Here it is, the moment Toronto Rock players, coaches, and fans have been waiting for: the first game of the 2018-19 season.
Following a trip to the East Division Final in 2017, the Rock found themselves with an improved roster heading into last season. When it was all said and done, however, Toronto found itself on the outside looking in for only the fourth time in franchise history.
The offseason brought several roster changes. Veteran goaltender Brandon Miller and franchise stalwart Sandy Chapman both retired, while former captain Brodie Merrill elected to head West and join the expansion San Diego Seals.
The Rock have some new faces on the roster, though. They acquired four-time NLL champion Johnny Powless from the Calgary Roughnecks and signed veteran defender Creighton Reid – who won a Champions Cup in 2011 with the Rock – to a one-year contract.
On the other side, the Bandits also made several key acquisitions that should have them battling the Georgia Swarm for tops in the East Division.
The longtime rivals played three games against one another in 2017-18, with Toronto getting the better of Buffalo on two of those occasions. It’ll be a battle in the cage once again, with Rock starter Nick Rose going head to head with six-time NLL Goalie of the Year Matt Vinc – who signed with the Bandits in the offseason.
Aside from bragging rights, these two teams will be squaring each other up, as they could very well face off in the postseason.
NLL fans should be treated to a show on Friday. The Battle of the QEW is always physical and there should be no shortage of fireworks. Get ready for a shootout in Banditland.
Tom Schreiber – Captain America should draw the toughest defenders on the Bandits. Schreiber recovered from a partially torn PCL which forced him out of seven games – he still managed 64 points on the year. He’s a threat from anywhere on the floor. Schreiber has a bullet of a shot, great passing abilities, and can switch hands to fire if he gets forced to his off side. Expect Schreiber to have a solid opener for the Rock.
Rob Hellyer – The Rock’s points leader last season, Hellyer is a deft talent who can both dish and score with the ball in his stick. A fully healthy Schreiber will help take some of the pressure off Hellyer, who’s still just two years removed from a torn ACL.
Adam Jones – With Brett Hickey gone, Jones is now the go-to catch-and-shoot man for the Rock. His ability in the pick-and-roll game will be vital to the Rock’s success in Buffalo.
Challen Rogers – The new captain of the Rock is coming off a 15 goal, 32-point campaign. He was a nominee for NLL Transition Player of the Year last season, and after an above-average summer, Rogers could have a massive campaign.
Shawn Evans – The former league MVP managed to put together a 10-point performance in Buffalo’s season opener against Philadelphia. He’s tenacious and always a pain to play against. The Rock need to have eyes on Evans at all times. With the possibility of Dhane Smith missing the game, Evans will be running the show.
Josh Byrne – The first overall pick from 2017 had a very good rookie campaign and looked great against Philadelphia last weekend. He’s a big body – standing at 6-foot-5 – but is deceptively quick and doesn’t squander opportunities to score.
Corey Small – It’s a crime that Small is this far down the list, but that’s how good the Bandits are out the front door. With some of the focus alleviated by the three individuals listed above, Small was able to pot five first-half goals on Saturday. He looks poised to have a career year after being acquired via trade from Vancouver in the offseason.
Steve Priolo – The Bandit captain plays with a mean streak and can chip in his fair share of offence. He’s the top dog on the back end for the Bandits, and it’ll be on him to help shut down the Rock’s top weapons.