February 28, 2014

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NLL Weekend: Rock With Tough Double Duty

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

League points leader Garrett Billings and the Rock have a key pair of games, visiting unbeaten Edmonton Friday and Calgary Saturday.

The Toronto Rock are in Alberta this weekend with a chance to remain within striking distance of Buffalo and Rochester in the NLL East but they'll be up against hot teams in Edmonton and Calgary. Here are the matchups (all times EDT):

FRIDAY

TORONTO (4-4) at EDMONTON (7-0)

9:30 p.m. (TSN in Canada, ESPN3 in U.S.)

The Rock won't be intimidated in Alberta, not with the memory of opening 2013 with a 13-11 win in Calgary and a 10-9 win in Edmonton. Toronto has not lost in Edmonton since 2011.

''No better way to measure ourselves on just how we're progressing than by playing Edmonton and Calgary back to back,'' Rock GM Terry Sanderson said during the league's weekly conference call Wednesday.

Offense: Toronto is No. 2 in the league, averaging 13 goals a game, and Edmonton is No. 3 with 12 per game. Garrett Billings of the Rock has a league-high 58 points.

Defense: Edmonton is No.1, allowing 7.7 against per game, with goalie Aaron Bold and the defense corps having an impactful season. Toronto is No. 4 with a 12.25 team goals-against average. The recent returns from injury of veterans Chris White and Pat Merrill has helped firm up a Toronto back end that is sprinkled with rookies.

''It should make us a better defensive group going forward,'' says Sanderson.

Toronto beat Minnesota 14-12 at home last Saturday after going into the fourth quarter up 13-4.

''We were in complete control of that game and I thought that for three quarters it was some of the best lacrosse we've played this year,'' Sanderson said.

Edmonton had last weekend off. Its last game was Feb. 15 when it won 14-9 in Minnesota. The Rush are one win away from equalling the record 8-0 start by the 1993 Buffalo Bandits.

''We're off to a good start but we're trying not to think about the streak too much,'' says rookie Riley Loewen. ''We're concentrating on getting better each week.''

As would be expected, GM-coach Derek Keenan downplays the streak.

''I really don't think our players talk about being undefeated or 8-0,'' Keenan said. ''Most of our guys were in diapers or just getting out of diapers in 1993. We've got a real difficult second half and that's going to start with a game against a really strong Toronto club Friday night.''

This will be the first of two meetings. The Rock and the Rush clash again March 30 in Toronto.

SATURDAY

TORONTO at CALGARY (5-3)

9 p.m. (TSN2 in Canada, ESPN3 in U.S.)

This will be the second of two meetings. Toronto won the season opener for both teams 16-11 in Toronto on Jan. 3.

''They gave it to us pretty good,'' said Calgary coach Curt Malawsky. ''They've got a world-class offense and run good systems on the back end. I'm sure our guys' memories are not so short that they don't remember that game.''

Offense: Not much difference. Calgary is scoring 13.25 a game and Toronto 13.0. Dane Dobbie of the 'Necks has an NLL-best 26 goals. Stephane Leblanc of the Rock, among the league leaders with 22, will have a career-best season if he keeps up his pace.

''The biggest thing with Steph is maturity and experience,'' says Sanderson. ''I think the best is yet to come for Stephane Leblanc.''

Defense: Again, little difference. Toronto is allowing 12.25 goals a game and Calgary is allowing 12.5.

Calgary outscored Rochester 5-1 in the fourth quarter to win 11-10 last Saturday.

''It showed good resiliency,'' Malawsky said of the come-from-behind win.

''We showed a lot of disciple and commitment coming back and not panicking,'' said captain Andrew McBride.

His team's rivalry with Toronto is intense, says McBride.

''It's always a game that brings lots of intensity and passion.''

Rock rookie Ethan O'Connor doesn't expect a five-goal victory margin similar to Jan. 3 with this game in enemy territory.

''We expect Calgary to come out tough,'' he said. ''We'll just have to equal their intensity and overcome their home-barn advantage.''

ROCHESTER (5-3) at COLORADO (4-6)

9 p.m. (Altitude2)

This is the only meeting this year. Rochester won 12-11 in Denver's Pepsi Centre in the only meeting last season.

''It's definitely a tough building to play in,'' says Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen. ''(The Mammoth) play off that crowd.''

Offense: Couldn't be closer _ Rochester is averaging 10.8 goals a game and Colorado 10.9.

Defense: A big edge for Rochester, which is allowing 8.5 goals against per game to Colorado's league-worst 13.8.

The status of Rochester D Mac Allen is up in the air until an appeal by the Professional Lacrosse Players' Association of a one-game suspension announced Feb. 19 is heard. There was no penalty on the floor after an Allen hit on Billings in a Feb. 15 game but a league review cited Allen for boarding. A match penalty, carrying an automatic one-game suspension, was assessed. Allen played last weekend when Rochester lost 11-10 in Calgary.

Colorado last played Feb. 14, when it lost 19-9 at home against Vancouver. Coach Bob Hamley hopes his players will be rejuvenated after a bye week.

''We're going to have to be ready and play with some urgency,'' Hamley said. ''We've got to shore up what we do. We're coming off a bad loss in our building so we're focusing on ourselves, on being better. Every team is striving to play 60 minutes each game and I don't think we've done that yet.''

BYES: Buffalo (6-2), Philadelphia (3-7), Vancouver (3-7) and Minnesota (2-7).


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