ROCK WIN WILD 14-13 OT PLAYOFF THRILLER TO ADVANCE
After surrendering a six-goal halftime lead, captain Challen Rogers scored at 2:27 of overtime to send the Toronto Rock past the Halifax Thunderbirds 14-13 and on to the second round on Friday night at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton, ON.
“I scooped it up and shooting on (Aaron Bold) throughout my career I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do. I thought he would extend a bit if I was looking and made it look like I was going to shoot short-side, I’m just glad we pulled that one out,” said an elated Rogers describing his game winning goal through a never-ending smile.
The Rock uncharacteristically started extremely well in this East Conference Semi-Final contest. Toronto scored the first five goals of the game and led 5-1 after one quarter. The building was electric, and the fans wanted more.
The home side delivered, scoring four more times and building a 9-3 lead at halftime. Safe, right? Not on this night.
Halifax came out of the locker room almost two minutes before the opening faceoff of the second quarter and proved they were focused on erasing a first half that made the chances of a Thunderbirds win look pretty slim.
Four Halifax goals in 7:06 narrowed the deficit to 9-7 and the Thunderbirds suddenly had the Rock on their heels. The Rock broke up that four-goal run and outscored the Thunderbirds 3-1 over the final half of the third quarter to lead 12-8 and it felt as though it might have been enough to put the Thunderbirds away.
However, Halifax was far from done. They scored five goals in 5:33 to do the unthinkable, taking a 13-12 lead. Nick Rose settled down in the Rock net as the game’s vibe certainly changed from intense to insanely intense.
Less than two minutes after the Thunderbirds took the lead, Tom Schreiber scored to tie the game 13-13. Over the final 7:40 of regulation, neither team could score. The Thunderbirds pulled their goalie coming out of a timeout inside the final 30 seconds to play for one last shot to possibly win the game in regular time.
Well, they didn’t just get one shot, they got three. Nick Rose made two spectacular saves, but the second stop sprung a rebound right into a Halifax stick, but the clock hit zero before the Thunderbirds could put the ball into the yawning cage. It was off to overtime.
After both teams had a couple of chances early in extra time, Thunderbirds’ forward Eric Fannell ripped a shot wide of the net that bounced right back out to near the restraining line. Rogers was able to deflect the ball past Fannell into open turf, scoop up the loose ball, run the length of the floor and bury a nasty bounce shot between the legs of Halifax goaltender Aaron Bold who had replaced starter Warren Hill in the first half.
“I’m glad he had that moment, Challen is far and away the best all-around player in lacrosse,” said Rock Head Coach Matt Sawyer. “To have someone who is as good as he is defensively, to be able to do what he does offensively in those special situations, there has never been a player like him.”
The win advances the Rock to the best-of-3 East Conference Finals against the winner of the other East Conference Semi-Final game which will be played tomorrow night between Buffalo and Albany on the Bandits’ home turf.
Should the Rock play Albany, game one of the second round would be at FirstOntario Centre in Hamilton on Sunday, May 15 at 4pm ET. If it’s Buffalo as the opponent, the series would start in Buffalo next weekend and then return to Hamilton for game two on Saturday, May 21 at 7pm.
Tickets for the East Conference Finals will go on sale on Sunday.