Kasey Beirnes and Stephan Leblanc came up with their best games of the National Lacrosse League season in leading the Toronto Rock to a 16-12 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks.
They'd been merely ordinary through six games with seven goals each, which was pointedly pedestrian in such a high-scoring sport, but Beirnes scored five goals and Leblanc fired in four Friday night.
“I've been fighting to get over that one-goal plateau and it was nice to finally have the ball drop for me a bit tonight,” said Beirnes.
The team's effort was a reversal of the previous weekend when they fell 14-8 at home to the Philadelphia Wings.
“We came out so flat in that one,” said Leblanc. “We really tried to bear down in this game and get back on the right path.
“We outworked them in every aspect of the game.”
Jesse Gamble, Colin Doyle, Garrett Billings, Pat Merrill, Jamie Rooney, Dan Carey and Josh Sanderson also had singles for Toronto (4-3).
Billings picked up eight assists to increase his team-leading points total to 42.
Doyle went down early in the second quarter, went to the dressing room and did not return, but the captain didn't seem overly concerned about what he called an “upper body injury” as he helped his teammates celebrate the victory while in street clothes.
“When a guy like Colin goes down, the team needs some secondary scoring from guys like myself if we're going to win the game,” said Beirnes.
Toronto outshot Rochester 59-37. The Rock's Matt Roik earned the goaltending victory and Matt Vinc took the loss.
“I don't think I get a prom date because I was pretty damned ugly out there,” said Roik. “I wish my numbers were down given the way my defence played.
“Our defence was outstanding considering the adversity we had to go through with guys out of the lineup. Our offence, what can you say? The shot management was unbelievable and they buried their chances.
“It was sad to see Doyley go down because he was really clicking. Other than that, the boys were outstanding on the O gate.”
Cody Jamieson, Jordan Hall and Brad Self had two each for Rochester (3-5), while Johnny Powless, Mike Accursi, Stephen Keogh, Cory Vitarelli, Pat McCready and Dylan Evans added one apiece.
Rock owner Jamie Dawick asked his players to “win one for the Whipper” after conducting a pre-game ceremony to retire the No. 29 of Hall of Fame goaltender Bob Watson, and his wish was granted.
“I had the privilege of playing with him here for four years and you can't ask for a nicer guy,” said Beirnes. “To get the win for him was extra special.”
The Rock dominated the first quarter and led 5-0 but the Knighthawks scored the first four goals of the second quarter. Two power-play goals by Beirnes in less than two minutes halted the surge and Rooney made it 8-4 just before halftime.
Beirnes, sprung free by a Billings pass, fooled Vinc with a deke to score into a top corner of the net and make it 9-4 in the opening minute of the third quarter.
Rochester again battled back. Hall led the charge by twice diving into the crease to score, and Vitarelli made it 9-8 with a sidearm shot from the middle of the zone.
It was Leblanc who kept Rochester from tying it this time. He scored with a powerful overhand shot and 20 seconds later beat Vinc high from the edge of the crease, making it 11-8.
Rochester then got goals 55 seconds apart by Powless and McCready that left it 11-10 after three quarters.
For the third time, the Rock refused to allow the Knighthawks to even it up. Leblanc rose to the occasion again when he picked a top corner behind Vinc for a fifth Toronto power-play goal on six chances, and then Carey beat Vinc with a sidearm bullet to make it 13-10.
Toronto has had trouble holding leads at home this season but there was no fourth-quarter sag this time. Sanderson's empty-netter with 59.5 seconds left capped the scoring.
Gamble's goal, a breakaway effort on a long pass from Stephen Hoar that made it 4-0, was his first as a pro. The rookie defenceman from Guelph, Ont., via Cornell University, was appearing in his second NLL game.
“It's nice to get that goal out of the way,” he said. “There's always pressure on you to get the first one. Getting it calmed me down.”
Vinc, who was NLL goalie of the year the last two years, is not among the goals-against leaders this winter, but this latest loss wasn't all his fault.
“It's not all on Vino's shoulders,” said head coach Mike Hasen. “They had way too many clean looks on him. When you're got shooters of that calibre on any team, not just this team in Toronto, they're going to get goals.”
NOTES: Attendance at the Air Canada Centre was 10,274. . . . Josh Sanderson had three assists and now is within five of 700. John Tavares, with a record 842, is the only player in NLL history with more assists than Sanderson. . . . Toronto outshot Rochester 17-6 in the first quarter in jumping to its 5-0 lead. . . . D Damon Edwards, who was signed Friday, played his first game with the Rock. . . . Toronto deleted D Phil Sanderson, D Glen Bryan and D Drew Petkoff. . . . F Rob Hellyer has been placed on injured reserve . . . Rochester deleted F Joe Walters, D Kyle Laverty and F Alex Kedoh Hill. . . . Toronto now is 14-4 all-time at home during the regular season against Rochester.
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