Rock off to a solid start

MIKE KOREEN, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

If Colin Doyle receives a clean bill of health today, the new-look Toronto Rock can view its season opener as a complete success. After a near-ideal 15-13 win over the Buffalo Bandits last night here at HSBC Arena -- which came without captain/defending National Lacrosse League MVP Jim Veltman -- there was concern Doyle may have suffered a concussion on a nasty play.

As the penalty-filled game wrapped up, Billy Dee Smith cross-checked the Rock star in the head from behind. Doyle was on the floor for five minutes before walking off.

"It feels worse than some of the other ones," Doyle said. "It hurts. It's tough when you can't protect yourself."

That was pretty much the only bad news for Rock general manager/coach Terry Sanderson, who called the Smith hit "a gutless play." The revamped Rock scored the first eight goals of the second half to erase a 7-5 deficit, showcasing a diverse offence that Sanderson was looking for after a dramatic off-season makeover. Doing it without Veltman made the win that much more impressive. The score, by the way, was flattering to the Bandits.

"That was a valiant effort without our quarterback," said Rock goalie Bob Watson, who rebounded from a dreadful outing in a 19-10 loss against the Bandits in the East Division final last season. "We pride ourselves on not playing off one guy, but that's a big loss for us. The boys responded well."

Instead of Doyle and Blaine Manning getting pounded by defenders while working the ball inside all game, the Rock spread the wealth. Newcomer Josh Sanderson, Terry's son and the NLL assists leader last season, moved the ball around wonderfully, notching two goals and four assists. Hard shooter Matt Shearer led the way with four goals and four assists and the power play was 8-for-13. Eventually, the Rock chased Bandits goalie Steve Dietrich out of the game.

"The whole concept behind getting more offensive guys was it doesn't give teams the liberty to (key on Doyle and Manning)," Terry Sanderson said. "For the most part, I don't think any of our guys took a real pounding."

Doyle noticed the difference.

"It's a luxury out there," he said. "I might have taken eight shots (last night), whereas last year I was taking 18. I felt no pressure on myself to do anything."

Bandits star John Tavares scored a game-high six goals.

On defence, four players made their Rock debuts and all did a nice job in front of Watson. Phil Sanderson and Brian Beisel, two new guys, looked good in transition.

"Matty Shearer had a hell of a second half, Beisel, defensively, scores two, you can go down the line," Terry Sanderson said. "I just thought we had a lot of pretty good guys."

With the win, the Rock snapped a three-game losing streak from last season. The Rock's home opener is next Saturday against the Minnesota Swarm (1-0) at the Air Canada Centre.


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