Bring on the Bandits. The Toronto Rock warmed up for its much-anticipated first-place showdown against the Buffalo Bandits (8-3) next Saturday at HSBC Arena with another impressive performance against a strong opponent last night.
The Rock (7-3) dominated the second half in an 18-10 win over the Arizona Sting (6-5) before a season-high crowd of 18,173 at the Air Canada Centre, giving Toronto five wins in its past six National Lacrosse League games.
The Rock's only loss in that span was a 14-12 defeat against the Bandits in a thrilling game between the top two teams in the NLL at the ACC March 4. The season series is tied at 1-1 as the Rock beat the Bandits 15-13 in the 2005 opener for both teams Jan. 7 in Buffalo.
"(Next Saturday) has been circled since we lost last time against them," Rock forward Colin Doyle said of the Bandits, who beat the Minnesota Swarm 13-11 last night and face the Rochester Knight-hawks (6-4) tonight.
"We have to take that series if we want a shot at first (in the five-team East Division). We can't give games away now, especially in our division. That one is huge for us. So far, without a doubt (it's the biggest game of the season)."
Locked in a 6-6 tie at halftime last night, the Rock busted out in the second half and outscored the Sting 12-4. Rock general manager/coach Terry Sanderson was animated in the dressing room at halftime, pointing out that the team had healthy bodies ready to take the place of current starters.
"Players started listening to coaches. That's what we're here for," Sanderson said. "They've got to listen. They just decided to listen to the instructions ... They play, we coach."
One player who listened was Blaine Manning, who notched all of his game-high eight points (four goals, four assists) in the second half.
"I'll be the first to admit I was embarrassing in the first half," Manning said. "I probably wasn't hustling as hard as I should have and standing flat-footed. It seemed like I was always a step behind the play. But I came in here and Terry let me know I had a bad half. I thought about it and went out and tried to play harder."
Manning's back-to-back power-play goals in the third quarter broke a 9-9 tie and gave the Rock the lead for good. Goalie Bob Watson also stepped up after allowing four goals on the first eight shots he faced, outplaying Sting counterpart Mike Miron in crunch time.