By Graeme Perrow
They called it The Battle of the Best. NLL fans had been looking forward to this game for weeks, it was covered by all the major networks, and the rest of the season will be a bit of a downer in comparison. OK, so hyperbole is kind of fun, but this was indeed a battle of the two first place teams. It was expected to be a hard fought game, and nobody who saw the game was disappointed. Well, Calgary fans were likely disappointed with the outcome, that being a 9-8 Rock overtime victory, but nobody can say it was a boring game.
The scoring started just 45 seconds into the game (a strange goal by Rock newcomer Ryan Sharp that, according to the scoreboard in the ACC, didn't even count as a shot on goal), but anyone who thought that a goal that early meant that this was going to be a high-scoring affair was incorrect, as the Rock didn't score again for almost thirteen minutes. The Roughnecks however, didn't get that memo and scored four times in between the two Rock goals. You can't blame Watson entirely for those goals - the Rock defense was a little shaky in the first, but they did settle down after that. At the end of one period, Calgary had 4 goals on 11 shots while the Rock had fired 18 shots at Mike Poulin and only scored twice. The defensive battle continued in the second, as the Rock scored only once and Calgary twice. The first Calgary goal was a nice transition goal from Peter McFetridge – the transition games for both teams were working pretty well all night. The Rock must have read my review of the game against Buffalo last week and worked on their transition game, because I think they had more transition chances in this game than in the past two years. Combined.
An occurrence unique to lacrosse came up in the second period - a goalie in the penalty box. Bob Watson took issue with some pushing and shoving around the Toronto net and crosschecked Scott Ranger across the back. Whipper was given a five minute major for checking from behind. In lacrosse, a goalie must serve his own major penalties, so Watson wedged himself and his equipment into the already-crowded penalty box (Colin Doyle was already there serving a holding penalty, Mike Hobbins was given a roughing penalty on the same play, and another player went to the box so that he could come out when Watson's penalty was over, since you can't have two goalies on the floor at once. This is my twelfth season watching Rock lacrosse, and in all that time I've only seen a goalie in the penalty box one other time. That was Buffalo's Corey Quinn back in 2003. Rock defender Glenn Clark was just catching a pass that would have given him a clear breakaway but the pass was lobbed high in the air, giving Quinn enough time to come running out of the Buffalo net and absolutely level Clark. They called it a hit from behind because Clark hadn't turned around to face the net yet (though in retrospect that call was arguable), and Quinn went to the box.
The third quarter saw a complete turnaround in scoring chances, as Calgary was shut out entirely while the Rock took the lead by scoring four. In fact, Calgary went from 11:01 in the second to 11:38 in the fourth without scoring, a span of over 30 minutes. This is the fourth Rock game this year (out of seven) where Whipper has shut out the opponent in the third quarter, and the second home game in a row where the opponent went over 30 minutes without scoring. The Rock went up by two as Colin Doyle scored his second of the night – a beautiful behind-the-back bouncer that went in under Poulin. But the Roughnecks never gave up and with less than four minutes left, Jeff Shattler scored a power-play goal that would have fired up his team had they not already been fired up. In a successful bid to silence the home crowd, strong Rookie of the Year candidate Curtis Dickson tied it with less than a minute left on the clock and the Calgary net empty.
The crowd really got into the game in the fourth, and during overtime, I think it was the loudest I've heard the Toronto crowd since... um, the last overtime game a couple of weeks ago. OK, never mind. But when Jeff Shattler dove across the crease a couple of minutes into OT and shot at a wide open net only to have Bob Watson dive with him and stop it, the crowd noise jumped another level - only to jump again a minute after that when Aaron Pascas picked up a dropped Calgary pass and buried it behind Mike Poulin.
Despite only allowing nine goals in over 60 minutes while facing 60 shots, I wouldn't say Mike Poulin was outstanding in the Calgary goal. In all honesty, neither was Bob Watson. Both were solid and had very good games, and both made some key saves (especially Watson's stop on Shattler in OT), but neither stood on their head. But the game was low-scoring because both defenses were excellent. The Rock had a ton of shots, but it seemed that most of them were either desperation shots from far away because they couldn't get close to the net and the shot clock was at 2, or they managed to get a shot through but hit Poulin square in the chest. And Calgary frequently didn't even get the chance to take desperation shots, only managing 36 shots all night. The Toronto defense was doing a lot of pass interception and knocking the ball out of sticks
all night starting in the second quarter.
As if a goalie in the penalty box wasn't enough, overtime had another incident I've certainly never seen before, in lacrosse or any other sport. My season tickets are row 17 behind the benches and during overtime, we saw Colin Doyle being sent to the bench by the ref. Doyle was livid (though Troy Cordingley was unusually calm) but we didn't know why. It wasn't until I got home and read some of the reports online that I found out why – he wasn't wearing Reebok shoes, and the NLL has a contract with Reebok. I guess one of the Calgary players or coaches noticed and told the ref, who told Doyle to go and change shoes. He did eventually make it back to the floor, and was on the floor for Aaron Pascas's game-winning goal. Doyle was interviewed by TSN about the incident after the game.
Rochester and Toronto have a home-at-home series starting next Friday night in Toronto, while next Sunday sees Calgary play their arch-rivals, the formerly-winless-but-now-streaking Edmonton Rush.
- This happens in many sports. When a player (on either team) gets hurt and is down on the floor for a while, then gets back up and continues to play, the crowd applauds. If he gets back up and hobbles to the dressing room, the crowd applauds. If he doesn't get back up and is helped or even carried off the floor, the crowd applauds. Basically, if you stay down long enough and it's obvious you're not faking, the crowd will applaud no matter what happens. Since the outcome doesn't matter, it's almost as if they're applauding because you got hurt. I know this isn't the case, and I do applaud myself in these cases, it just seems strange.
- I brought my dad to the game and told him right before it started, "Watch Geoff Snider, the Calgary guy doing all the face-offs. He's unbelievable". Snider proceeded to struggle at the dot and make a liar of me, winning only 11 of 21. I'm surprised it was even that high - we weren't sure he'd won any at halftime. I did see some of the old Snider in the second half, but he certainly wasn't as dominant as I've seen him in the past. Don't know if that has anything to do with the new faceoff rules or if he just had an off night. I'm guessing the latter, since his season average was over 64% coming into this game and was only 52% last night. The new rules may be having some effect, though, since he was over 75% last year.
- Two players (Snider and Hoar) were removed from the faceoff circle during OT. I think this was because they had blood on their knees and NLL rules state that if you are bleeding, you cannot be on the floor. This was the only face-off all night that Snider didn't take for Calgary. Dane Dobbie lost it.
- Nice to see Jim Veltman in the crowd, though I am surprised (and a little disappointed) that the ovation for the former captain wasn't longer.