The Rochester Knighthawks (5-6) used a fast start to snap a three-game home losing streak with a 12-8 win over the East Division-leading Toronto Rock (9-5) at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night, marking their first regular season home win over their division rivals since Jan. 20, 2010.
Knighthawks defenseman Ian Llord opened the scoring 1:26 into the game on a breakaway after intercepting a Toronto pass. After almost nine minutes of scoreless play, Rochester made it 2-0 with 5:00 left in the first quarter before Knighthawks forward Cory Vitarelli put them up 3-0 with a highlight-reel wraparound “dunk” goal a little over three minutes later. Forward Mike Accursi scored with two seconds left in the quarter for a 4-0 lead after 15 minutes of play.
Toronto’s power play got them back in it as forward Garrett Billings scored 27 seconds in and again with 6:55 left in the second quarter on an incredible behind-the-back shot before captain Colin Doyle pulled the Rock within a goal with 3:15 remaining in the half. The Knighthawks stopped the run with Cody Jamieson’s goal less than a minute later as Rochester took a 5-3 lead into halftime.
Accursi and Dan Dawson both scored to make it 7-3 Knighthawks midway through the third quarter before the Rock finally stopped the run with a nifty between-the-legs goal by Doyle with 1:21 left in the quarter.
After Toronto pulled within two goals down just 45 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Rochester responded with a three-goal run in a 45-second span less than five minutes later to pull ahead 10-5 and chase the Rock’s starting goalie Nick Rose, who finished with 31 saves on 41 shots.
The Rock stopped the four-goal run with three goals in less than two minutes to trail 11-8, but it was too little too late. After the Knighthawks scored an empty net goal, tempers flared on the field in the final seconds with the game in hand.
“There was a lot of good ball movement and a lot of good feet movement,” Hasen said. “This off week, I think quite a few of them took it to heart the way we were playing. They worked really hard on their own, and tonight, it was good to see.”
The veteran Accursi, who scored a hat trick and had a team-high five points (3+2), registered his 800th career point with an assist in the first quarter.
“It’s always good to have those personal things, but at the end of the day, nobody remembers how many points you get,” Accursi said. “Everybody remembers who many championships you win, and that’s my goal.”
Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc had an impressive 47 saves on 55 shots in the win.
“I think we did a good job for the most part defensively getting on their hands and not giving them a lot of easy looks at the net,” Vinc said. “Give those guys time and space and they’re going to score and they did that a little bit at the end of the game. Overall, I think it was a good team win.”
Rochester's defense played a man short on seven occasions, including a five-minute boarding major on Craig Point midway through the third quarter. The NLL’s top penalty-killing unit would limit the Rock to just a pair of power play goals on the night.
“We were trying to get into lanes and make them do things that they didn’t want to do,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “We dictated the pace a little bit, and Vinc came up big, real big. Especially when they have as many power plays as they did, it was good to see Vinc step up.”
“Our power play, I think, was pretty miserable tonight," Doyle said. “If there’s one thing I think we need to go back and look at, I think we had a chance to get back into the game on the power play, but we didn’t.”
The Rock were able to outgain the Knighthawks 86-52 in loose balls. Their advantage in loose balls gave the offense plenty of second and third-chance opportunities.
“It’s not a number we really want to see,” Hasen said. “We do have to get better at that because there were chances where we could have gotten that ball and we didn’t. We have to get better at that.”
“I thought we had a lot of good chances,” said Toronto head coach Troy Cordingley. “It’s disappointing but the effort is there. Sometimes on those nights, the ball doesn’t drop. Again, their goaltender was pretty sensational. I like the effort again, and if we get efforts like that, we are going to be okay.”
Billings (3+3) and Doyle (2+4) both had a game-high six points in the losing effort.
Tonight marked the first time that Toronto had been shut out in the first quarter in 18 regular season games, dating back to March 24, 2012 at Rochester, a game that the Rock came back to win.
The win and a loss by Philadelphia puts the Knighthawks in sole possession for second place in the East Division, two and a half games behind Toronto and a half game above the Wings.
Former Knighthawks goaltender and current goalie coach Pat O’Toole, who spent 12 seasons with the team and finished as the franchise’s all-time leader in almost every statistical category in net, was inducted to the team’s Hall of Fame during a pregame ceremony.
The Knighthawks will host the Wings in their regular season home finale next Saturday, April 6 at 6 p.m. ET on the NLL’s first CBS Sports Network broadcast of the season.
“We go out and work hard like we did tonight, it looks good for us the rest of the way,” Accursi said.