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Philadelphia’s fictional legend Rocky Balboa once said, “Every champion was once a contender who refused to give up.”

Deacan Knott may not be a boxer like Balboa was, but he is the ultimate competitor. There is never a game when Knott is on a lacrosse floor and settled in between the pipes where he isn’t giving his team a fighting chance to win.

Knott spent the 2022-23 NLL season as a practice roster goaltender for the Philadelphia Wings.

This past weekend at the Minto Cup, Canada’s Jr. A lacrosse championship, Knott and the Ontario Junior Lacrosse League’s Burlington Blaze refused to give up against the Coquitlam Jr. A Adanacs. Their valiant effort earned the Blaze their first Minto Cup in the organization’s history.

Photo courtesy of the Ontario Lacrosse Association

En route to the title, the 20-year-old Knott and the Blaze took down the Orangeville Northmen, who were 27-0 (regular season and playoffs included), in the OJLL finals and then defeated the Coquitlam Adanacs, British Columbia’s premier junior lacrosse program over the last 15 years, to win the national title. But, all of this almost never happened for Knott or the Blaze.

Near the OJLL trade deadline, Knott, then a member of his hometown Peterborough Jr. A Lakers, and his teammates Zack Thompson and Ben Trumble, were shipped to the Blaze as part of a deal that meant to increase the chances of the Blaze winning the Minto Cup. The plan worked.

Being sent to a new team with teammates and friends he knew well made the adjustment easier. The change was also made easier as Knott was now going to be playing for his Wings’ teammate, Alex Crepinsek, who is one of the Blaze’s assistant coaches.

Between Knott’s natural confidence and desire to prove to the world he is an elite goaltender and the comfortability he felt with his new squad because of the familiar faces on the team, Knott was able to seamlessly transition into his new role and deliver great success to his team.

Before Knott arrived in Burlington, the Blaze were 7-4. After Knott arrived with the Blaze, the team went 23-5 (OJLL playoffs and Minto Cup included). During his national championship run,  Knott had a save percentage of over 80% in 21 of the 28 games and had over a dozen 40+ save games.

Photo courtesy of the Ontario Lacrosse Association

Highlights included a 63-save performance in the OJLL finals-clinching victory against the Northmen in Game 6 of the OJLL finals, and a Minto Cup run in which he never allowed more than 10 goals in each of the five games, had a save percentage of 86% for the tournament, and made 40+ saves in four of the five games, including two 50+ save games.

Knott’s ability to step up to the occasion, matched with his exuberance between the pipes, was a recipe for great success and was palpable on the floor and in the locker room, according to Blaze head coach Dan MacRae.

“I think anyone that meets Deacan and spends a little bit of time with him, you walk away and realize he’s special,” MacRae said. “He’s so positive. It’s not like he’s so over-the-top, wanting to be the voice in the room, but he just wants to make sure everyone is comfortable, and everyone is going to feel his positive energy. He motivates just by being himself. His attitude and competitiveness, I truly believe, is contagious in the group.”

“We’re very pleased with [Deacan’s] development, and it’s definitely because of his work ethic,” Wings’ general manager Paul Day said. “When he was with us in Philly last year, we’d practice, and he’d take a lot of shots, but then I’d see him on Friday nights at the hotel – he knows he’s not playing the next day, but he’s in the gym.”

“[Deacan] and [Zach Higgins] are both very active,” Day said. “They don’t give up a lot of rebounds, and the ball is in their sticks. If we can continue to improve our transition game – and obviously that starts with our goaltenders moving the ball fast – I think we’ve seen [Deacan] is an outstanding passer. He’ll be even better with a plastic stick. That progression from our goaltending to transition is going to create more opportunities offensively.”

The drive comes from a deep desire to want to do anything to help him and his teammates win games. Knott thrives on being the last line of defense. There is no moment that is too big for Knott. On the contrary, he welcomes any situation where he can play a significant and consequential role on the team’s results.

“It’s about what you can do for your team, and it’s those reactions that you get in the dressing room from a save in a game or something like that,” Knott said. “It makes you want to drive for more and do the absolute best you can do.”

This is precisely the mentality Knott will need to have once the NLL season rolls around, even in his non-featuring role. Zach Higgins, who is having a very impressive summer season in his own right with the Western Lacrosse Association (WLA) champion New Westminster Salmonbellies, will be the Wings starting goaltender this upcoming season. Knott knows this and understands he has more to do to take the #1 spot between the pipes for the Wings.

“He’s behind a great goaltender, and he’s being coached by a great guy in Paul Day, who’s coached me before,” MacRae said. “He’s going to have a shot to showcase his talents; I just think the hardest thing will be being patient and waiting for that chance. But, I can tell you this: when the opportunity does come knocking, he’ll be ready.”

Higgins and Knott have been developing their bond even before Knott was selected by the Wings in the second round (38th overall) in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft. Knott, from Curve Lake, just outside of Peterborough, and Higgins, the Whitby product, have known each other since 2019 and have been building their relationship ever since.

When Knott was eventually drafted by the Wings, he was once again comforted that he already knew many of the guys on the team. Other than Higgins, Knott has been friendly with the Cattonis for years and got to know a bunch of the other guys after being called up to join the Major Series Lacrosse’s Peterborough Sr. A Lakers for a game in 2022 – a handful of Lakers players and staff are still on the Wings today, including head coach Paul Day.

“It made it so much easier to make that leap towards getting to know guys, be friendly with them, and feel welcomed,” Knott said. “[Higgins’] playing style – I’ve learned a lot from, especially in the last year, from just watching how he plays and does things that really work. I’ve incorporated quite a lot of his playing style into my play as well.”

Heading into this NLL season, Knott is clear about his objective: help the Wings win an NLL Cup. Knott proved that he can make a tremendously positive impact on his team if given the opportunity. Now, he just needs to wait for those times to come at the pro level.

“Honestly, that’s one of my biggest dreams in the entire world forever,” Knott said. “I always used to watch Matt Vinc and saw him lift that Cup in Buffalo, and, growing up, I’ve seen him lift the Mann Cup in Peterborough. That’s been my ultimate goal: to hold that NLL Cup. If I can do something to help Philadelphia get there and get that done in my career, it’d truly be a dream come true.”

Despite having just completed a mentally and physically grueling Minto Cup run, Knott is more ready than ever to get going with the Wings. He wants to give back to the team that has given him this opportunity to play at the highest level of box lacrosse.

If he wasn’t on your radar before this summer, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the lacrosse world who doesn’t now know who Deacan Knott is and what he is capable of. This is just the beginning for the budding star, and he is not going to let anyone or anything get in the way of achieving his dreams.

“I know we just finished up a couple of days ago, and we played a lot of lacrosse in the last two months, but I’m excited to strap the pads back on and get behind some of those unbelievable shots in the league,” Knott said. “It’s going to be amazing to see the guys again.

“What’s going through my head is that I need to keep proving myself. I need to prove myself until I get to the top, and that’s always been my goal.”