|Colin Doyle hugs Stephen Hoar after a goal during action in the first half between the Toronto Rock and the Rochester Knighthawks. (Dave Abel/QMI Agency)
TORONTO - Stop the presses, Toronto has a playoff team.
The Toronto Rock is in. Shocking news considering the fates of the city’s other sporting heroes of late.
The Rock made it back to the dance for the first time since 2007 by running over the Rochester Knighthawks 15-7 Friday night in front of 9,959 at the Air Canada Centre.
It seems lacrosse clubs are Toronto’s only hope. The outdoor Nationals won the Major League Lacrosse championship last summer. Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs have been golfing early for five years now, the Raptors have a two-season playoff-less streak and the Argos, oh the woeful Argos can’t even sniff the playoffs in an eight-team league.
The Rock picked a fine time to deliver one of its finest efforts of the season, building up a 13-4 lead after three.
Despite battling nerves early, the club received dominant goaltending from big-game veteran Bob Watson and was lethal in transition scoring five unassisted goals, four off of breakaways.
Though the Knighthawks made it 2-0 early, the game turned when the Rock killed off a five-on-three Rochester advantage. Mike Hominuck and Garrett Billings scored shortly after, putting the Rock up 4-2.
Aaron Bold, just 2-3 on the season but with better numbers than longtime keeper Pat O’Toole, got the start in net. Bold had replaced an ineffective O’Toole when Rochester fell behind Philadelphia 6-1 in its previous game. Rochester came back to win the contest behind Bold. Friday however, neither Bold, nor later, O’Toole, were especially sharp and the guys in front of them were far worse.
Rochester turned over the ball repeatedly - leading to coast-to-coast scores by both Hominuck and and Stephen Hoar and many other Rock chances. With Watson putting up a wall at the other end, Rochester was in tough heading into the break despite outshooting Toronto 25-23.
Watson stopped 37-of-44 shots on the night, many saves were of the spectacular variety.
Just to discourage Rochester’s thoughts of a comeback, Rock captain Colin Doyle put in a beauty to open the third quarter and the club outscored Rochester 4-1 in the frame.
The Rock (9-7) looked much more like the 6-1 team that was the story of the NLL early in the season than the side that then dropped five in a row.
Doyle didn’t pile up the points like he usually does, but he made plays, absorbing some hard hits in the process and did what he does best, lead a team to the playoffs.
In fact, many of the Rock’s veteran leaders came through. Blaine Manning gave Rochester’s goalies fits, Watson was the best player on the floor, while Sandy Chapman, Phil Sanderson and Stephen Hoar were all excellent. All but Hoar previously won championships with the Rock during its glory days.
The club finally gets a chance to go after a sixth title. The playoffs begin May 1st. Opponent: To be determined. Site, for the first time since the 2005 championship season: ACC.
After the game, but before it became clear the Rock would be home for the playoff opener, Doyle had a message for the fans:
“We want to make you guys proud of us again. Keep your fingers crossed. We want to be here in two weeks and hopefully another one after that. A great season continues.”