Johnny Powless scored on a late penalty shot to give the defending champion Rochester Knighthawks an 11-10 home win over the Minnesota Swarm to open the NLL preseason. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks opened the National Lacrosse League preseason with an 11-10 home win over the Minnesota Swarm on Saturday night at Blue Cross Arena. Knighthawks forward Johnny Powless scored on a penalty shot with 1:40 remaining in the fourth quarter to give his team the victory.
“I was really nervous. I’m just glad that I scored,” Powless said. “The players kind of looked at me, and then coach just said, ‘Go ahead and take it.’"
Trailing 9-7 in the fourth quarter, Minnesota scored three consecutive goals, two by first-round draft pick Kiel Matisz (3rd overall), to regain the lead with 3:20 remaining. Exactly one minute later, Joel McCready completed his hat trick for the Knighthawks to tie the contest at 10-10 before Powless netted the game-winner.
It was the Knighthawks who struck first as Cory Vitarelli found the back of the net. Powless drew the game even at 2-2, the first of a three-goal run to give Rochester a 4-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Veteran Casey Powell, who scored twice on the night, finished the opening period with his first goal with the Knighthawks in over a decade.
“The game could have gone either way, so we know we have a lot to work on,” the former NLL MVP said. “I feel like a young kid again. I took a year off and it’s great to have this opportunity to play. I’m fired up. It was an awesome crowd tonight. It feels great to come away with the victory.”
Minnesota scored four of the last five goals in the second quarter to tie the game at 6-6 going into the break. Swarm ookies Alex Crepinsek and Sam Bradman scored back-to-back goals to tie the game at 5-5.
Crepinsek, one of Minnesota’s four first-round picks (10th overall), felt right at home after playing collegiately at the nearby Rochester Institute of Technology.
“Small world coincidence that I get to play my first exhibition game here,” he said. “I know I had a lot of support. I thought I played pretty well. Just trying to build every week and adapt to the speed."
Powell and Ryan Benesch each added goals before the half. Bradman and McCready scored the only two goals of the third quarter as the game remained tied headed into the final frame.
“In practice, coach and the captains said that we wanted to start on a good note and not with a slow start," McCready said. "Start on a good note with a winning habit. We played with that mentality tonight.”
Penalties proved to be costly for Minnesota in the final 15 minutes of play. Mitch Belisle was sent to the box for two minutes on a roughing call at 12:36 and Stephen Keogh scored a power play goal 19 seconds later to give Rochester an 8-7 lead. Later on, a too-many-men penalty on the Swarm within the game's final two minutes resulted in an automatic penalty shot, which sealed the deal for the Knighthawks.
Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan seemed thankful that Minnesota's late mental mistakes happened in an exhibition game instead of the regular season or playoffs.
“They took advantage,” he said. “The effort was there. Just some mistakes that can be cleaned up pretty easily.”
McCready and Powless led the Knighthawks offense with three goals each while Powless led all scorers with seven points (3+4). Rookies Sam Bradman and Matisz both scored twice for Minnesota in the losing effort.
Despite the loss, Sullivan was satisfied with his team's effort.
“I’m thoroughly impressed,” he said. “Any time you can stick within a goal of the defending champions, that’s great. Hats off to them. They’re going to be the measuring stick all year long.”