Although Toronto was a late arrival last night, the Thunder made certain it was an early exit for the Rock.
Blindsiding Toronto with an 8-2 run, the Thunder built an eight-goal lead early in the third quarter and coasted to a 21-10 win over the Rock before 5,738 at the Baltimore Arena.
Toronto, making its National Lacrosse League debut, never seemed to be in sync after arriving only an hour before game time because of fog at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
Gary Gait registered another one-man assault with a personal-best 10 goals and four assists. Scoring off quick cuts and some outside accuracy, Gait single-handedly provided the Thunder with a 3-1 lead and contributed four goals in the 8-2 run.
"Gary was about as good tonight as I've seen him play," Thunder coach John Tucker said. "He was terrific, full of life."
Gait only had a total of five goals in two games last season against this team, which then played in Hamilton, Ontario. But last night, Gait scored on 10 of his 22 shots and grabbed seven loose balls, which opened up several easy transition chances.
"This was a team I knew I had my least amount of goals against last season," said Gait, who has won the league's MVP award the past four seasons. "So I focused on that all week and was fired up to play tonight."
The Thunder (2-0) outshot Toronto, 71-52, and its relentless attack forced the Rock to switch its goalkeeper three times.
Toronto's Dean Harrison got the Rock to 7-5 with 3: 23 left in the first quarter. With the score unchanged late in the second period, the Thunder made its game-breaking move by revving up its fast break and limiting Toronto to perimeter chances.
The Rock (0-1) had few open looks at Thunder goalie Chris Sanderson in the second half because of a quick-sliding Thunder defense. In the game, Toronto only scored six times against the host team's defense when it was at full strength.
The Thunder exploited its superior speed, moving the ball up quickly to score eight times in a 24 1/2-minute span.
Gait scored four goals in the surge, capping the run with a goal assisted by Sanderson six minutes into the third quarter for a 15-7 advantage.
Toronto never managed to cut the margin to less than six goals the rest of the game.
"Canadian teams are notoriously slow starters," Tucker said. "We had to take advantage of their lack of conditioning. We make teams run the entire game and that's to our benefit."
But the game didn't start smoothly for rookie goalie Sanderson, who proved pivotal with 38 saves and three assists. Toronto jumped on him for four goals on just its first seven shots.
That's when Sanderson looked over to the bench, where backup Erik Miller was putting on his helmet. After that, Sanderson found his groove as the defense settled down, allowing six goals on the Rock's final 45 shots.
"I saw that and I was like, man, I better pick it up," Sanderson said. "We're just so athletic on defense. We swarm to loose balls, are quick to 'double' and are athletic enough to recover. A lot of teams can't afford to do that."
Gait finished off the Thunder's scoring, powering in a close-range shot on the power play with 1: 05 remaining for his team's biggest lead at 21-10. It marked the second time the Thunder had broken the 20-goal mark this season.
Eleven seconds after Gait's goal, both teams became involved in a nine-man brawl at Toronto's end; nine players went to the penalty box.
That ended a 14-hour travel day for Toronto, which took an 8 a.m. flight that was re-routed to Cincinnati because of the weather in Baltimore. The starting time was delayed 21 minutes because of the Rock's late arrival.
"It was a long day, but let's face it, that's not an excuse," Toronto coach Les Bartley said. "It was a total team breakdown."
Pub Date: 1/10/99