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Defense First: Knighthawks Edge Rock For First Win, 8-6

The Rochester Knighthawks (1-2) earned the team’s first win of 2015 and handed its East Division rival Toronto Rock (3-1) its first loss with an 8-6 defensive battle victory at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night. It was the second meeting between the two teams in the young NLL season, as the Rock took Week 1 opener by a score of 13-12 at the BCA.

The night was a milestone night for Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson as the matchup was the league’s active ironman’s 200th consecutive game played.

“I’ve been blessed to play in this league for a long time,” Dawson said. “It’s a testament to the training staff that I’ve surrounded myself with, the strength and conditioning coaches that keep me game ready. I’m very lucky to play the game I love for such a long time. Tonight, it’s nice to say you’ve played in 200 games, but more importantly we got the win, and that’s all I really care about.”

“It’s a credit to Dan’s career so far,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “I’m sure he’s going to be having a few more of these games.”

The Rock opened the scoring 55 seconds into the game, perhaps giving the impression that it would be a high-scoring affair. That was not to be, though. It was a defensive struggle throughout. The game was tied at 2-2 at halftime, the lowest score at the half in the last 159 NLL games.

“It was nice to get that monkey off our back,” Hasen said. “It was a good team win… Both units and both goalies played exceptionally well. It was a gutsy, gutsy game. I think a lot of credit goes to the referees tonight. They did let us play. If we can play like that and have that kind of game on that side of things, it’s going to be a good game and it’s going to be an entertaining game. We just stuck within ourselves. They knew where the line was tonight and they didn’t quite cross it as many times as we have in the past.”

“These are two really defensive-minded teams,” Dawson said. “A lot of big bodies out there. Guys are in the lanes knocking down passes. You’ve got two tremendous goalies in Brandon Miller and Matt Vinc. It just goes to show sometimes you’re scoring high, but you’ve got to squeeze these out. You wish you could dictate, you want to put up 16 a night, but sometimes you can’t. You’ve got to gut it out and put up eight… It was a total defensive win tonight.”

“Like Dan said, it’d be nice to put up 16 goals, but we know that’s not going to happen in this league,” said Knighthawks forward Cory Vitarelli who scored twice. “Tonight, eight goals is what it took to win and we’ll take it… That’s our team, we’ve always been able to count on our defense to step up, and tonight Matt Vinc was solid back there. Our defense, you could see it compared to the first two games, playing a lot harder, stronger, blocking shots in the lanes. It was just a good game all around for us tonight.”

It was especially a struggle for the Rock, having played Friday night against the Buffalo Bandits and then turn around to come to Rochester the next night.

“Brandon Miller gave us great goaltending, gave us a chance to win,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “We knew we just had to find some way to stay in this game as long as we could. As cliche as it may be, we took this game a shift at a time and looked at every shift as being an investment in what we had to do here to get to the end. So we stayed in the game for a long time and it just got away from us in two or three minutes there… It was a tough battle. I’d like to make excuses that we played last night, but I don’t think that was an issue. We played hard for 60 minutes and give ourselves a chance. Just couldn’t get it done… Our offense wasn’t as good as it has been, but that’s what happens when you play back-to-back games.”

One of the lone bright spot’s for the Rock offense was Kevin Ross with four points (2+2).

“He’s a good-sized guy who shoots the ball,” Lovell said. “He’s been around, he’s played in the league for a while. He got a big goal for us last night, got some key ones for us tonight.”

“That was a heck of a battle back and forth,” Ross said. “We took looks we could get, Vno made a lot of big saves. I just tried to get inside them. It was a tough game, it was definitely a tough battle. We need to take advantage of our opportunities and more often than not, Vno was there tonight.”

For the Knighthawks, Joel Matthews was activated and he made his mark on the game with two points (1+1) and physical play.

“It was big for us,” Hasen said. “He’s doing a lot of the inside work, a lot of the dirty work. He’s creating space for our righties, Dawson and (Craig Point) there. We know when he gets the ball on his stick and he has an opportunity, he’s going to bury it. It was good to see.”

“Feels great,” Matthews said. “Last year, I only got in two games, I was injured, and the two games were against Rochester. It was a little weird coming and playing for the other side, but it was awesome. All the guys have welcomed me with open arms. Great team camaraderie. It’s really easy to transition into your role when you’ve got guys being really positve and backing you up. The crowd was amazing. Just all those things make it easier to feel comfortable to do your job. That’s all I was trying to do all night was just do my job and do what the coaches asked me to do.

“Anytime you can contribute, it’s big. It makes it a lot easier when you’ve got guys like Cody Jamieson and Dawson and all these amazing players to get you open and to help you out. That’s basically it, the rest is easy. Once those guys do all the work for you, you’ve just got to put it in the net. I got my opportunity tonight and I had to make the most of it. I think I did.”

Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:

1) Matt Vinc
2) Brandon Miller
3) Joel Matthews

By Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Larry Palumbo.