Rochester Knighthawks transition player Joel McCready scored a hat trick during the team's 11-10 preseason win over the Minnesota Swarm last weekend. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
After sitting out the 2012 National Lacrosse League season, Rochester Knighthawks transition player Joel McCready returned to the team with one of the finest games of his career in a preseason game against the Minnesota Swarm last weekend. Unfortunately for the St. Catharines, Ontario native, exhibition games do not count toward a player’s stats, or else McCready would have recorded his first career hat trick.
In the first 23 games of his NLL career, McCready notched six points (2+4) as a transition player for the Knighthawks. The former second-round pick showed no signs of rust after his three-goal performance during Rochester's 11-10 win on Saturday night marked the beginning of his comeback with the league's defending champs.
The nephew of former Knighthawks captain Pat McCready, Joel was surprised about the hat trick because he spends most of his time on transition playing defense.
“No, I probably didn’t expect it," he said. "I just wanted to go out there and work hard and earn a spot on this team. There’s a ton of talent, probably one of the best teams I’ve ever seen."
With the Knighthawks leading 3-2 in the first quarter, goaltender Matt Vinc lofted the ball to McCready at midfield. Swarm defenseman Jeff Gilbert hustled off the bench to cut him off as he raced to the goal, but wasn’t quick enough. McCready fired a shot from the right-wing side and beat goaltender Evan Kirk over his left shoulder.
In the third quarter, the Knighthawks found themselves trailing, 7-6. Chris Courtney scooped a loose ball and fired it across the midline to Johnny Powless, who found McCready alone in front of the net. After a few stick fakes made goaltender Zach Higgins off-balance, the 24-year-old buried the ball past him to tie the contest.
McCready's third goal again tied the game, this time at 10-10 with 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. Stephen Keogh passed him the ball on the left-wing side before impeding two Swarm defenders with a pick, which gave McCready a clear shooting lane.
“I don’t think [I expected a hat trick], but it kind of looked like the number 10 we had is here again," said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. "It’s good for Joel. He had a great summer. It’s great to see."
One would never guess McCready had taken a year off, as he seemed to have some great chemistry with his teammates, both on and off the floor, sharing jokes with newcomer Ian Llord in the locker room after the game.
“I’m having a lot of fun with these guys," McCready said. "They’re a great group of guys. It’s been fun."
With a lot of players fighting for positions on defense and transition, Saturday’s performance should go a long way toward helping McCready make the final roster.
“We just need to keep going hard and keep pushing each other," he said. "Everyone’s out here battling. Everyone wants to be a part of this great organization. You've got to earn your spot."