Every time the East Division has a chance to shake itself out into some semblance of order this season, nights like tonight happen. The Rochester Knighthawks (9-8) had a chance to lock up the first postseason berth in the division with a win, but goalie Aaron Bold and his defense led the New England Black Wolves to an 11-6 victory in front of 8,143 fans at the Blue Cross Arena.
“It’s what’s needed,” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “He played great. You don’t win in this league without, I wouldn’t say great goaltending, but above-average goaltending. He was very good. He was well above average tonight. That’s what you need. If you’re going to have success, you need that. In the games we’ve won, he’s been very good.”
The performance was not lost on Rochester head coach Mike Hasen.
“We said earlier today that maybe it was Boldy we weren’t able to beat with him being in Edmonton and Saskatoon,” said Hasen. “We haven’t beat him yet. Kidding aside, he was real good. Their ‘D’ was good.”
That was never more apparent than when New England was on the penalty kill, only allowing one power play goal in three chances, including a five-minute major. In fact, Bold’s play helped engineer two short-handed goals.
“He was real good today, especially on those penalty kills,” Clark said. “We took that five-minute major, we actually came out one-nothing on it. I think we had two short-handed goals. On that major, we didn’t give up a goal and we scored. Those are huge swings, and it was him making great saves.”
The Knighthawks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after Scott Campbell scored in his 200th career game followed by rookie Austin Shanks. New England got within one with less than 10 seconds remaining in the first before tying the game early in the second quarter. The Knighthawks briefly retook the lead after Kyle Jackson netted his lone goal of the night, but New England tied it again less than a minute later before taking their first lead of the night late in the second quarter.
When Shanks scored his second of the night less than two minutes into the second half to tie the game, the BCA was rocking.
The Black Wolves responded in a big way with a three-goal run over two and a half minutes. It was led by three former Rochester players. Dylan Evans, released by the Knighthawks in March and signed by New England only three days later, gave the Black Wolves the lead again less than a minute later. Johnny Powless made it a two-goal lead 1:13 later, then Adam Bomberry scored 3:10 later to make it 7-4.
While Rochester has made a season out of coming back from tight spots and may have had a chance to do so when Eric Fannell scored almost a minute and a half later, the Black Wolves had another two-goal run in them to make it 9-5. John LaFontaine scored his second of the night in transition late in the third, and then Stephan Leblanc netted his second early in the fourth.
Joe Resetarits had a quiet night, but his lone goal of the night late in the fourth cut the lead to three and gave the arena some hope.
New England netted two empty netters in the span of 24 seconds, one by Brett Manney and the second by Colton Watkinson, to ice the game.
In fact, Black Wolves defenders and transition players accounted for six of their 11 goals. Two of them were the aforementioned short-handed goals. Their presence was felt despite giving up 65 shots on Bold.
“That’s huge,” Clark said about the transition goals. “Those are difference-makers. If you can come out on top in the transition battle, that’s big.”
“They capitalized on what they got,” Hasen said. “In the fourth quarter, it buried us.”
Clark was also quick to note that the defense made life easier for Bold by the quality of the shots he faced.
“A lot of those shots were shots we want to give up,” Clark said. “Pushing people to space, predictable. Those are shots that [Bold] can step out and be aggressive, he knows he has coverage on the backside. The number is big, but it’s like Rochester. They’ll give you looks that they want you to take. We had a few of those, and Bold was big, he still has to make the save. It was great all around. I thought our ‘D’ played excellent, to be honest.”
“We were off tonight,” Hasen said. “A lot of credit goes to them, because they were good. They were in lanes, they were big, they were strong, they were disrupting what we wanted to do.”
“You can’t score six goals,” said Rochester forward Joe Resetarits. “I think everybody knows that and knows this game that six goals isn’t going to win you a game. Their ‘D’ played well. Boldy was amazing tonight. Every game this year, he’s stood on his head against us. Their ‘D’, they’re big, they pack it in, they got in lanes. They did a good job of that.”
Rochester had a chance to lock down a playoff spot, and with the Buffalo Bandits dropping their game, they would have locked up at least second place in the division and a home playoff game. Instead, two games separate the first-place Georgia Swarm, who were idle this weekend, and the last-place Toronto Rock who kept their playoff lives afloat with a victory over Buffalo. The Black Wolves and Rochester sit only half a game back of the Swarm, but New England hold the second spot in the division due to the season sweep over the Knighthawks. Buffalo sits a full game back of the Swarm.
“It’s nuts,” Clark said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t know what’s going to happen with the next game, but right now nobody’s in, nobody’s out. Just crazy, man. It’s just unbelievable.”
“It’s pretty crazy,” Hasen said. “Every game, every shift, every loose ball, every movement a guy makes matters. It’s great lacrosse.”
The craziness means that even after a 2-6 start to the season and a deflating loss like this, Rochester still controls its own destiny. A victory over the Bandits and Rochester is in the playoffs. There is still much to be decided next weekend.
“It’s a crazy year for the East, that’s for sure,” Resetarits said. “We know we control our own destiny. We win, we can easily go in there and play with any team when we’re on. These are the games that we enjoy, fun games. Something important’s on the line like that, if you can’t get up for those type of games, you shouldn’t be playing. We’re all going to be excited, we’re all going to be ready to go, that’s for sure. We know what’s at stake. Our destiny is right in front of us. We’ve just got to win.”
The Knighthawks head west for the final regular season installment of the Thruway Rivalry against Buffalo with a playoff berth at stake on Saturday April 28 at 7:30PM ET. The Black Wolves wait until Sunday April 29 at 5:00PM ET to take on Georgia with a playoff spot likely on the line.
Three stars as voted on by the media:
- Aaron Bold
- Johnny Powless
- Austin Shanks