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Knighthawks & Rush ride emotional roller coaster in title game

05/20/2012, 10:48am EDT
By Andy Lefkowitz, Associate Editor for NLL.com

Each team experienced high and lows with Champion's Cup on the line

Cody Jamieson scored 4 goals as the Rochester Knighthawks rallied for a 9-6 win. (Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)

Many have called the National Lacrosse League a game of runs. A team can be carried quickly by momentum and the lack of it can be devastating.

Just ask the Edmonton Rush and Rochester Knighthawks all about it. They each got to ride the emotional roller coaster twice in the biggest game of the year.

The 2012 NLL season concluded with Rochester rallying for a 9-6 win over Edmonton on Saturday night in a Championship Game tilt that was really two contests rolled up into one.

Fans of the silver and black had plenty of reasons to cheer in the first half at the Blue Cross Arena. Edmonton racked up 31 shots on goal – scoring twice on long breakaways after picking off errant passes – and Aaron Bold was nearly flawless as the Rush led 5-1.

For Bold, it had to feel like a big step toward vindication. Last year with Rochester, he saw less than 31 minutes of playing time as Matt Vinc’s backup, but a trade to Edmonton with longtime veteran Shawn Williams thrust Bold into a starting role for the first time since breaking into the league in 2006.

Many times during the regular season, one in which Edmonton was just 6-10, head coach and general manager Derek Keenan remarked that his team didn’t always keep the pressure on for a full 60 minutes. However, that just wasn’t evident this postseason.

After being the lowest-scoring team in the regular season, the Rush charged out to halftime leads and pulled away after the break, totaling 34 goals in upsets over higher seeds Calgary and Minnesota. Bold had the third-lowest goals-against average (10.47) in the regular season, but slashed that to 7.03 in the postseason, holding the Swarm without a goal for more than 37 minutes in the West Divisional Final on May 12.

But the behavior that concerned Keenan warned the Rush about came back to bite them at the worst time.

The second half belonged to the blue-and-white – and most of the 9,277 in attendance had plenty of chances to roar their approval.  The Knighthawks scored six unanswered goals in the third quarter, turning a 5-1 deficit into a two-goal lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

Over those pivotal 15 minutes, Cody Jamieson virtually engraved his name on the Championship Game Most Valuable Player Trophy after picking up five of his eight points on the night while Vinc didn’t allow a goal on eight shots faced.

The Knighthawks extended their lead to three two minutes into the fourth quarter on high schooler Johnny Powless’ second goal of the half to complete the scoring run.  Vinc kept stoning the Rush at every turn. When Ryan Ward finally scored with six minutes to play, it was the first goal he’d allowed in 26:22.

It would also be the last one he’d surrender this season for the team that started 2-4 but finished with their first championship since 2007.

“We never gave up and that’s a testament to the type of team we are,” Vinc told Sal Maiorana of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. “We’re pretty young, but we have great leadership out there and that was a huge thing.

“We jelled as a team at the right moments and it was all confidence in the third and fourth quarters that gave us the win.”

Though the season came to a gut-wreching end for the Rush, there is plenty of hope for the immediate future. Bold indeed showed that he is one of the best netminders the game today and Edmonton will have the top overall pick in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft after acquiring Washington’s first-round selection in a trade for Athan Iannucci in February.

The Rush also have another first-round pick, but that’s cold comfort right now for a team was 30 minutes away from hoisting the first title in the franchise’s seven-year history.

“I’m proud of our guys, but it’s not the way we wanted to end it,” Rush forward Zack Greer told Gerry Moddejonge of the Edmonton Sun. “The offense slowed up a little but in the third and then they went on that run and then we got some looks in the fourth, but (Vinc) made some good saves and we hit some bars, so credit goes out to him and they buried their chances when they had to and ours didn’t go in.”

The Knighthawks celebrate a championship.  Edmonton can hold its head high after a magnificent playoff run. The 2012 NLL season is now in the books.

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