Toronto Rock fans had never witnessed anything like this.
The bottom-seeded Minnesota Swarm trotted into Air Canada Centre and trounced the No. 1-seeded Rock 20-11, sending them crashing out of the first round of the NLL playoffs in one of the most excruciating fiascos in the franchise’s 16-year history.
“We got flat out outplayed, outwilled — it was an embarrassing game,” said head coach Troy Cordingley. “No excuses. They’re the better team. We’ve got lots of work to do in the off-season.”
Captain Colin Doyle opened the scoring and the Rock led 3-2 in the ninth minute. An announced crowd of 9,066, including a loud throng of supporters of Swarm players who grew up in southern Ontario, then watched No. 8 Minnesota seize control.
“That was embarrassing,” said Doyle. “I was extremely embarrassed to have that happen at home. It’s still a great group of guys. It’s a team that won 10 games in the regular season. But what happened (Sunday) wasn’t very flattering for us.”
Jordan MacIntosh and Shayne Jackson led the Swarm up front with four goals each.
“It was a pretty awesome victory for us,” said MacIntosh. “It’s a tough place to play but we battled adversity early in the game and did a good job with that. We just played athletically the whole game. That’s what our team’s M.O. is. We ran the whole game and I think that tired them out.”
Ryan Benesch, Kiel Matisz and Josh Gillam scored three goals each, Jay Card had two and Corbyn Tao one for the Swarm, who got a 54-save goaltending effort from Tyler Carlson.
“Tyler Carlson was sensational when he had to be,” said Cordingley.
“Some of the saves he made were unbelievable,” said MacIntosh. “Any time TC is playing like that we know on offence we’ve got to step it up, and we did that.”
Toronto had a 65-55 advantage in shots on goal. Starting goaltender Nick Rose had one of his poorer outings of the year. He was replaced by backup Zak Boychuk when the Swarm went up 13-7 in the third quarter and was sent back in with the Swarm up 16-8 early in the fourth. Rose made 33 saves and Boychuk two.
Doyle led the Rock with three goals, Scott Evans got two and Kasey Beirnes, Kyle Belton, Damon Edwards, Sandy Chapman, Stephan Leblanc and Blaine Manning had one each.
Minnesota goes to Rochester for the East final. The No. 5 Knighthawks earned their spot with a 12-10 home win over No. 6 Philadelphia on Saturday.
“Everybody stepped up,” said Jackson. “It’s going to be harder from here on out so we’ve got to keep it going.”
Toronto failed for the first time in four years to advance to its division final.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to desperation and they were the more desperate team,” said Doyle. “They executed really well and were full value to beat us.”
The Swarm overcame a 3-2 deficit to lead 5-4 after one quarter and they pulled away in the second despite holding penalties to David Earl and Jeff Gilbert that left them short a man for the first four minutes. The Rock would rue this failure on the power play. Jackson scored his third consecutive goal, this one a short-handed gem, to ignite a four-goal Swarm binge that made it 9-4.
“Carlson was a big reason why we didn’t score on those power plays,” said Cordingley. “Having said that, we were outworked.”
It was 10-5 at halftime despite Toronto’s 37-28 advantage on the shots counter.
The only question that remained: Would the Swarm get 20?
That seemed a certainty when Evans and Jesse Gamble gooned it up in the second minute of the fourth quarter and left the Rock short-handed for an extended stretch. A power-play goal by Jackson made it 17-8. After Chapman replied short-handed, power-play goals by Tao, and two by Gillam gave the Swarm their 20.
“It was all hard work and composure that got us that game,” Callum Crawford said after his six-assist effort. “When they would get riled up and try to suck is into something we kept our heads and just walked back to our bench.”
Gilbert, who used to play for the Rock, loved how Swarm scoring was spread around.
“We’re kind of peaking at the right time,” he said. “It’s nice because when we lost our captain, Andrew Suitor, early in the season we were down, like what are we going to do?
“Then Crawford stepped out and since then everybody’s been working together on the offence. Those guys are unbelievable. Last game our defence didn’t play very well so we had something to prove. Tonight, both parts were clicking so it was pretty good.”
Head coach Joe Sullivan was a happy man. Now it’s on to Rochester.
“They’re no different than these guys,” he said in comparing the Knighthawks to the Rock. “They’ve got a real dynamic offence and a great power play. We’re going to have to hope that our transition does what it has done all year and put in three or four.”
Notes: Minnesota was 6-for-11 and Toronto was 2-for-5 on power plays . . . MacIntosh was 23-for-32 on faceoffs for a win rate of 72 per cent . . . Garrett Billings couldn’t score a goal for the Rock. He picked up five assists . . . Rochester earned its ticket to the East final by defeating Philadelphia 10-8 Saturday . . . Washington will be at Calgary in the West final. Washington eliminated Edmonton 12-11 while Calgary defeated Colorado 15-10 . . . Rock lineup scratches were Rob Hellyer, Roger Vyse and Scott Johnston . . . Toronto and Minnesota had never previously met in NLL playoffs . . . Benesch was 2007 NLL rookie of the year with Toronto.