The Rochester Knighthawks are the 2012 National Lacrosse League champions. (Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)
The Rochester Knighthawks have been a second-half team throughout the 2012 National Lacrosse League season.
Although it seemed like the Edmonton Rush had Rochester’s number in the first half of the Champion’s Cup final on Saturday night, the Knighthawks once again roared from behind with a strong third quarter en route to the third championship in team history.
Rochester erased a four-goal halftime deficit to defeat Edmonton 9-6 at the Blue Cross Arena.
“We never quit all year. Quit’s not in our vocabulary. (Goaltender Matt Vinc) stood on his head in the second half, we buckled down on ‘D,’ and the ‘O’ came alive,” said Rochester captain Pat McCready.
The Knighthawks (10-9) scored seven unanswered goals to open the second half, stealing the lead and momentum from the Rush.
“(At halftime) I said that basically that things were going like that all year for us. We never said die all year. We came back. We were down a lot during a lot of games and we always fought and we always clawed our way back,” said McCready.
Trailing 5-1 at the break, Mike Accursi, the only player from Rochester’s 2007 championship squad, opened the quarter with the first goal of the Knighthawks’ momentous run. After rookie Johnny Powless scored, Cody Jamieson followed with two straight to tie the game at 5-5.
“Well it was obviously a hard-fought game and really it was kind of two games in one. The first half was ours and the second half was Rochester’s. That’s really what it came down to,” said Edmonton head coach and general manager Derek Keenan.
Jamieson finished with a game-high eight points (four goals, four assists) and was named the Championship Game MVP.
Accursi gave the Knighthawks the lead with a power-play goal late in the third after former Rochester captain Shawn Williams was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
All-Rookie Team selections Stephen Keogh and Powless added before the Rush were finally able to end their scoring drought. Keogh closed the third with the game-winning goal with only 19 seconds remaining in the quarter. Powless started the fourth by finding the back of the net.
Vinc stood on his head in the second half as Edmonton only found the back of the net once. Vinc shut out the Rush for 26:22 from the end of the second quarter until Ryan Ward scored with six minutes left in the fourth.
“It just seemed like the momentum shifted our way, and that’s like of like what we did in the last five or six games down the stretch. We clawed our way back and we never gave up. I think that’s a testament to the type of team we are,” said Vinc.
The Rush (8-11) dominated the first 30 minutes. As advertised, the defense played very well while goaltender Aaron Bold held the Knighthawks scoreless in the first quarter and allowed only one in the second. Edmonton’s defense kept Rochester to just 11 shots while its offense fired off 31.
“Pretty much we came out a little bit flat in the second half. I lost a little bit of focus. It’s a bad feeling,” said Bold, who made 26 saves on 35 shots.
Zach Greer gave Edmonton a 2-0 to start the contest. He scored 1:32 into the game, and again at 2:44 in the second quarter.
“It’s a game of runs, right? We had ours and you want to limit theirs as much as possible. I think at half time in the locker room had the same feel as the last couple of weeks. We were winning those two games too, right? Try and stay positive and keep doing the things we’re doing,” said Greer.
“I think our minds were in the right place. We were saying the right things and just necessarily didn’t do those in the third quarter.”
Defenseman Chris Corbeil and Jarrett Toll each scored unassisted as they took turnovers by Jamieson the length of the floor. Those goals were sandwiched around a power-play goal from Aaron Wilson with a 5-on-3 advantage and Jamieson’s lone tally of the first half for the Knighthawks.
Williams, playing his first game against his former team since being traded to Edmonton last October with Bold for defenseman Ryan Cousins and forward Alex “Kedoh” Hill, was tied with a team-high two assists.
“He felt bad,” Keenan said about Williams. “He’s won a couple and he’s been to a few. He’s a heck of a competitor. He’s led us all year on the offensive end, particularly in the playoffs.”
Despite finishing the regular season below .500, Rochester was able to win its first championship at home, and its first since 2007.
Over the past five seasons, many veterans such as Williams have been replaced with younger players like Keogh, Jamieson and Powless. With the Champion’s Cup now in hand, the Knighthawks have proven what their young team can accomplish.
“The proof is in the pudding. We’re champions,” said Hasen.