Updated: January 13, 2013 5:26 PM | By Shane Jones, The Canadian Press, thecanadianpress.com

Toronto Rock roll over Edmonton Rush 10-9



EDMONTON - The Toronto Rock’s biggest opponent to start National Lacrosse League play this season was the schedule maker.

Garrett Billings and Kasey Beirnes had two goals and two assists apiece as the Toronto Rock won 10-9 over the Edmonton Rush on Sunday.

Josh Sanderson and Scott Evans also had two-goal games while Stephan Leblanc and Rob Hellyer added one each for the Rock. Toronto improved to 2-0 despite a difficult back-to-back start on the road, including a 13-11 win over the Calgary Roughnecks on Saturday.

“I thought it was a gutsy, character win,” said Toronto head coach Troy Cordingly. “We played just 16 hours after our last game against a team that is fresh and having their home opener. We started slow but the tempo slowed up somewhat and we were really smart in the second half. We won the little battles.”

Rock captain Colin Doyle said the start to the season was a bit of a challenge, but one they were up to meeting.

"Not only were the two games so close together in terms of time, but I think they were against two of the better teams in the league,” he said. “We answered the bell and feel pretty good about it. It is only two games in so there is no point getting too excited, but we came here to get two wins and we did so that feels pretty good.

"Our goaltending was pretty good for us when it needed to be and we made some big special teams plays when they had a chance to put us away. That led us to tread water a bit until we found our feet.

Cordingly hopes the 2-0 start is just a sign of things to come for the Rock.

“We like our team,” he said. “We are gritty. We are stronger and faster and bigger. And we are hungrier.”

Rookies Mark Matthews and Curtis Knight each had hat tricks and added two assists for the Rush, who were playing their season opener. Corey Small, Ryan Ward and Zack Greer also scored for Edmonton.

Matthews, the first overall pick from the 2012 NLL entry draft at six-foot-five, 230 pounds, made an immediate impact with a goal on his first shot of his pro debut, scoring less than two minutes in on the power play.

“It went pretty well, I think, but obviously we didn't get the win so it was a little downplayed by that,” Matthews said of his debut. “But I thought I was seeing the ball pretty well and got some good shots. We fell to a good team, hopefully we bounce back next week.”

The Oshawa, Ont., product then assisted on a goal less than a minute later on another power-play marker by second-round pick Knight, also making his pro debut for the Rush.

“They played well,” said Rush head coach and G.M. Derek Keenan of his two young guns. “Curtis was our best player on the floor, without a doubt. Mark got his chances, but didn't shoot the ball particularly well, I thought, at times. But that will come for him. Those two guys were definitely our best guys on offence. It's just we need some other guys to step up.”

The two teams traded goals before the Rock made it 3-2 with a power-play goal by Billings.

Edmonton took a two-goal lead into the second quarter on a late goal by Ward.

The Rush went up by three on Knight's second of the game on the power play, but Toronto came right back on goals by Beirnes, Sanderson and Billings to tie the game midway through the second.

The Rush went into the locker rooms at the half with a 6-5 lead on Matthews' second of the match.

Greer gave the Rush back a two-goal edge early in the third and his long shot beat Toronto goalie Nick Rose.

However, Toronto came roaring back with three quick goals, two from Evans and one from Sanderson to take their first lead of the game, up 8-7 halfway through the third quarter.

Edmonton equalled things up with eight seconds remaining in the third on Knight's hat trick goal.

The Rock's Beirnes scored the only goal through the first 12 minutes of the fourth quarter to put Toronto up 9-8.

Toronto got a big insurance goal with three minutes left as Hellyer picked the top corner.

Edmonton got back into the game with two minutes left as Matthews scored his third goal on a diving play in front of the net, but the Rush could not force extra time.

The Rock return to Toronto for their home opener against Philadelphia on Saturday night. The Rush are in Washington to face the Stealth on Sunday.

Notes: Last season the Toronto Rock entered the playoffs atop the East Division with a 9-7 record. After defeating the rival Buffalo Bandits in the first-round of the 2012 playoffs, the Rock saw their season end with the 17-13 loss to the Rochester Knighthawks. ... The Knighthawks also ended the Rush's season, albeit in the National Lacrosse League championship game. The Rush placed fourth in the West at 6-10 but caught fire in the post-season with wins over Calgary and Minnesota. ... Toronto came into the game with a 10-3 all-time record against Edmonton... It was the pro debut of not only first overall pick Matthews for the Rush, but also highly-touted second round pick Curtis Knight, also from Oshawa, Ontario... Canadian Football League star quarterback Ricky Ray dropped the ball for the ceremonial face-off. Ray won the Grey Cup championship with the Toronto Argonauts this season after being traded by the Edmonton Eskimos.

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