Rochester Knighthawks (11-4) host Vancouver Stealth (4-10) at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The first-place Rochester Knighthawks (11-4) host the playoff-minded Vancouver Stealth (4-10) at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the rematch of the 2013 NLL Championship live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
The Knighthawks have their sights set on clinching the East Division after a big home-and-home sweep of the Minnesota Swarm in Week 15.
“It was a tough weekend to say the least,” Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen said. “Minnesota is not what their record tells. They came out and worked hard for both games, and they really put us on our heels. We had some timely goals late in Friday night. We had to be on our toes the entire game on Saturday. It was good to see, and we're happy with the weekend.”
The second game against the Swarm featured Rochester calling on their backup goalie Angus Goodleaf rather than their starter Matt Vinc.
“It's real good for 'Gussie' there,” coach Hasen said. “He's worked hard, worked real hard these last couple of years. Each time 'Gussie' has come in this year, he's played real well. It was nice to reward him. But this week, we get back right at it, and everyone in this organization, this league knows 'Vno' is our guy. He's going to take us to where we need to go.”
The last time these two teams faced off, it was for the 2013 NLL Championship where the Knighthawks held on for an 11-10 victory to claim their second-straight Champion's Cup.
The stakes have changed, as have the teams. Rochester has a chance to clinch the number one seed in the East with a victory over Vancouver and a Buffalo Bandits loss to the Swarm.
“Now we know we've got another tough Vancouver team coming in here,” coach Hasen said. “We've got to be better than we were last weekend to say the least. It's a very good Vancouver team. We expect them to be at their best.”
“They're a great team,” Knighthawks forward Stephen Keogh said. “So we expect their best, especially them fighting for their playoff lives. We're just going to try and stick to our game plan and hopefully play a full 60 minutes. Offensively and defensively, I don't think we've done that quite yet this season.”
Keogh has been a very big part of the offensive success the Knighthawks have had the second half of the season.
“I've just been trying to work hard off the ball,” Keogh said. “Set some picks and clear through the middle and just getting some people open. Luckily the ball has been falling for me a little bit the past couple games, so hopefully that can continue. But with guys like Dan Dawson and Cody Jamieson on your team, the other defense kinda really focuses on them, so it opens up quite a bit for me and for guys like Johnny Powless and Cory Vitarelli. Hopefully we can continue clicking on offense and keep that chemistry going.”
Even with last year’s championship loss in the back of their mind, the Stealth know a lot more is at stake, as they head into this weekend’s matchup just a half game back of Colorado for the final playoff spot.
“It was a long time ago,” said Stealth head coach Chris Hall. “We need to look ahead, not behind us, to get us into playoff position.”
The Stealth seemed to take a big step in the right direction two weeks ago when they earned an impressive 12-8 victory over the Buffalo Bandits, but this past weekend’s 17-9 loss to the Toronto Rock was just the opposite.
“It was a disappointing game against Toronto,” said Hall. “We got off to a bad start and it got a bit worse from there. It’s back to the drawing board at practice to try and fix the things that aren't working.”
So far this season the Stealth have played some of their best lacrosse against the top teams in the league, including the still undefeated Edmonton Rush. The Stealth were in a position to end the Rush’s historic streak in both meetings this season but fell just short, losing 9-8 at home and 10-9 in Edmonton.
The Stealth now face a red-hot Knighthawks team that has won eight of their last 10 games and has already clinched a playoff spot.
“This weekend’s going to be tough,” said Stealth veteran Lewis Ratcliff. “It’s a tough building to play in and it’s a tough road trip as well. But we don't have any other choice, we just need to play our best and hopefully come up with a win. Every game is important at this time of the year.”