Rock seek edge on Bandits

RYAN WOLSTAT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:51 AM ET

Not a lot separates the Toronto Rock and the Buffalo Bandits opponents Saturday in Toronto’s first National Lacrosse League playoff contest since 2007.

Though Buffalo won the season series 2-1, one was an OT victory and both sides managed 34 goals in the trio of games.

Toronto finished 9-7, Buffalo 8-8.

“There are no secrets between us, we play the same style of defence, and both have the firepower up-front,” Rock forward Garrett Billings said.

Coaches Troy Cordingley, of the Rock, and Darris Kilgour are friends, spent years as Bandits teammates and see the game in a similar way.

“We’re quite familiar with how they play,” said Rock general manager/assistant coach Terry Sanderson.

“We’re equal in so many areas that execution is going to be the key.”

Indeed, the team that advances to the East Division final will likely be the one that makes the fewest mistakes.

The Rock made a large blunder back in March, allowing Buffalo standout Mark Steenhuis to find all-time NLL scoring leader John Tavares for an overtime one-timer that resulted in one of only two ACC losses for the Rock this season.

Veterans Mike Accursi and Kevin Dostie chip in and rookie Kyle Clancy has come in of late, scoring at a pace that would have put him third among all rookies — behind Toronto’s Billings and Stephan Leblanc — had he suited up for the entire season.

The Steenhuis-Tavares tandem does the heavy-lifting for an offence that outscored only 4-of-12 NLL teams this season and that’s where comparisons with the Rock fall off.

Toronto had four 80 point-plus players and five 20-goal men and only the Washington Stealth scored more goals.

“We know at any time they can break out on offence. We have to be wary,” Kilgour said.

“If we can stay out of the box, I think we have a chance.”

Toronto’s stellar offence will be challenged by Buffalo’s fifth-ranked defence.

But Toronto isn’t an all-out attacking squad. Only the Orlando Titans allowed fewer goals than the Rock and starting goaltender Bob Watson is a proven playoff performer coming off one of the best regular seasons of his long career.

Not that Kilgour is intimidated.

“They have great fans up there, but at the same time we really believe that we can go on the road and win anywhere,” he said.

Sanderson said his squad, which features 10 players who have not seen post-season action — is relaxed, even though hosting a playoff game for the first time since it hoisted the Champion’s Cup in 2005 was a major goal coming into the season.

One of the old-timers with five rings on his fingers is champing at the bit though.

“This is really big for our franchise,” said captain Colin Doyle, in the playoffs for the 12th time in a row but for the first with the Rock since 2006.


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