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Leblanc scores five as Rock beat Roughnecks in NLL opener

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The Canadian Press
1/4/2014 12:15:30 AM
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TORONTO -- Defence has been a Toronto Rock trademark but it was the offence that carried them to a 16-11 victory over the Calgary Roughnecks in the National Lacrosse League season opener for both teams Friday night.

"It was the way we wanted to start the season," said forward Stephan Leblanc, who led the way with five goals. "We were fired up and the goals were dropping for us."

Toronto finished first overall last season so general manager Terry Sanderson saw no need for drastic change. The offence clicked for five goals on its first nine shots and the defence and goalie Nick Rose limited 2013 scoring champion Shawn Evans to one goal.

Rob Hellyer, at 21 the youngest player in a veteran-laden attack, looked good on the right side as he assumed the bulk of the playing time that had previously been committed to the now-retired Blaine Manning. Hellyer popped three goals in his enhanced role.

"With only six offensive guys out of 16 runners you're going to be out there all the time," said Hellyer, alluding to the league's reduction to 16 from 18 runners. "I've had a good three years with this team and I've learned a lot. I think now it'd be nice to step up and make a bigger contribution."

Colin Doyle and Josh Sanderson have been amazing for a long time. They each scored twice.

"We stuck to a game plan and it certainly worked," said Doyle. "I don't think we saw their best. That's for certain. But, as far as starts go, that was a pretty good start for this team."

Jesse Gamble, Kasey Beirnes, Garrett Billings and Ethan O'Connor added one each for the Rock, who held quarter leads of 7-3, 9-4 and 12-6.

"It was special," said new head coach John Lovell. "Our guys worked really hard for this."

Billings had nine assists in front of an Air Canada Centre crowd of 11,120.

"It's a credit to the chemistry we have up front," Billings said of his 10-point night. "It was a great game for Blaine Manning, who as offensive coach was behind the bench for the first time.

"It's great to put up numbers like that. I've been with this core group for four years now so I've got good chemistry playing with Steph going back to our junior days and ever since Josh Sanderson put on a Rock jersey for the second time we've had great chemistry, too. It helps knowing where all the guys are going to be on the floor.

"It's fun. I'd have liked to have scored a couple more goals. But what can you do?"

Jeff Shattler scored four goals, Dane Dobbie had two and Evans, Daryl Veltman, Geoff Snider, Curtis Dickson and Matthew Dinsdale one each for the Roughnecks, who were outshot 61-51.

Toronto led by six entering the fourth quarter but Calgary scored four of the next five goals to close within 13-10. Biernes broke the run with his goal at 11:41 and rookie O'Connor scored his first pro goal into an empty net to seal the victory.

Gamble supplied repeated transition thrusts all night.

"It was a great way to start the season, to know that we're competitive and that we have the right guys," he said. "We can compete in this league. That wasn't a bad (Calgary) team. They've got a lot of skill and they are going to compete for the Champion's Cup so this win gives us a lot of confidence."

The Rock's seven-goal first quarter proved to be the difference in the end.

"We got a big lead but they didn't go away," said Rose. "We knew that about them. They're going to be tough to beat all year. But we earned the win tonight. Any time your 'O' puts up seven for you in one quarter, it's a nice feeling. That takes the stress off making the next save. The 'O' was awesome."

Calgary coach Curt Malawsky gave Shattler and Poulin an 'A' for effort. But his team's goals-against numbers were poor last year and they were again Friday night. The first quarter put his players in too deep a hole.

"Yeah, no question," he said of a deficit his club couldn't overcome. "You're down 7-3 to a team like that in their building. It's tough to battle back. They went on three three-goal runs and a five-goal run and we only answered back with a four-goal run. We didn't do a very good job of controlling momentum."

NOTES: On power plays, Toronto was 4 for 8 and Calgary 3 for 3 . . . Veteran Rock defencemen Pat Merrill and Chris White sat out with what the team described as lower-body injuries . . . Unavailable to Calgary due to injuries were T Scott Ranger, T Travis Cornwall and D Pete McFetridge . . . Making their NLL debuts were D Craig England and T Ethan O'Connor of the Rock and T Tor Reinholdt, T Karsen Leung and D Garrett McIntosh of the Roughnecks . . . Both teams play their second games of 2014 next Friday, with Toronto at Buffalo and Colorado at Calgary.

Roughnecks vs. Rock (Photo: NLL/Graig Abel)

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(Photo: NLL/Graig Abel)
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