'All-around great win' for Rock

BILL LANKHOF, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:13 AM ET

The Toronto Rock may be saving its best for last.

Beleagured much of the season, the club beat Rochester 16-10 last night in what coach Jamie Batley described as the team's best "60 minutes ... an all-around great win."

It keeps 4-7 Toronto's playoff hopes alive, pushing them within a half game of 4-6 Rochester for the final playoff spot in the East.

"Our defence has played well the last few games," goaltender Bob Watson said. "We're meshing. It has been a long season but we're coming together."

This was a game Toronto had to win, or be doomed to finish out of the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Lewis Ratcliff led Toronto with five goals. Watson was superb for the second game in a row, giving a crowd of 14,812 something to cheer instead of jeer.

"We played well in all aspects. When we broke down, Watson made some great saves. An all-around great win," Batley said. "We're approaching every game as must-win."

The Rock have lost cliff-hangers; they also have lost a 25-10 blowout. They have lost almost every way since president Brad Watters uttered the season-opening words: "The rebuilding's over. We're rebuilt."

Unfortunately, as rebuilding goes, the team had been running like an Edsel, with just one win at home.

It had suffered a four-game losing streak, blown a six-goal lead in a loss to Buffalo, purged the coaching staff once already. Toronto was 1-5 since Batley took over. Average attendance has dropped from 17,123 in the last championship season to just above 13,600 at the all-star break this year. Last night it had to all change. This was a team that had run out of tomorrows.

Toronto led 10-5 at the half and scored the first two goals of the second half. But nothing has been simple this year. Rochester cut the lead to 12-8 by the end of the third quarter, when Craig Point scored with one second left.

But an offence that had looked like a chemistry experiment gone awry finally got the right mix. Luke Wiles added three goals, Craig Conn and Bill McGlone got two each with Stephen Hoar, Rob Marshall, Nick Carson and Peter Lough one.

And, with a league-worst 141 goals allowed coming into the night, Watson and his defence got downright stingy and ornery.

It didn't start out well when Ratcliff was stopped on the game's initial rush and Gary Gait got loose to beat Watson 40 seconds into the game. There was a bench minor and Jason Henhawk beat Watson with a soft goal. But the Rock was coming off an overtime win in Boston in which Watson had rebounded with a 47-save night. And Conn's brilliant individual effort -- crashing through two defenders before ending up in the net himself -- gave Toronto a 3-2 lead. They never trailed again, opening a 7-3 lead with Marshall's short-handed goal.

The Rock is on a two-game win streak for the first time in exactly a year.

"Killing the 5-on-3 was key; the turning point," said Watson, who made two stellar stops during the short-handed situation.

By the half Toronto was up 10-5, Ratcliff had four goals, Watson was looking rejuvenated and when a Knighthawks' shot hit the back of an open net, but was waved off because it came after the horn, it looked like this might be the Rock's night. Still alive with five games to play.

BILL.LANKHOF@SUNMEDIA.CA


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