Rock aims to avoid stinger

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

The world's top researcher would come up small if he tried to find one piece of evidence giving the Arizona Sting an edge against the Toronto Rock.

If the Sting (11-7) can stop the Rock (13-4) in the National Lacrosse League final today before a sellout crowd at the Air Canada Centre, it would be one of the biggest upsets in the 19-year history of the league.

"I don't think anybody believes we can win besides the 23 guys in our organization," Sting star Dan Dawson said. "We don't mind that at all. There is no pressure on us. They're supposed to win, we're supposed to lose and that's that."

The 1 1/2-goal spread for the Rock on one website must be awfully enticing for Toronto fans. In every department imaginable -- offence, defence, special teams, experience, you name it -- the Rock looks better than Arizona. Heck, half of the Sting players live in Ontario and the team had its first full practice this week since training camp.

The Sting, in its second season in Phoenix and its fifth year as a franchise, is gunning for its first Champion's Cup. The Rock is on a drive for five. Rock players own a combined 34 championship rings, while the Sting has just seven.

But strange things can happen in sudden-death play. Few people expected the visiting Philadelphia Wings to beat the Rock in the 2001 final and maybe fewer felt the Rock would beat the host Rochester Knighthawks in the 2003 final.

"It's a one-game shot," Dawson said. "It's like the Super Bowl. It's not necessarily the best team that wins. It's the team that executes best."

The Rock has to be feeling a bit of pressure to win its first title at the ACC and general manager/coach Terry Sanderson has a big zero in his personal championship column. And don't forget, Rock president Brad Watters hasn't been shy in calling this season's squad "the best Rock team ever."

"I would consider it a disaster (if the Rock loses today)," Rock forward Blaine Manning said. "We don't play lacrosse for personal accolades."

The Rock, which beat the Sting 18-10 at the ACC March 18, has not lost a meaningful game since March 4.

"We'd have to dig real deep to find meaning in anything else we've accomplished this year if we can't attain this goal," NLL MVP Colin Doyle of the Rock said. "Personally, it would be all for naught if we didn't do that."

If the Rock has a weakness, it is its transition defence. Toronto's forwards are slow getting off the floor at times and Arizona needs to try to move the ball up in a hurry.

"If Toronto can shut the transition down," NBC analyst Brian Shanahan said, "it's their game to take."


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