Photo Credit: Scott Pierson.
The Rochester Knighthawks needed a second-half comeback to defeat the visiting Minnesota Swarm 16-14 at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night.
The Knighthawks (2-3) trailed 9-6 after the first half of play, but avoided a franchise-tying fourth straight loss with a strong showing in the second half.
“I just said, ‘Boys, we got to play with passion and pride. Pride in this franchise, pride in this jersey, pride in each other,’” Rochester forward Mike Accursi said about his speech at halftime. “We came out hot and once we got that lead, we knew we were going to win.”
The fourth quarter began with the score 11-11. Cory Vitarelli scored two of Rochester’s five goals in the final quarter to help his team capture the win. Vitarelli finished the game with four goals and three assists.
“He’s coming out big for us almost every night. It’s nice to see,” Rochester head coach Mike Hasen said about Vitarelli. “He works so hard off ball. Getting into the dirty zones and picking up the rebounds is what he’s good at, and it’s what he did for us tonight.”
Ryan Benesch opened the scoring with a power play goal at 2:46 in the opening quarter. Later in the quarter he netted a shorthanded goal to regain a 3-2 lead.
Jordan MacIntosh played very well for the Swarm (1-2) in the first half. The reigning Rookie of the Week completed his first professional hat trick with an unassisted goal at 9:36 in the second quarter. MacIntosh was playing in Rochester for the first time since graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
“It was a tough loss. We had such a good first half and they came out guns-a-blazing in the second half and we couldn’t answer,” said MacIntosh. “We play them next week. We’re going to learn from our mistakes and hopefully capitalize on them next week.”
Johnny Powless continued to impress with his fancy stick skills. The 18-year old rookie appeared on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays last weekend with a behind-the-back goal against Toronto. He scored on a similar no-look shot to tie the game at 4-4 at the start of the second quarter.
Cody Jamieson, who had a game-high nine points (three goals, six assists) retied the game at 6-6 midway through the second, but the Swarm answered with three straight before halftime.
Jamie Shewchuk and MacIntosh scored unassisted before Corbyn Tao found the back of the net on the power play, giving the Swarm a 9-6 lead at the break.
“We played 45 minutes of ball. That’s the bottom line. If you don’t play 60 minutes of ball in this league, you’re not going to win, and we didn’t play well enough for 60 minutes tonight,” said Minnesota head coach Mike Lines.
Rochester came out of the locker room with two quick goals. Vitarelli scored just 17 seconds into the second half. Powless then tipped in a rebound of the chest of Swarm goaltender Tyler Carlson to cut the deficit to 9-8.
“The first half I don’t think we played how we wanted to,” said Vitarelli. “Minnesota played good. It was close right down to the end of the game.”
Trailing 11-8, the Knighthawks went on a four-goal run to take their first lead of the game. With the help of a five-minute game misconduct by Jeff Gilbert, Jamieson and Vitarelli scored power play goals to take a 12-11 advantage.
“We have had some hard luck lately not getting calls. When you get them, we got to make sure we bury on them, and tonight we did,” said Hasen. The Knighthawks converted 5 of their 6 power plays.
Gilbert finished with 24 penalty minutes on the night, including five minutes for fighting Stephen Keogh in the second quarter.
Rochester goaltender Matt Vinc made 31 saves on 45 shot attempts, while Carlson stopped 38 of the 54 shots he faced. Carlson made just the second start of his career after earning the win over Buffalo in his debut last week.
“He’s a good blocker. He makes the saves from the outside. Playing the type of defense we want to play, the goalie has to make the saves from the outside, and that’s what he did a really good job of against Buffalo,” Lines said about Carlson. “I don’t blame him for this loss at all.”
The Swarm will host the Knighthawks next Sunday, February 12 at 3 p.m. ET at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. On Friday, February 10 at 8:30 p.m. ET the Swarm battle the Edmonton Rush, also at home.