April 22, 2014

Rose's Triumphant Return Inspires Rock Teammates

By Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Nick Rose had a great game in this weekend's win over Buffalo, giving the Rock two solid options in net for the upcoming playoffs.

Two questions confront the Toronto Rock coaching staff as it ponders a win-or-you're-out semifinal showdown with the Buffalo Bandits.

1. Who to start in goal, Brandon Miller or Nick Rose?

2. How can Kevin Ross be inserted into the lineup?

Rose, who was anchored to the end of the players' bench while newly-acquired Miller got the two previous starts and won both, got the nod last Friday night and was outstanding as the Rock beat the visiting Bandits 13-9. Two empty-net Rock goals inflated the victory margin in a game that was up for grabs into the closing minutes. Buffalo outshot Toronto 57-49 including 33-18 in the second half. Rose was the difference.

''It's going to be tough to wipe the smile off my face,'' he said before stripping off the pads in the dressing room afterwards. ''We just came out and executed and did the job. I can't be any prouder of this group in here.

''The (defense) has come into its own. It almost seems as if it doesn't matter who's in net between me and Brandon. Our D is doing the job we expected all year.''

Rose, 26, was Toronto's undisputed No. 1 goalie until Miller, 34, was acquired from Philadelphia at the trading deadline last month. The Rock were having a so-so season. Since Miller came on board, the team's play has improved noticeably. Many Rock fans had to be wondering after Miller won his first two starts if Rose had lost the job to the man he'd grown up in Orangeville, Ontario, idolizing. When Miller's junior team won the Canadian championship with him in the nets, Rose was the ball boy.

Was Rose frustrated sitting on the bench?

''I wouldn't say frustrated,'' he responded. ''I grew up idolizing Brandon. He's been one of my favourite goalies since I was really young. He came in here and has played unbelievable for us.

''There's not much I can do except try to get better in practise. He's pushed me, I've pushed him and now we're both kind of rollin' heading into the playoffs. It sucks not playing, obviously, but I'm proud of Brandon and I enjoyed watching him play those two weeks. Wherever the chips may fall going forward, whoever is in net, I think the team's confidence is high in both of us. It's not a bad situation either way.''

Miller was one of the first to congratulate Rose on his successful return to the crease.

''Unbelievable, right?'' Miller said of Rose's stunning stops. ''He stepped right in there. He was working hard in practise and that's important. It was really good to see him bounce back like that. He played great.''

Miller helped coach Rose when Rose was in his early teens.

''We go back a long time,'' said Miller.

It is a unique situation.

''He's had a big effect on my career,'' said Rose. ''I've always been a fan. I tried to take that as some motivation _ to be where he is some day and have the kind of career he has had.''

Head coach John Lovell never had any intention of leaving Rose to rot on the end of the bench.

''I felt it was important that he got back in the net,'' said Lovell. ''He hadn't been playing for a while and it was important for the team to play well in front of both of our goalies, and they did.

''I think he's had the odd tough night but the tough night was also complicated by giving up turnovers and not playing solid defense. I think we're playing better now and he needed to get in the net and say, 'This is what I can give you, too, if you play defense like that.' And he did it.''

Now we get to Ross. The leftie was also picked up from the Wings last month. He played right away, against his former team, but was a healthy scratch the last three games. So, what does he do Friday night when he gets into the lineup because Josh Sanderson begs off with a flu? He plays a dynamic role in the attack and scores three goals. They were his first goals as a member of the Rock. Two of them were on gravity-defying leaps into the crease to plant the ball in the far bottom corner of the net.

''It's such an honor to be playing for this team,'' he said afterwards. ''To get the win and to contribute the way I was able to, it feels fantastic.''

So, what happens next game? How do you sit a guy who scores three and looks like an all-star in the process?

''We've got a pretty good left side with Josh, Colin (Doyle) and Steph (Leblanc),'' said Ross, apparently accepting the possibility he'll be in street clothes again this weekend when the Rock play in Minnesota.

Ross scored 28 goals for the Swarm two years ago and had 20 in an injury-plagued 2013 with the Wings. He had off-season surgery and had only six goals in six games in Philadelphia before being released.

''I was being flown in for games. It was a bit of a grind. The team's record wasn't too great and they were unsure where the season was going so they gave me the opportunity to explore the open market,'' he explained. ''This a perfect fit for me. I jumped at the chance. I live five minutes away from the arena.''

He was asked, given his three goals, how the coaches could possibly sit him out now.

''That was really my goal tonight _ to try and give them some tough decisions to make down the stretch,'' said Ross. ''I'm here to contribute any way I can to winning the championship this year.''

It is a tough call for Lovell and his assistants.

''I don't know,'' Lovell says when asked about the status of new his new attacker. ''We're not a team that plays well with four lefts. Offensively, in the past, it hasn't worked for us.

''I think he understands what is going on. He's worked hard. He stepped in and gave us a game like that. So it's nice to have somebody ready. If somebody needs a rest next week I guess he gets another game.''

Buffalo won the two earlier games against Toronto, by 12-10 scores Jan. 10 and Feb. 1, so Lovell's club got a big boost of confidence in prevailing this time.

''It was important for us as a group to see that, if we put a good effort in, we can beat them,'' said Lovell. ''It was more important for us, in terms of where we're going as a team, and maybe send a message that, 'You got us at our best tonight.' We weren't at our best two months ago.''

Toronto, 8-9, has won three in a row. Buffalo, 8-9, has lost a club-record seven in a row. If the Rock win in St. Paul and the Bandits lose at home to Rochester on Saturday, Toronto will steal home-floor advantage for the semifinal.

Do the coaches stick with Rose or do they go back to Miller?

Where does Ross fit in?

Regardless, the 2011 champions are on a roll.

''The defense is starting to click,'' says D-man Rob Marshall. ''Everybody is on the same page. We're peaking at the right time. The last couple of years we had better records than we have now but we're going into the playoffs hot this year. That's a good thing.'

''We're definitely playing better than we were at the beginning of the year so, overall, we're happy with where we are,'' said D-man Jesse Gamble.

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