Rock's win clinches top spot in NLL standings

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HAMILTON — Prior to Saturday’s game, Challen Rogers was concerned the Toronto Rock hadn’t put a full 60-minute effort in any game this season.

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That box was nearly checked, but the box that was clearly marked was the one labelled: ‘Home-floor advantage throughout the National Lacrosse League playoffs.’

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The Rock won its 14th game of the season, dominating the Rochester Knighthawks 13-6 to wrap up first place in the NLL standings but just as importantly, it showed a season-high crowd of 11,256 that it is clearly playoff-ready.

The 60-minute domination wasn’t needed because the first 30 were as perfect as a Toronto Rock team has played in many years. The Rock outshot Rochester 42-14 in that timeframe while building a 10-1 lead. Chris Boushy and Corey Small both completed hat tricks in that stretch. Rogers, playing his first home game in two months after returning from injury, scored twice and both Mark Matthews and Justin Martin found the scoresheet as well.

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Rochester did get two back in a penalty-filled third quarter. Tom Schreiber and Brad Kri scored for the Rock in the final period as did Boushy, while the defence held the Knighthawks to just three more scores. Goaltender Nick Rose, who now stands alone in second place in career NLL goaltender wins with 108, made 43 saves.

The playoffs will begin with a single-game quarter-final matchup at FirstOntario Centre on the afternoon of April 27 against the league’s eighth seed. The players appreciate the crowds in Hamilton and see the importance of home-floor advantage in the post-season.

“It’s crucial,” Rock captain Rogers said. “Playing for Rock City has been amazing all year.”

“The energy they bring every single night has given us a boost.”

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Who that opponent will be will not be determined until the regular season concludes next Saturday. Going into this weekend, as many as seven teams had a chance to finish as the eighth seed.

Also to be determined is the Rock’s potential second-round opponent. With a bracket-style playoff system, Toronto would face the winner of the 4-5 matchup. That could well mean a best-of-three against its biggest nemesis. The defending champion Buffalo Bandits have ended the Rock’s past three seasons in the second round and handed Toronto two of its three losses this season. The Bandits defeated the Calgary Roughnecks 14-7 on Saturday and are right now projected to meet the Georgia Swarm.

Rogers and his team aren’t concerned about all that at the moment.

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“We’re just focused on us,” the Toronto captain said. “It’s very easy to look at the standings and matchups but they change every week.”

The biggest task the Rock has when it travels to the prairies to finish its regular season tour against the Saskatchewan Rush next Saturday is to stay healthy. Toronto had a full lineup against Rochester after spending much of the first half of the season without Schreiber and Chris Corbeil in the lineup and a good part of the second half without Rogers, who had an immediate impact in Toronto’s 10-7 road win against the Albany FireWolves a week ago after a six-game absence.

Connor Fields, Kyle Waters, Ryan Smith, Dan Lomas, Ethan O’Connor and Brad Gillies scored for Rochester who face Georgia and Philadelphia to end the season. Even at 6-10 there is still a mathematical chance at a post-season berth for the Knighthawks.

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