The Rochester Knighthawks became the first National Lacrosse League team in a decade to hoist the Champion’s Cup in back-to-back years with a thrilling 11-10 road win over the Washington Stealth in the 2013 NLL Championship Game presented by Reebok before a sold-out Langley Events Centre in British Columbia on Saturday.
“It was worth the ticket,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “It was a great game back and forth. An offensive-filled first half and a defensive second half, and was just great to be a part of.”
Cody Jamieson, who scored a hat trick and tied for the team-lead with six points (3+3), was named the NLL Reebok Championship Game MVP for the second-straight year, becoming just the second player in league history to accomplish the feat.
Two weeks earlier, Jamieson missed the second half of the Division Semifinal with an ankle injury but impressively returned for the East Division Final and played through pain again this weekend.
“It’s hurting right now,” Jamieson said. “At the start of the game in warm-ups, it was hurting. Once you get into the game, adrenaline just takes over and you forget about it.”
Knighthawks forward Cory Vitarelli opened the scoring 3:16 into the game after making two pump fakes near the net. The Stealth answered 40 seconds later before the teams again traded goals within a minute for a 2-2 tie midway through the first quarter. Rochester scored three goals in a 2:29 span in the final five minutes for a 5-2 lead entering the second quarter.
Washington pulled within 5-3 but Jamieson earned the first-half hat trick by scoring twice for a four-goal lead. But the Stealth used a four-goal run in less than four minutes to tie the game at 7-7 before Rochester responded with three unanswered goals for a 10-7 halftime lead. The 17 combined first-half goals were more than the total number of goals scored in each of the last two title games.
The defenses tightened up in the third quarter while Stealth forward Rhys Duch, who led the NLL with 45 goals during the regular season, completed his hat trick 3:29 into the second half before Brett Bucktooth scored to pull Washington within one goal as Rochester led 10-9 after the third quarter.
Rochester’s Joe Walters regained the team’s two-goal advantage 2:24 into the fourth quarter but Stealth rookie Tyler Garrison scored less than a minute later to cut the deficit back to 11-10.
Washington gained possession with 29 seconds left but turned the ball over on an errant pass. After a Rochester timeout, the Stealth regained possession by double-teaming the ball carrier and delivering a huge hit along the boards.
Washington raced up the floor with less than 10 seconds left as Duch got off a desperation sub-shot with two seconds left but Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc, the 2013 NLL Goaltender of the Year, made the save to seal the victory.
Vinc made 39 saves on 49 shots and saved his best for the fourth quarter where he handled 10 out of the Stealth's 11 shots.
“Our defense was able to settle down and kind of shut the door,” Vinc said. “I can’t say enough about our defense in that game. We held them to three or four 30-second violations with under nine minutes left and I think that was the difference late in the game.”
Although the Stealth tied the game three times throughout the night, the Knighthawks never trailed.
“It was the same thing that plagued us all year,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “We didn’t play consistently as a whole unit. Our defense struggled in the first half when our offense was on and then our offense only scored three goals in the second half when our defense only let them score one."
After allowing 10 goals in the first half, Stealth goaltender Tyler Richards held the Knighthawks to one goal in the second half by making 38 saves on 49 shots, with 18 of them coming in the final two quarters.
“We got away from what we are successful at which is our defense," Richards said. "We kind of let them get over the top too much and come down the middle for open shots. Three goals behind, we’ve made some great comebacks, but our luck just ran out.”
The Stealth made their third title game appearance in the last four years and their "season of redemption" after missing the playoffs last year with a 4-12 record came up just one goal short.
"The only team that can say their season was a success is the team that wins the championship," Duch said. "But I don't think our season not being a success should be considered a failure."
Just as Jamieson was injured coming in, Duch was limited by a lower-body injury as well.
“For Rhys to be able to play in this game was a monumental effort,” Hall said. “On Monday, he had 10 percent flexion in his leg. He had a deep Charlie Horse on his left quad. Right up until game time, we didn’t know how mobile he was going to be or if he was even going to be able to play."
Jamieson joins John Tavares, who won back-to-back Championship Game MVP awards in 1992 and 1993, as the only players to do so. Six players have now won multiple title game MVPs including Colin Doyle who leads the way with three. There have now been 12 one-goal title games in the 27-year history of the NLL.
Rochester becomes the sixth team in NLL history to win back-to-back championships and the first since the Toronto Rock won consecutive titles from 2002-2003.
“It really hasn’t sunk in at all,” Hasen said. “Our focus was on playing the game and now that it’s over, I just can’t describe it. When we get back in the room with the guys, it will feel a lot different.”
Knighthawks forward and 12-year NLL veteran Dan Dawson, one of the most prolific scorers in the league's postseason history, won his first title in his fourth try while teammate Scott Self earned his first after 13 years.
"Finally," Dawson said. "One word that describes it is 'finally.' It's a load off my shoulders. Just thankful that [Knighthawks owner and GM Curt Styres] brought me on board this year and things went according to plan."
Rochester defenseman Paul Dawson, Dan's brother who was also traded to the Knighthawks during the offseason, won his first title after seven seasons.
"It makes it a little bit extra special whenever you can win something with your own blood," Dan Dawson said. "To win this with him is a little bit extra special, but as far as I'm concerned, I've got 25 brothers in that room."
NLL.com's Jeff Baker and Ben Tole contributed to this report.