Rock faces long weekend

RYAN WOLSTAT, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

The Toronto Rock faces its toughest test of the season this weekend with back-to-back games against the red-hot Edmonton Rush and the perennially powerful Buffalo Bandits.

Edmonton, just 1-15 and 6-10 in its first two seasons, has proven in recent weeks that it may no longer be a pushover.

After starting the season with six straight losses, the club has reeled off back-to-back wins, including a stunning 10-9 overtime victory over the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks last Saturday.

The Rush has responded to new head coach Bob Hamley, who took over for the deposed Paul Day last month.

The Rock bested the Rush in Edmonton back in January.

Both the Rock and the Rush rely on stingy defensive systems -- only the Rock and Colorado Mammoth have allowed fewer goals than the Rush -- but have trouble at the other end of the floor. Edmonton averages only 9.5 goals per game, fewest in the league, while the Rock is only a tad better at 10.33, third from the bottom.

In an effort to boost its anemic offence, the Rush traded for Lindsay Plunkett, Mike Hominuck and Brenden Thenbaus in recent weeks. Hominuck was named player of the week after scoring three times, including the overtime winner, against Rochester.

CHALLENGE

A bigger challenge for the Rock will come tomorrow in Buffalo.

The 7-4 Bandits, on a four-game winning streak, have withstood a plethora of injuries and emerged as one of the loop's most explosive offensive sides.

Career scoring leader John Tavares and transition dynamo Mark Steenhuis sit 1-2 in league scoring.

Though the Rock beat the Bandits 11-8 earlier this season at the ACC, that win took a marvelous 45-save effort from goalie Bob Watson.

Rock coach Glenn Clark certainly respects the Bandits.

"They're a very good group, a dangerous group all over the floor," Clark said.

The Rock goes into the weekend with a tenuous hold on the East's final playoff spot. The New York Titans are just a half game behind, while the Knighthawks sit a game back.

Barring a playoff matchup, this will be the final time Rock captain Jim Veltman suits up against the Bandits, the team with which he starred before joining the Ontario Raiders/Rock franchise.


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