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Knighthawks & Wings flying high headed into first meeting

01/07/2014, 12:15am EST
By Knighthawks beat writer Travis Larner for NLL.com

Hall of Fame night in Rochester on Saturday with Philadelphia in town

The Rochester Knighthawks (1-0) will host the Philadelphia Wings (1-0) at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

The Rochester Knighthawks (1-0) continue their 20th anniversary season with a Week 3 matchup against the Philadelphia Wings (1-0) at The Blue Cross Arena on Saturday, Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Click here to watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

Before the two teams clash on the turf, the Knighthawks organization will honor the inaugural team from the 1995 season and induct the team’s founder, Steve Donner, as the 12th member of the Knighthawks Hall of Fame.

Twenty years ago, Donner introduced the City of Rochester to indoor lacrosse with the Knighthawks. This was just a few years after he helped form the Buffalo Bandits. He was also an integral piece in the evolution of the National Lacrosse League.

“He’s a guy that really loves the game,” said assistant coach Paul Day, who was an assistant and head coach for the Knighthawks under Donner’s ownership. “He brought the Bandits to Buffalo back then, and three years later, started the team in Rochester.

“He’s a guy that really took the league from a different level to individual ownership, and really kind of turned it into a profession.”

Along with Donner, original members of Knighthawks will be on hand to celebrate the team’s 20th anniversary, including Randy Mearns, Tim Soudan, Chris Driscoll, Jeremy Hollenbeck, and the NLL’s Vice President of Lacrosse Operations who scored the first goal in franchise history, Brian Lemon. The 1995 Knighthawks took the league by storm, reaching the Championship Game in their first season. Rochester lost in overtime in the finals to the Wings, who successfully defended their 1994 title.

The Knighthawks  are coming off a bye week after defeating the Minnesota Swarm, 8-6, in the season opener on Dec. 28. According to Day, the week off was beneficial.  Not only did the team have an opportunity to study film and work on conditioning, it gave forwards Craig Point and Cory Vitarelli a more time to rest.

“If it was the playoffs, they were both going to play,” Day said. “We knew we had that extra week between game one and game two. They took that first week off, so it gave them three extra weeks rest.”

According to Cody Jamieson, Point and Vitarelli each bring a different set of skills to the offense, which only netted eight goals in the opener.

“On the left side, Cory Vitarelli brings that inside presence. Him and Johnny Powless really can work a two-man game. He fights hard for ground balls,” Jamieson said. “On the right side with Craig, I think he can really spread a defense out. He’s got a really good shot from the outside.”

Since the 2009 season finale, the Knighthawks are 13-1 against the Wings. Defensively, netminder Matt Vinc has held the Wings to just over eight goals per game in nine regular season games as a Knighthawk.

“I think the last couple years we’ve had great goaltending from Matt Vinc, which really has been the difference against them a lot,” said Day, who also credited “good luck” to his team’s streak of success against the Wings.

Vinc’s biggest challenge may be his former teammate. Jordan Hall, who was traded to Philadelphia along with Paul Rabil in the trade for the Dawson brothers, led the Wings with a career-high five goals in their 17-13 win over the Bandits. However, Hall averaged only one goal and one assist in four games against his old team in 2013.

“It’s a team I’m pretty familiar with,” Hall said. “Obviously they play pretty tight and they got great goaltending. It will be definitely a challenge after 17 in Buffalo to try and repeat something like that against them.”

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