If the Rochester Knighthawks making it back to .500 after a six-game losing streak put them at 2-6 was improbable, how improbable is 8-7 and a share of first place in the East? That is exactly where the Knighthawks find themselves after defeating the Colorado Mammoth 16-14 in front of 6,228 fans Saturday night.
Just like the entire season has been, this win was not easy. The Mammoth got on the board early and often in the first half, opening the game with three goals in the first 6:04. Former Rochester forward Stephen Keogh got the third goal of the run and he was no where near finished with that, finishing the night with seven goals and two assists.
“I was talking to Coach (Dan) Stroup during the game there,” said Mammoth head coach Pat Coyle. “I said once every four or five years, you get to see something like this. He was on fire, and he was dialed in. We had Adam Jones do it a few times, had John Grant Jr do it a few times, seen (Colin) Doyle do it a few times, he’s in pretty good company.”
“I was just trying to move my feet and get the ball on net,” said Keogh. “It’s more on my teammates finding me when I’m open, banging bodies to get me open. The thing is we lost. It was a tough loss for us. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes and just move on.”
This was Keogh’s first game at the Blue Cross Arena where he sported colors other than Rochester’s purple and teal, and it was a big moment for him.
“It was an emotional game for me,” Keogh said. “First time back. This organization did so much for me. Winning three championships here, being here throughout more of my career has been good. All those guys, I’m still really close with them. Great place to play, I was excited.”
Ryan Benesch was a big part of Keogh’s night. Benesch finished with seven points (1+6), and three of his assists occurred on goals scored by Keogh.
Joe Resetarits answered back to get the Knighthawks on the board, continuing his career season. While he may not have had quite the game Keogh had, Resetarits was definitely an impact player, putting up a hat trick and six points total on the night.
Colorado then reeled off two straight to make it 5-1 before the Knighthawks responded with a two goal run to make it 5-3 at the half. Jake Withers got the first goal for Rochester and it was his only point of the night, but he was dominant at the dot, going 25-for-32 and taking sixth place in franchise history for faceoff wins.
After trading goals in the first minute and a half of the second to make it 6-4, the Mammoth went on a 4-1 run over the next five minutes to make it 10-5 less than halfway through the second, leaving the crowd reeling. The run was keyed by Keogh scoring three times and another former Rochester player in Brad Self scoring in transition. In fact, the five-goal margin could be explained as former Knighthawks scoring against their old team as Keogh had four goals at that point in the game along with Self’s lone tally of the night.
After Keogh scored his second of the run, Rochester head coach Mike Hasen made the decision to pull starting goalie Matt Vinc and put in backup goalie Angus Goodleaf with the score 8-4. While the Mammoth were able to put two more past Goodleaf to get to 10-5, he was a difference maker in net, making 30 saves on 36 shots faced.
“He was real good,” said Hasen. “It’s a tough spot. We said to the boys it’s a tough spot for Gussy to be in, because in my opinon, we have the best goalie in this league on our team. He just sits in there, and for years, he’s just biding his time. We know that at the same time, when we do put him in, he’s going to be ready to go. Tonight, shaky at the start, but he settled in nicely for us, and he was a big reason why we got this win, which is great.”
While Rochester could have folded, they instead channeled the resilience found through bouncing back from that six-game losing streak and scored five goals of their own over the next seven minutes to tie the game just before half. The crowd was back in a big way.
The Mammoth could have wilted at that point. They were coming off a Friday night victory against the Toronto Rock. They could have used the excuse of tired legs.
“We were happy with the way we came out,” Coyle said. “Toronto, they ran us to the ground, they played hard, they had a bunch of transition goals against us. We knew Rochester saw that, and they ran us hard all night. Maybe at the end of the day, the legs were a factor in the fourth quarter, but it’s not like we didn’t know it was going to happen, right? We’re not using that as an excuse. We just played against a team that’s really good tonight, and they came at us.”
The Mammoth in turn made the same decision Hasen made earlier in the quarter. When Graeme Hossack tied the game at 10 with a transition breakaway goal, Colorado head coach Pat Coyle went to his bench, putting Steve Fryer in for starter Dillon Ward. Fryer’s impact was identical to Goodleaf’s, allowing six goals in relief while facing two extra shots.
“I thought he looked real good,” Coyle said. “They were coming at us hard in that second half, and he made some big saves for us, point-blankers, just like Goodleaf did for them. We’ve got two great goalies, and it doesn’t matter who’s in net, we’re happy with both.”
Then Keogh struck with his fifth goal of the game with 47 seconds left in the half to make it 11-10. The score held at the buzzer, but even with that, the crowd was feeling it.
The Knighthawks opened the second half with three straight goals over the first 10 minutes with Cory Vitarelli completing his hat trick, Cody Jamieson getting his first of the night, and then Kyle Jackson scoring his lone goal of the night. Rochester turned a 10-5 deficit into a 13-11 lead in 17:04 of game time.
The Mammoth were not done. Eli McLaughlin scored his second of the night to make it 13-12. Then Keogh struck twice more, once with only 13 seconds left in the third, then again only 1:14 into the fourth to give Colorado the 14-13 lead.
The Mammoth held the lead for more than seven minutes, but Greg Downing took a holding the stick penalty and Austin Shanks tied the game up with 5:59 left in the fourth. Jamieson gave Rochester the lead with under two minutes to go, and Shanks put his second of the night in the back of the net with 1:18 left to make it 16-14.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Coyle said. “You’ve just got to make sure you’re riding those momentum swings the right way. They get four or five, two or three, you’ve got to just have a short memory and be ready for the next shift.”
All that was left was for Goodleaf to make a stellar transition save with under 50 seconds to play that could have turned momentum right back to the Mammoth, and Rochester was able to slam the door on any comeback opportunity.
“It was not the script for the most part,” Hasen said. “But an entertaining game. . . It’s great to come away with the ‘W’ at home.”
The Knighthawks have the bye week before a Friday night matchup on April 13 against the Toronto Rock that will have big repercussions on the East standings as there is barely any separation between the teams.
Meanwhile, the Mammoth head to the Sasktel Centre to take on the Saskatchewan Rush to try to tighten the 1.5 game lead the Rush currently hold for the West Division lead.
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