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The Halifax Thunderbirds head on the road for the first round of the NLL Playoffs on Friday night, as they take on the Toronto Rock at FirstOntario Centre. Opening face-off is set for 8:30 p.m. AT.
The Thunderbirds and Rock split the season series, with each team taking a game on their home turf.
Toronto took the first meeting by a 17-8 score, beating the Thunderbirds at FirstOntario Centre in the second half of a back-to-back for the visitors. Halifax re-paid the favour in March, beating their rival 14-12 at Scotiabank Centre.
This game is a rematch of last year’s East Division Semi-Final, where the Thunderbirds erased a six-goal fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime. Unfortunately for Halifax, they came out on the wrong end of the final score. They’ll be looking to get that win back on Friday night.
Halifax finished the season with the best Goals For in the East Division and second league-wide with 238. That’s due in large part to a wide-spread offensive attack, led by Randy Staats (34G, 59A) and Clarke Petterson (32G, 52A).
Staats, one of the team’s key off-season acquisitions, has given the team key performances throughout the season. He, along with veterans Ryan Benesch (31G, 44A) and Cody Jamieson (23G, 50A) help to lead the unit.
In the team’s do-or-die Week 22 matchup against Georgia, it was the team’s top goal scorer, Chris Boushy (38G, 21A) who stepped up massively, potting five goals and 13 points, setting a single-game high in points for a Halifax player this season.
The face-off battle between Jake Withers and TD Ierlan will be key to the outcome of this game. Withers finished the season with a league-best 360 face-off wins to go along with a .790 win percentage at the stripe.
In net, Warren Hill has found himself in the midst of a hot streak down the final stretch of the year, winning five of his last six starts. He holds an 11.03 goals-against average and a .770 save percentage for the season.
The Rock are among the most efficient offences in the league this year, but they will be without the services of top scorer Tom Schreiber for tonight’s contest. The American was ruled out with an undisclosed injury Friday morning.
With that, the Rock’s offence will take on a different look. The right side will consist of former Thunderbirds Stephen Keogh (26G, 28A), Dan Dawson (8G, 16A), and rookie Josh Dawick (4G, 5A). Also expect for transition ace Challen Rogers (20G, 29A) to see a healthy dose of touches on the offensive side of the ball.
On the left side, Corey Small (40G, 43A)) and Dan Craig (35G, 47A) are going to be leaned on to pick up the production lost from Schreiber. Small has been a big veteran addition for the Rock this year, and Craig has continued his strong play following a breakout year in 2022.
Defensively, Halifax will see the usual group, but with the addition of Chris Corbeil, who missed the two regular-season matchups between these teams. The veteran is a transition threat who is very efficient at scooping up loose balls.
Nick Rose was among the top goalies in the league this season, finishing the year with a 13-5 record to go along with a 9.03 GAA and a .800 SV%.
Fans in Canada can catch the Thunderbirds live in the East Division Semi-Final on TSN4 while US fans can tune in on ESPN+.