almost 50 minutes to play.
- at least twice they played three-on-three
- only three goals scored
Only a minute into the game, Bandit Steve Priolo tried to pick a fight with Toronto heavyweight Tim O'Brien but O'Brien didn't take the bait and each was given a roughing penalty. Less than a minute later, all hell broke loose (or so we thought at the time) as Tracey Kelusky and Patrick Merrill fought near the net and Jeff Gilbert and Frank Resetarits fought near centre. Amusingly, when Gilbert pushed Resetarits down he held him there until the other fight was over, and Resetarits didn't try to get up. It was almost like they realized that once Resetarits hit the ground the refs would have stopped the fight, but the refs were both trying to break up the other one, so they just waited. Both were ejected for starting a second fight when one was already going on. Kelusky and Merrill both got fighting majors and most Rock fans agreed that taking Kelusky off the floor for five minutes was worth losing Merrill for five, with no disrespect to Merrill.
Just five seconds later, another fight and another ejection as Brandon Francis attacked Rock newcomer Ryan Sharp. Both got five, but Francis got an extra two for instigating and a game misconduct. At this point, I thought "OK, this is just getting silly" but we hadn't seen nothin' yet.
It seemed that both teams were just looking for an excuse to start a fight. Mat MacLeod scored and then fell into the Buffalo goalie (no intent there, just gravity and momentum), and a Bandit defender or two jumped him and pummelled him. Then a few seconds later, a Bandit attempted to score and fell into Watson (again, no intent), and two Rock defenders jumped him. It quickly turned nasty as a whole crowd of people were piled on top of each other. No real punches were thrown in the scrum, but off to one side Steve Priolo and Cam Woods started another fight. It didn't last long before Woods walked away, but Priolo followed him and there were a few more punches before Woods walked away again. Priolo seemed to be out of his mind at this point, and literally ran around the net, looking for someone to fight. He even tried to pull one of the Rock players out of the scrum to fight him. My friend sitting next to me asked "Does he realize how stupid he looks?" and I couldn't disagree. Priolo and Woods were both ejected, and after a very long delay a bunch of roughing penalties were handed out.
After this, things actually did calm down a little, but the referees did not. Several more penalties were given out in the first quarter, but most of them were arguable. Phil Sanderson was given a very questionable slashing penalty and must have questioned the validity of the call on his way to the penalty box. He was given an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct, and the same thing happened during the second, when Bandit Tom Montour was given an elbowing penalty.
Let me go off on a bit of a tangent here. I don't hate NLL refs like many others do. I realize that they have a very difficult and thankless job – if they do their job properly, nobody notices them (when was the last time you heard anyone say "Wow, the reffing in that game was really good"?) but if they make one mistake, it's talked about to death. Having said that, I really don't like Grant Spies. Perhaps he lives near Toronto, but he seems to do an awful lot of Rock games and has for years. I haven't noticed any significant pro-Rock or anti-Rock bias, but he frequently seems to get onto some kind of power trip - I've never seen any ref completely take over a game the way he does. He seems to take penalties personally; he was calling a slashing penalty last night and when he stood in front of the scorer's booth to indicate the penalty, he viciously chopped at his own arm like he was really pissed off. He probably gave himself a bruise. There were some questionable calls in the Toronto-Boston game last week as well, and I considered adding a bit about Spies in my report on that game, but decided against it. But this week, I can't just let it go. Obviously the fights and rough stuff early on made it difficult, but then they actually started playing lacrosse but Spies wouldn't put his whistle away. He calmed down a little in the second but still gave out a bunch of questionable penalties. Then there were almost none in the third or fourth. Even when a Rock player blatantly elbowed a Bandit in the head – no call. The lack of consistency was mind-boggling. It started with "C'mon, let them play!" while he kept interrupting whatever flow the game had, and ended with "C'mon, how can you let that go?"
Anyway, back to the game. The second quarter (and thereafter) looked more like lacrosse and less like Wrestlemania XXVLVLDXIIXV. The first quarter was ridiculous, but the rest of the game was really entertaining and we started to see some pretty nice plays. Tracey Kelusky was being heavily covered in front of the Toronto net but caught a pass one-handed and turned and shot it behind his back, though Watson somehow stopped it. Colin Doyle received a beautiful pass from Stephan LeBlanc and backhanded it into the Buffalo net. The whole second half was a defensive battle, with both teams hitting a number of shot clock violations because they just couldn't get a good shot off. As I mentioned, Goodleaf was good, but Watson was amazing, particularly in the last few minutes of the fourth with Goodleaf on the bench for an extra attacker.
The score at half-time was 3-1, and the Rock scored three more in the third quarter while shutting out the Bandits again. But the Bandits wouldn't give up and the 6-1 lead evaporated into a 6-5 lead with less than four minutes to go. Colin Doyle scored a minute later and added an empty-netter to seal the victory for the Rock, who are now 4-1 and travel to Boston next weekend. The Bandits fall to 2-2 and host the surprising Minnesota Swarm next Friday night.
Other notes from the game:
- Dear Mr. ACC Video Replay Guy: Please do not show replays of Rock goals if there is any chance of a review being called. Kasey Beirnes scored a goal in the 4th, and a couple of replays were immediately shown on the screen. The replays showed that Beirnes' foot was in the crease, so the Bandits called for a review, which they won. Should it have been a goal? No, the challenge was valid. Would they have called for a review even if the replay wasn't shown? I don't know, but don't just hand them the evidence.
- Tracey Kelusky scored in the 4th from behind the net. It was not an "Air Gait" type move or the lacrosse equivalent of a wrap-around. You cannot score by bouncing the ball off the goalie's back, so I'm not sure how it counted. Watson may have been partially turned around at that point, so it's possible that the ball actually went in off of Watson's mask or chest, and I suppose that counts. There was no review.
- The Rock didn't have much of a transition game all night. They had maybe two or three real transition chances, not all of which even resulted in a shot, let alone a goal. Speedy Rob Marshall was not in the lineup, so perhaps that's partly why. The Bandits transition was much better, but that's to be expected when you have Mark Steenhuis on your team. I remember thinking a couple of years ago that there was nobody on the Rock that I wouldn't trade for Steenhuis. The Rock are a much better team now so that's no longer true, but he's still one of those players that you hate when they're on the other team but would love to have on yours.
- In the five games the Rock have played this season, they have shut out the opposing team in the third quarter in three of them. In last week's game, the Rock were shut out in the third quarter.
- Compare the penalties handed out in the first quarter of this game with the Rock's win in Rochester on January 15. In that game, only one penalty was handed out to either team. That penalty was to Rochester for illegal substitution.
- One of the groups listed in attendance at the game was the "Gee Nash fan club". Nash was released by the Rock earlier this week. (Well, he was then re-signed and assigned to the practice roster, but still.)