The Rochester Knighthawks travel north of the border to take on the Toronto Rock for Game 2 of the East Finals on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. Watch the game on ESPN3 (U.S.) + TSN3, TSN4 & TSN GO (Canada) as Rochester and Toronto battle for the right to represent the East Division in the Champion’s Cup Finals, which start next weekend. The game also airs live on MSG, Time Warner Cable Sports (Buffalo, Rochester & Syracuse) areas and with MASN2 in the Mid-Atlantic region. Fans outside North America can click here to watch.
The two teams met last week in a tough, physical battle with Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson providing the last-minute heroics to give Rochester a 10-9 victory over Toronto.
“It was definitely a good game,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “Every shift mattered. I think a lot of little things on both sides of the ball were key factors that kept the game close, kept it nice and tight. ‘Daws’ was at the right spot, right place, and he was able to sneak one by ‘B Miller.’”
The goal was a doozy and ESPN’s SportsCenter picked it up, giving the NLL and the Knighthawks some well-deserved national publicity.
However, even though the Knighthawks came away with a thrilling victory, they did not escape Game 1 unscathed. Cody Jamieson, the NLL’s 2014 Most Valuable Player, went down in the first quarter and did not return. He was spotted post-game on crutches with ice on his ankle and his availability for Saturday is in doubt.
“Cody’s got a lower body injury,” Hasen said. “I know he’s receiving treatment. He’s going to see the doctors again today (Wednesday). If you asked me tomorrow, I might have a better answer for you, but we will see what the docs say today. I know Jammer’s going to put himself in a position to make sure he’s in the best possible position to play for us on Saturday. We’ve just got to wait and see.”
Reports via social media on Wednesday afternoon did not paint a pretty picture for Jamieson’s prospects. Several media members reported that Jamieson has a torn Achilles that would sideline him for months. However, those reports were unconfirmed, and there has been no confirmation from the Knighthawks nor Jamieson himself.
The Knighthawks are not without experience of a top player going down in a crucial moment. The man who scored the game-winning goal last Saturday, Dan Dawson, went down in the first game of the Champion’s Cup series against Calgary last season.
This year, the Knighthawks are even deeper, so if Jamieson is out for any length of time, there will be quality players who will get time.
“We sat J-Dub (Joe Walters) last game,” Hasen said. “I know he’s going to be chomping at the bit if we call his number this week. We have eight guys up front that we have full confidence in no matter when, where, what position they’re in. They all know how to play the way we want to play and we expect nothing different moving forward this week no matter who is in our lineup.”
Sitting Joe Walters in a playoff game seemed unusual, but it is a testament to the incredible offensive depth that the Knighthawks have accumulated for this playoff run. Could this season’s team be even deeper than in previous seasons?
“I think this group here is one of the better ones we’ve had,” Hasen said. “Every week, we have to make the real tough decision of who’s not playing. I think in the past, we kind of had that, whether it be a young guy where you can make that easy choice and sit to learn and grow or guys that are banged up and hurt that we couldn’t put in. But when eight guys up front are healthy this year, it’s a tough choice. I really like the depth. We showed it last week. If one guy goes down, we have enough on the back end too that can step up and help and keep us rolling here. It’s probably one of our better years depth-wise.”
Injuries early in a game require on-the-fly adjustments, which the Knighthawks did admirably. One player who stepped up in a big way during Game 1 was transition player Brad Self. En route to being named the first star of the game, Self had a six-point effort (3+3) and spent time playing both defense and offense. It was a career high for Self and caught a number of people by surprise.
“I guess to a certain degree, we hold Selfer back a little bit,” Hasen said. “He plays a strong defensive game first and foremost… We know he has the capabilites, but to see him put up those kind of numbers is big. It’s huge. It was definitely needed last week.”
Heading into Toronto, the possibility of the famed 10-minute tiebreaker Game 3 is waiting in the wings if the Rock win Game 2. The Knighthawks are no stranger to the frenetic insanity of the tiebreaker, having used it to their advantage twice in the 2014 playoffs to dispatch the Buffalo Bandits and then the Calgary Roughnecks for their third-straight Champion’s Cup. Is that an advantage since the Rock have not dealt with the format yet?
“Yes and no, I guess,” Hasen said. “Every shift, every moment is so different than it was the last one. Our focus is getting ready for that opening faceoff and put our hard hats on, our work boots on, and see what comes at the end of it.. We’re just going to be there to give it our best and compete every single moment.”
The Rock, with their backs against the ropes, look to find redemption on its home floor on Saturday night. Toronto is just one loss away from being knocked out of the playoffs, a blow that would put an unsatisfying end to a record-setting 14-win season. Despite the loss however, the Rock roll into Game 2 with assurance they can run with the three-time defending champs. Toronto evened the score three different times in Game 1, each of which coming in the game’s second half.
“I’m proud of the way our guys played, we knew it was going to be a difficult game,” said Rock head coach John Lovell.
Toronto gave up a 5-1 run over the game’s first 20 minutes, but battled back admirably by going on their 5-1 run, stretching to the final second to the third frame. With the game tied 6-6 heading into the game’s final 15 minutes, the Rock had an opportunity to snag its first lead of the game. But to no avail. Rochester outscored Toronto 4-3, en route to their third win against the Rock this year.
“They’re difficult to chase, we got down 5-1, but much to our credit we battled back and tied it four or five times. At those times, we couldn’t get the go-ahead goal, but that’s why they’re the champions,” Lovell said. “I expect another tough game here. We knew if we wanted to win this thing, we were going to have to win Game 2, so that’s situation we’re in now.”
And that situation will be decided at Air Canada Centre, a place that the Rock haven’t played since an April 17 win against the New England Black Wolves. Toronto has amounted a league-best 7-2 record on home floor and have outscored their road opponents, 108-84.
“It’ll be nice to play in front of our home crowd, I think the fans will be into it and I think our team is going to feed off of that,” said Rock forward Rob Hellyer, who hasn’t played at the ACC since March 21.
“I think having home floor will be somewhat of an advantage,” Lovell said. “It would be great to have a good start, but we have to take it one shift at a time and work hard.”
By Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) & Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.