NLL Championship: Toronto Rock and Washington Stealth Rematch Set

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NLL Championship: Toronto Rock and Washington Stealth Rematch Set
The Washington Stealth (left) and the Toronto Rock (right) will meet on Sunday for the championship game in a rematch of last year's title contest (Credit: Richard Olson).

Toronto Rock Punch Ticket to Second Championship Game

Toronto secured their second straight trip to the NLL title game after they defeated the top-seeded Buffalo Bandits 12-11 in the Eastern Division Final on Saturday at HSBC Arena in Buffalo, N.Y. 

"We just couldn't get 60 minutes of all three phases of the game,” said Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour to NLL.com. “Story of our season." 

At the beginning of the second quarter, the chance for a spot in the NLL championship game looked bleak for the Bandits, as the Rock held a commanding 6-0 lead. However, after replacing Mike Thompson in net with Angus Goodleaf, Buffalo began its comeback and made it a 7-6 game. But the Rock answered, as Stephan Leblanc scored two goals in 30 seconds extended Toronto’s lead to 9-6 at the half.

The Rock added two more while the Bandits were only able to find the back of the net once in the third. Buffalo found its rhythm in the fourth, scoring the final four goals of the contest. The difference came early in the fourth quarter when Toronto’s Garrett Billings scored short-handed for what would be the game-winner. 

"Fortunately, we held onto the one goal and get to go back to the championship," said Toronto head coach Troy Cordingley to NLL.com. 

Buffalo’s season is now over after the Bandits dominated the second part of their 2011 campaign and surpassed the Rock for the top spot in the East in the final weeks of the season.

However, it was Buffalo’s early six-goal deficit that ultimately hampered the East’s best team.

"Kudos to us for coming back and making a game of it, but it definitely wasn't in the playbook for us to get off like that,” said Bandits forward Kyle Clancy to NLL.com of the team’s poor start. “You spend a lot of energy coming back. It just wasn't in the cards." 

The story coming into the game was the play of Buffalo’s 20-year veteran John Tavares, who scored the game-winner last week against Boston in the Eastern Division Semifinals. However, Tavares couldn’t do the same damage against Toronto, as he was a late scratch on Saturday with a calf injury.

"[It] would have been a lot easier if we had a week to prepare for it, or if he was out this morning," Kilgour said of Tavares’ late scratch to NLL.com. "Having a guy like that is a huge bonus. I definitely think that affected us."

Tavares was replaced by Clancy, who led Buffalo on the score sheet with four goals and one assist. Teammate Roger Vyse finished right behind Clancy with three goals. 

Billings had the biggest night for Toronto, as he finished with three goals and three assists, while Leblanc also had a hat trick.

The Rock will look for their sixth NLL title and their first since 2005 next Sunday in the championship game.

 

Stealth Get Chance at Back-to-Back Titles 

The Washington Stealth, a team that finished the regular season with an 8-8 record, will now have the chance to be the first club since the 2002-3 Toronto Rock to repeat as NLL champions.

Washington defeated the best team in the league, the Calgary Roughnecks, 10-8 on Saturday in the Western Division Final at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 

"We were very well prepared,” said Washington head coach Chris Hall to NLL.com. “We watched a lot of video on what they do 5-on-5. We talked about if we are going to repeat, we are going to have to grind it out defensively and eliminate the easy goals.” 

Early on it looked like the Roughnecks were going to the championship after they took a 3-0 lead late into the first quarter. However, a short-handed goal by Rhys Duch lit the Stealth’s offense and defense, as it was the beginning of a seven-goal run for Washington and a 30-minute scoreless drought for Calgary.

The Roughnecks began their comeback late in the third quarter with three straight goals, but with less than six minutes to play, Washington found the back of the net once again with two goals to extend the lead. Curtis Dickson and Dane Dobbie scored in the final four minutes for the Riggers, but the Stealth held on for the victory. 

Calgary forward Kaleb Toth said that the team only has itself to blame for the loss.

“I think we kind of beat ourselves, turning over the ball too much, getting out-hustled, but that happens in lacrosse,” Toth said to NLL.com. 

The Roughnecks dominated the Western Division during the year and picked up some big wins in the final weeks of the season to secure the top overall seed in the playoffs. Calgary’s success might have been a surprise to some people, as Washington was the favorite win the league title.

Now that Calgary will be watching the title game from home, Roughnecks head coach Dave Pym said he is proud of his team’s hard work during the year. 

"We are just bitterly disappointed given everything this team has been through this year. It's very emotional in the room and I'm just sad for the boys," Pym said to NLL.com. "We win as a team and lose as a team and I couldn't have been more proud of the boys in the room after what they have gone through this year. They can hold their heads high and be very proud and I'm certainly proud to be standing here with them." 

Lewis Ratcliff and Jeff Zywicki led Washington in scoring with three goals each. Ratcliff also added four assists, while Zywicki added three assists. Scott Ranger was the leading points-getter for Calgary with five (one goal and four assists), while Daryl Veltman led the team in goals with two.

The Stealth will now play the Rock in a rematch of last year’s finals on Sunday at 2 p.m. EDT. The big difference might be where the contest will be played, as the game will be at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, while last year’s matchup was at Comcast Arena in Everett, Wash. 

"We managed to sneak one on them last year, and now we have a rematch and this time it is in their barn,” Hall said to NLL.com.

The NLL championship game will be broadcast live on VERSUS in the U.S. and on the NLL Network at NLL.com. TSN2 will re-air the game later in the day at 5 p.m. EDT in Canada.

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