Toronto Rock hosts Halifax in empty arena

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We are now used to the depressing sight of professional sporting events in vacant buildings. The Toronto Rock is about to experience it first hand on Saturday.

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The Rock will host the Halifax Thunderbirds at FirstOntario Center (TSN2 7 p.m.) in the first game in National Lacrosse League history to be played in the arena without fans, in accordance with current restrictions by the Ontario government on attendance limit indoor events.

“It’s getting weird,” said Rock owner Jamie Dawick. “My hope is that it’s just for this one game and we can get back to normal for our game (January 29).”

Dawick felt it was important to continue with the game, even though the cost of running a game without offsetting ticket revenue has a greater impact on an individual owner than large corporate owners of large teams. But given the shutdown of NLL for a season and a half, Dawick understands that the business must keep running this time.

“This is one of those situations where we have investors and it’s my duty,” Dawick said. “We have to play this year. We missed two years. We have good TV deals on both sides of the border. We have to do everything 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,” said assistant coach Bruce Codd. “We will miss our fans. We have the best fans in the league.”

“It’s a shame for ourselves that we don’t have that energy. In terms of creating your own energy you do that by working hard and when you see someone doing something amazing you go down and say ‘well done’ and pump each other up.”

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Codd is also hoping for more output from the Rock, who struggled on offense in Saturday’s 12-6 loss to the Buffalo Bandits.

“As a group we weren’t happy with the way we played,” said Codd. “We had to get back to work to feel confident about this weekend again.”

The Rock will have Dan Dawson back in the lineup for its 300th NLL game, putting him just six behind Bandits legend John Tavares for the all-time lead in that category. Dawson is also just one point behind 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, is out with an injury he sustained in that game. Brandon Slade will also be out after an injury in practice.

The Thunderbirds (2-0) scored an 11-7 win on December 10. Clarke Petterson scored six goals that night and leads the team by 12 points. Goalkeeper Warren Hill is second in the NLL with a save percentage of 0.824.

Dawick hopes the team’s fans, and some new fans, will see the game from home.

“We’re the (TSN) game of the week,” he said. “So it’s a good opportunity to show the rest of the country what we all stand for. So when the restrictions are lifted, people may want to come and watch.”

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