TORONTO – Ryan Cousins, the National Lacrosse League’s defensive player of the year last season, can score, too.
Minnesota’s captain, who lives in Toronto, scooped up a rebound and put the ball behind falling Rock goaltender Bob Watson 1:27 into overtime to give the Swarm a 17-16 victory Friday night.
“I was just in the right place at the right time pretty much,” said Cousins. “I scooped ‘er up and put ‘er home – luckily.”
Emotions ran high in the corridor leading to the dressing rooms and one report had police investigating, which suggests more than words were exchanged. Commissioner Jim Jennings was at the game and undoubtedly will be looking into the incident.
Ryan Ward topped Swarm scoring with five goals in their season opener. Andy Secore, Chad Culp, Craig Point and Dean Hill got two each, and Ryan Sharp, Chris Courtney and Travis Hill scored singles.
The Rock had talked a lot about having improved their defence, but it caved in against the swift Swarm.
“I guess they call themselves a super defence, but I don’t think anyone else in the league does,” said Cousins.
Rock coach Glenn Clark was certainly impressed with Minnesota’s attack.
“They’ve got a dynamic offence,” said Clark. “They’re a dangerous team.”
“We knew it. They’re a good team. They can hurt you if you give them the opportunity. I’ve said all along, it’s a one-goal league. We had the opportunity to win it and we made some mistakes.”
Josh Sanderson scored six goals for Toronto (1-1), Ryan Benesch and Blaine Manning got three each, Aaron Wilson had two and Jay Winder and Cam Woods one each in front of an announced Air Canada Centre crowd of 13,317.
There were three fights and four ejections. Sharp and Sean Pollock were banished in the first half, leaving the Swarm down two men, and Travis Hill and Woods both got the boot in the fourth quarter.
“We lost two men before the half, but we were able to battle through that adversity and were able to keep it close,” said Swarm coach Duane Jacobs. “A lot of credit goes to the boys tonight.”
Toronto led 3-1 after one quarter, it was 7-7 at halftime, and Toronto led 13-10 after three quarters.
In the first minute of the fourth, Courtney scored with two Rock checkers all over him and Travis Hill somehow got the ball past Watson with a one-handed shot as he was being knocked to the floor.
The third fight broke out when Travis Hill elbowed Jim Veltman to the floor as the Rock captain was trotting off on a line change. Woods went after Hill, who ran from Woods to the penalty box after taking a fist to the head. Both were tossed.
Dean Hill got a cross-crease pass from Ward and flicked the ball into the open side of the net for a power-play goal that tied it 13-13.
Sanderson beat goalie Nick Patterson on a breakaway at 3:26, and Point whipped in one of his long shots at 3:37.
Sanderson then scored twice in 27 seconds to put the Rock up 16-14. Kasey Beirnes fed a cross-crease pass for relay into the open side of the net, and Sanderson adding another goal when he sped around Cousins to beat Patterson high.
The Rock should have closed it out, but they were nabbed for two many men on a sloppy line change, and then Benesch got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty a minute later.
“At that stage of the game, you’re just hoping things are going to go your way,” said Ward. “To see that was nice”.
“It gave us an opportunity. That’s all you can really ask for.” Power-play goals by Dean Hill with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter and by Ward, who connected with an overhand shot from the top of the setup with 1:50 remaining, tied it 16-16. It didn’t take long for Cousins to end it in overtime.
Shots were 57-57.
On power plays, Minnesota was 4-for-8 and Toronto was 3-for-10.
The teams play again Saturday night in St. Paul, Minn.
“It was our goal to start the season off on a good note and we did,” said Cousins. “The main thing is to get the home win.”
“You win one on the road and don’t want to be upset in your home arena, so we’ve got to win another one (Saturday night).”
Sanderson was livid about the late penalties taken by his teammates.
“Terrible loss,” he said. “We had it and gave it away.”
“Bad. Shouldn’t happen, did happen. There were mistakes all over. Can’t happen. We’ve got to tighten up. A division game at home, you’ve got to win. I’m pissed off, to say the least. Just pissed off. We got to win tomorrow night.”
Minnesota’s 17-goal outburst had Jacobs beaming.
“We felt we improved our offence in the off-season,” he said. “With so many power plays for both teams you kind of figured there were going to be some goals scored.”
“Hopefully we can tighten that aspect of the game (Saturday) and stay out of the box.”
Point, a 21-year-old rookie from Ohsweken, Ont., adds a new dimension to the Swarm offence. He was outstanding in his NLL debut. Besides his two goals, he picked up six assists to finish with a team-high eight points.
“He makes us a lot more dangerous,” said Ward. “He’s got some of the best hands I’ve ever seen on a lacrosse player.”
“He’s smart and he works hard. He adds a lot of depth to our team.” Point has an amazingly accurate overhand shot when he winds up a good distance from the net.
“He’s got all the tools,” said Jacobs. ”He’s got the good shot, he’s good inside – he’s a complete offensive player.
“We’re not putting any pressure on him. We said, ‘Just go out and play.’ He’ll make our offence better.” Manning got five assists as well as his three goals.
Clark didn’t hold back when asked about the elbow to the head of the 41-year-old Veltman, who has said this will be his last NLL season as a player.
“Cam Woods was sticking up for his captain and you need to do that,” said Clark. “That was a pretty cheap shot the guy took on Jim Veltman.”
“It’s cowardly. You don’t target guys like that. Taking a head shot at a guy like Jim Veltman after he’s passed the ball. What kind of gutless punk does that? It’s embarrassing. It was as cheap as it could get. To do it to a guy like Jimmy . . . you want to be a hero, do it to Dan Ladouceur.”