Losing is starting to take its Toll

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

The Rochester Knighthawks have seen this depressing movie before. For Steve Toll, it was a new and entirely unpleasant experience.

Bob 'Whipper' Watson has deprived the Knighthawks of a lot of glory over the years. The Toronto Rock goalie has been a huge part of four National Lacrosse League championships and three of those times, he victimized the Knighthawks in the final game.

Toll had been alongside Watson as a member of the Rock throughout those days of glory but last night he found himself on the other side for the first time in a playoff game.

We take you now to the fourth quarter of last night's Eastern Division title game. Toronto leads 10-9 but Toll has stolen the ball yet again and is bearing down on Watson on his third breakaway of the game.

Earlier, he had scored to give Rochester a 5-4 advantage. But this time Watson was waiting for him and made a huge save. A few moments later, the Rock had increased their lead to three goals and the celebration was about to begin.

"It was definitely nerve-racking," said Watson. "We've had some past history with each other. We're always trying to outwit and outguess each other.

"(Toll) said 'Whip, I've got a new move' and he scored with it on the first (breakaway). But he went back to the old one, thankfully, and I was waiting for it."

For awhile last night, it looked as if both the Knighthawks and Toll would get their chance at payback: the Knighthawks for all that playoff history and Toll for having been traded last summer.

Twice they had two-goal leads but the Rock, with a championship legacy like no other NLL team, would not be denied, coming from behind for a 12-10 victory, adding another chapter to the Knighthawks tale of woe.

Watson put on some late-game heroics and defender Brian Beisel scored a couple of terrific hustling goals as the Rock scored six of the game's last eight goals to break the game open.

Toll had been a key component of four Toronto NLL titles but that all changed last summer when new coach Terry Sanderson traded him away to San Jose.

The trade was a logistical nightmare for Toll, with his family and his job deeply rooted in southern Ontario. He managed only four goals and eight assists in 12 games for the Stealth, far less than either he or the team expected.

"When I was in San Jose, I was awful," he told reporters earlier this week. "They made that trade for me to score goals and I was simply bad there."

In Toll's defence, it was hardly an ideal commute. He works for the YMCA in Oshawa and the exhausting flights to and from the west coast did not help his game.

When it became apparent that San Jose was going to miss the playoffs and that Toll was a fish out of water in San Jose, the Stealth GM Johnny Mouradian recognized that the best thing for Toll and for the Stealth was a trade.

Last night was Toll's sixth game in Rochester and the move has rejuvenated his game. He was averaging two points a game and his speed has been a key to reviving Rochester's transition game.

But the very fact that the Rock are back in the NLL final vindicates Terry Sanderson's decision to shake up his team. Toll was the key part in the trade that brought Josh Sanderson, a superb sniper, to Toronto and he scored twice himself last night to help Toronto back to the title game.

If there was a difference in the game, it was in nets, where Watson clearly outplayed his counterpart Pat O'Toole. While Watson was performing gymnastics in the Toronto goal, especially in the third and fourth quarters, O'Toole was uncharacteristically off his game.

"Just another page in a storied career," said Beisel, speaking of Watson's heroics. "If he's not the best, then he's one of the best ever, and he proved it again tonight."

For the Knighthawks, it was yet another bitter defeat after a strong season. Somehow, at the end of every season, they seem to find themselves between a Rock and a hard place.


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