ROCK DROP HEARTBREAKER IN OT TO HALIFAX
Next Man Up Mentality Almost Pays Off For Rock
It was a wonderful display of lacrosse on Saturday night at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, ON and it was broadcast from coast-to-coast on TSN. The only things that were missing were the fans, due to COVID restrictions, and the end result swinging in favour of the home side, as the Rock (2-3) fell in overtime 14-13 to the Halifax Thunderbirds (3-0).
The winning goal came from former Rock forward Stephan Leblanc 8:50 into the sudden victory overtime period, handing the Rock their first loss at home this season.
We got to overtime in large part due to Dan Dawson’s late game heroics, that are clearly becoming a thing this season. Playing in his 300th career game and having picked up an assist on a Zach Manns tally in the fourth quarter, Dawson had tied John Grant Jr. for second spot on the NLL’s all-time scoring list. The man they call ‘Dangerous’ scored a goal to give the Rock a 13-12 lead with just under two minutes to play in regulation. The goal was huge for the Rock and an even bigger moment in NLL history, moving the 40-year from Oakville, ON into sole possession of second spot in NLL all-time scoring.
“Honestly, I’ve been blessed to play a game I love so much for a long time,” said Dawson. “300 games is something that I’m lucky to have done and to play a sport that has given me and my family so much. I’m going to try and play as long as I can, because as an athlete you can’t do it forever. I’m trying to cherish these moments and every game.”
Circling back to Manns, he had an equally large hand in pushing the Rock to the brink of victory. After being scratched in last weekend’s loss to Buffalo, the second-year pro answered the bell in a big way scoring four goals.
However, the storylines don’t end there. Early in this game, Rock goaltender Nick Rose was pulled in favour of rookie netminder Troy Holowchuk after allowing six goals on 13 shots in 17:41. The native of St. Catharines, ON, Holowchuk was moved to the Active Roster earlier in the week as the Rock’s regular backup goaltender Riley Hutchcraft had been placed on the COVID-19 Protocol List. Hutchcraft had cleared protocol but did not practice this week, so Rock Head Coach Matt Sawyer elected to dress Holowchuk.
That’s not the end of the story. Holowchuk came in and provided a solid 51 minutes, making 27 saves and giving the Rock a chance to battle back from an early hole, which they certainly did, taking the lead twice in the final quarter.
“It was one of those nights where you walked out of there and felt like you deserved a little bit better, but the fact was we weren’t able to find a way,” said Sawyer. “As a group, we challenged the whole team to be better. We felt that up to this point we hadn’t been good enough in all areas of the game and it was a good response.”
Captain Challen Rogers was also terrific as he was thrust into playing an offensive role once again this season after Rob Hellyer was placed on the COVID-19 Protocol List. Rogers responded with two goals and seven assists for nine points to lead all scorers on this night.
Hellyer wasn’t the only player on the COVID-19 Protocol List. Toronto was also missing Latrell Harris and Justin Scott, as well as Practice Roster player Jordan McKenna. Always out of the lineup for the Rock were Brandon Slade and Reid Reinholdt who were both placed on the Injured Reserve List this week.
With so many regulars out of the lineup, it gave a couple of other players to also rise to the occasion. Chris Weier scored a goal in his first NLL game and Hamilton, ON native Jamison Dilks scored the first two goals of his career. Phil Mazzuca also played his first NLL game and provided some feisty minutes on the back end.
In the loss, Toronto outshot Halifax 65-48. The Rock were 3-for-5 on the power play while Halifax was 0-for-3.
The Rock’s next game will be Saturday, January 29 against the Rochester Knighthawks at Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre. The matchup with Rochester will be televised as the NLL’s Game of the Week on TSN at 7pm ET.