By now we are used to the depressing sight of pro sports events in empty buildings. The Toronto Rock are about to experience it first-hand on Saturday.
The Rock host the Halifax Thunderbirds at FirstOntario Centre (TSN2 7 p.m.) in the first game in National Lacrosse League history to be played without fans in the arena, in accordance with the Ontario government’s current restrictions limiting attendance at indoor events.
“It’s going to be weird,” Rock owner Jamie Dawick said. “My hope is that it’s only for this one game and we’ll be able to get back to normal for our (Jan. 29) game.”
Dawick felt it was important to proceed with the game even though the costs of staging a game without offsetting ticket revenues has a harder impact on an individual owner than on large corporate owners of major teams. But given the NLL shut down for one and a half seasons, Dawick understands the business has to keep running this time.
“This is one of those situations where we have investors and it is my obligation,” Dawick said. “We’ve got to play this year. We missed two years. We’ve got good TV deals on both sides of the border. We’ve got to do what we can to keep playing games.”
As for the participants on the floor, they will have to play without the extra energy created by the fans.
“It’s definitely going to be different,” assistant coach Bruce Codd said. “We’ll miss our fans. We’ve got the best fans in the league.”
“It’s unfortunate for ourselves not to have that energy. In terms of creating your own energy you do that by working hard and when you see someone do something fantastic, you go down and say ‘good job’ and pump each other up.”
Codd is also hoping for more output from the Rock, who struggled on offence in last Saturday’s 12-6 loss to the Buffalo Bandits.
“As a group, we weren’t happy with the way we played,” Codd said. “We had to get back to work to start feeling confident again about this weekend.”
The Rock will have Dan Dawson back in the lineup for his 300th NLL game, which putting him just six behind Bandits’ legend John Tavares for the all-time lead in that category. Dawson is also just one point back of John Grant Jr. for second-place all-time.
Tom Schreiber is also back in the lineup after missing the Buffalo game to be with his wife as they welcomed their first child. However, Reid Reinholdt, who scored twice in Buffalo, will be out with an injury he suffered in that game. Brandon Slade will also be out after suffering an injury in practice.
The Thunderbirds (2-0) scored an 11-7 win on Dec. 10. Clarke Petterson scored six goals that night and leads the team with 12 points. Goaltender Warren Hill is second in the NLL with a 0.824 save percentage.
Dawick is hoping the team’s fans, and some new fans, will catch the game from home.
“We’re the (TSN) game of the week,” he said. “So it’s a good chance to show the rest of the country what we’re all about. So when restrictions are lifted, people might want to come and check it out.”