Rock, Seals face off in showdown of division leaders

The Toronto Rock will welcome another expansion franchise to Scotiabank Arena for the first time when they play the San Diego Seals on Friday.

It’s been a solid start to the campaign for San Diego. They sit at 4-3 on the year, but that’s been good enough to hold down the top spot in the West Division to this point. They matched up with the Vancouver Warriors in each of the last two contests. They took the first meeting 11-10 before dropping the rematch by a lopsided 14-6 scoreline.

As for the Rock, their elite run of play as of late has them staring down a sixth consecutive victory. Their last game was unquestionably the statement performance of the season, as they defeated the defending champion Saskatchewan Rush 16-13 on home floor.

It’ll feel like a home game of sorts for some members of the Seals, as 10 members of their active roster hail from  Ontario. Several former members of the Rock will also be making a return trip to the place they once called home. While former Rock captain Brodie Merrill could miss the game with an injury, Turner Evans, Drew Belgrave, and Garrett Billings should all be in the lineup.

Evans was the Seals’ first pick in this past summers expansion draft. He was initially selected by Toronto in the second round of the 2015 draft. He sat out the entire 2018 season after suffering a knee injury.

Belgrave played his rookie season with the Rock after they selected him 15th overall in 2017. The New Westminster, British Columbia native became a free agent this past offseason and decided to head back out west and join the Seals.

Billings is one of the best forwards to ever don a Rock uniform. He was selected by the Rock with the No. 6 pick in 2009 and was a part of the team that captured the Champions Cup in 2011.

Toronto will also get its first look at 2018 first overall pick Austin Staats, who has been tearing it up in his first National Lacrosse League campaign.

The matchup between the two respective division leaders promises to be an intriguing one. No game is ever easy in the NLL, and the Rock will be well aware of that. If they’re not careful, the Seals could hand them their first loss since December.

Players to watch

Toronto Rock

Schreiber, Jones, Hellyer

Hellyer (17 G, 27 A) and Schreiber (15 G, 27 A) sit seventh and 11th in league scoring, respectively, while Jones leads the team in goals with 18. Having a few former teammates in Brodie Merrill and Drew Belgrave – along with their trio of former Rock players behind the bench – the Seals should be well prepared for what the Rock want to run offensively.

Dan Lintner

Aside from the Big Three, there hasn’t been a hotter player on the Rock than Lintner as of late. He’s posted seven goals and 12 points in his past three games. The fourth-year man is starting to find his groove as a crease finisher for the Rock. He doesn’t have his ball as much due to sharing his side of the floor with Hellyer and Schreiber, but now, Lintner is making defences pay if they sag off of him.

Kieran McArdle

The big lefty has registered at least a point in every contest over the Rock’s five-game winning streak. Against Saskatchewan two weeks ago, he had a pair of goals and four points. Teams have to respect his shot, but he’s also gained the confidence to drive the crease if the defence gets over-aggressive.

Johnny Powless

Pow Pow, as he’s known by teammates and fans alike, has come up with plays at the right times this season.  His power-play marker halted a three-goal run in under two minutes for Saskatchewan in the last game. The marker came on an unexpected laser from the top of the extra-man setup. While he only has 15 points on the campaign, the 25-year-old has a lot to offer. If the top dogs give him more opportunities to score, he’ll convert more times than not.

San Diego Seals

Austin Staats

The dynamic rookie’s point totals have fallen off a tad since the start of the year, but that also comes with defences adjusting to him. Staats still sits eighth in the league in goals, an incredible feat for a first-year player. The Seals’ is the biggest handful on the Seals’ offence. He has no problem taking on a triple team and can somehow still find his way to the net.

Garrett Billings

A familiar face will make a return to the Scotiabank Arena on Friday. Billings sits sixth in assists and points and seventh in goals all-time for the Rock. The former sixth overall pick has three 100-point campaigns under his belt and helped the Rock capture their last championship in 2011.  Billings was traded to New England in 2015 for Kevin Crowley. He then went back back to his hometown of Langley, British Columbia to play for Vancouver. He’s played two games in Toronto since the trade, scoring nine points in total. He’s got a lethal shot and is one of the best distributors in the game. Toronto has to pay very close attention to Billings at all times.

Dan Dawson

The 37-year-old is coming off winning another NLL championship with the Saskatchewan Rush in 2018. He has turned back the clock as is thriving with the Seals this season. The veteran sits second in scoring on the team with 27 points on the year. Dawson played his 276th game last weekend – moving him up to second all-time in NLL history in that regard. He’s a massive body and excels at dishing the rock. He’ll be a tough matchup all night.

Kyle Buchanan

Buchanan was the Seals’ first free-agent signing in franchise history. Now into his seventh season, the veteran has only failed to reach at least 50 points once – during his rookie season in which he only played nine games. He was one of the most consistent contributors on New England during his time with the franchise. He also knows the Rock well as a result. He’ll be able to sneak in for some looks around the crease with Billings and Dawson taking up some of the defensive attention.

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