TORONTO - The National Lacrosse League champion Toronto Rock had leads of 5-0 and 6-1 slip through their fingers in their 2012 home opener, losing 12-9 to the Calgary Roughnecks at the Air Canada Centre Sunday.
The adrenalin rush from seeing the championship banner raised to the rafters and the handing out of the championship rings appeared to propel the Rock in the first quarter with the team getting off to a lightning fast start with a pair of goals, the first just two minutes and 24 seconds into the game off the stick of Garrett Billings on a nifty pass from Stephan Leblanc.
And 41 seconds later forward Josh Sanderson made it 2-0 with an assist from Rob Hellyer.
But after building up what looked like an insurmountable 6-1 lead early in the second quarter the Rock appeared to stop any forward momentum, something coach Troy Cordingley called unacceptable after the game.
“We stopped playing like a team,” Cordingley said. “They out-worked us, out-hustled us. We were trying to get the big goal on our own instead of doing what we were doing in the first 15 minutes and that is play as a team.”
The coach refused to put the blame on goalie Matt Roik, making his first ACC start after taking over from Rock legend Bob Watson, who was given a standing ovation at the start of the game.
“Roik was outstanding,” Cordingley said. “He was the one who kept the game as close as it was. We have to be better. We know we are not going to get any easy games in the league.”
Rock captain Colin Doyle said he couldn’t put his finger on what happened to the team after the first quarter.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “We were just dead, our energy was gone after the opening quarter. We just let them take the game to us.”
Doyle only thoughts were that the pre-game hoopla was so intense it robbed them of energy on the second half.
“Maybe we were just playing with so much emotion in that first quarter we just couldn’t keep it up,” he said.
Doyle’s assist on the Rock’s fifth goal was his 1,120th over 211 NLL games in 14 seasons.
Doyle then added to his total with an assist on Blaine Manning’s goal at 1:02 of the second quarter after Calgary’s Cory Conway scored the first goal allowed by Roik just 28 seconds into the second frame.
He is also only the third NLL player to surpass the 1,000 point mark in his illustrious 14-season career.
For Josh Sanderson, returning to the Rock roster after being traded away to Calgary in 2008, he scored his 1,018th point in NLL competition, but it was no consolation for the loss.
“It was a tale of two different halves,” he said. “I thought in the first half we were excellent then we just let down and they jumped on us right away.”
The floodgates opened for the Roughnecks in the second quarter with two goals — by Dane Dobbie and Mike Carnegie with a short handed effort — before the end of the first half.
Things got worse for the Rock in the third quarter with Calgary scoring five goals — two each from Jeff Shattler and Sean Evans and one from Daryl Veltman — in six minutes and 29 seconds to go ahead 7-6, their first lead of the game before Doyle tied it up at 8:35 of the third with a power play goal.
Sanderson said the Rock appeared to be standing still.
“They came out in the second half and scored three quick ones,” he said. “We just made some mistakes. We have to clean those things up before we play Buffalo next week.”
The Rock did make an aborted comeback with going ahead 8-7 late in the game with a from-behind-the-net goal by Dan Carey with less than three minutes left in the third but that only lasted about a minute with Calgary’s Curtis Dickson making it 8-8 on a power-play goal at 14:12.
Two more Roughneck goals — both by Scott Ranger — in the first three minutes of the final quarter had the Rock on its heels once again and Calgary’s Dobie made it 11-9 with a minute left and then Ranger added an empty netter.