Thanks to his “one game at a time approach” and his impeccable work ethic on and off the turf, few goalies in league history have accomplished what the Rochester Knighthawks Matt Vinc has achieved over the last 13 years.
On top of winning Goaltender of the Year five times (three more than any other goalie) and becoming an NLL Champion’s Cup winner three times, this season, Vinc became only the second netminder – Anthony Cosmo is the other – to surpass 7,000 regular season saves (Vinc has 7,118 stops and is only 104 behind Cosmo for the record), and, just last week he became the NLL’s all-time postseason saves leader, heading into this year’s NLL Finals having amassed 847 postseason stops over a league-most 1,386 playoff minutes played.
But, before Vinc became the eventual-Hall of Fame player he is today, he came into the league set to be a benchwarmer and destined to go through growing pains.
“When you’re young and coming out of Junior, you kind of expect things to be easy,” Vinc said of his early years in the NLL. “I was fortunate to get drafted into a good situation in San Jose where there was no pressure. They had one of the best goalies of all-time in Anthony Cosmo and another great starting goalie in Brandon Miller, so I didn’t expect to play at all. I used that time to learn from them – those two guys were great. They definitely helped me settle in, especially with the adjustment with the bigger net.”
The following year, Vinc was selected by the New York Titans in the NLL Expansion Draft. After spending just 14 minutes in net during his rookie-season, Vinc was thrown into the starting role for the Titans to put all he had learned in San Jose to the test.
“Going into a situation as I did in New York, I faced a lot of shots,” Vinc stated. “We were a young team that was trying to find an identity. That ultimately helped me adjust to the different styles of play in the NLL.”
Aside from Cosmo, Miller, and his other teammates, Vinc credits the coaching staffs he’s played for since 2006 for breeding him into the prolific goaltender he is today.
“I’ve had great coaches throughout my career,” Vinc said. “Just looking at a few of them, Ed Comeau is one of the guys that helped me through my career, and now Mike Hasen. These guys showed me the importance of video and prep. You can only do so much on the floor. It’s all about the mental preparation, studying the game and all the different aspects that go into knowing the position. That has been the biggest help over my career. It’s all the things off the turf that have helped me to do everything that I have achieved.”
Regarding winning championships, it wasn’t until Vinc’s second year in Rochester that one of his teams began to establish itself as a dominant force in this league. Vinc once again points to excellent veteran leadership being a key reason to his past team’s successes and believes that this 2018 squad has the same traits as the Knighthawks clubs that won the Champion’s Cups in 2012, 2013, and 2014.
“During those times in Rochester, we had great leadership,” Vinc said of his Champion’s Cup three-peat teams. “We had a great coaching staff in Mike Hasen, Pat O’Toole, and at that point, Paul Day. I look at our captains; Pat McCready is one of the best leaders I’ve ever had and when I look at the supporting leaders like Mike Accursi, that, during that time, these were proven winners in the summer and in the NLL. We used those guys and their experiences to learn how to win in big games. Now with this squad, I feel we the same type of people in place. We have guys like Sid Smith, Billy Dee Smith, Cody Jamieson, they all have championship pedigree, and that’s been a huge part of the Knighthawks success.”
If there’s one thing on the Knighthawks side headed into the NLL Finals against the Saskatchewan Rush, it’s that they were the only team to defeat the Rush twice this year. However, Vinc says, that while the regular season wins were significant, the Rush have still had the upper-hand since they lost to the Knighthawks in the 2012 Champion’s Cup.
“We had a couple of good games against a very talented group,” Vinc said of his team’s victories over the Rush this year. “They might be one of the best-coached teams in the league with Derek Keenan, and they run a system as near-perfect as you can get. We’re going to have our hands full, and we know they’re going to watch film and try to throw a wrinkle in there to catch us off guard. We don’t think we have the upper hand because we won two games. If you look at the last five or six years, we have a lot of losses against them. We know we’re playing the top team and we know we have to play our best games to give ourselves a chance.”
Vinc’s defensive teammates, however, have confidence that their goaltender can continue to shine as one of the league’s best in net for a few more games to bring the first NLL Cup to Rochester for the team’s first championship since 2014 and their fifth title overall.
“Being behind the scenes, I get to see how hard [Vinc] works,” Knighthawks Defender Scott Campbell said of Vinc. “All the accolades that he’s earned comes from all the work he puts in on and off the turf. He makes it look easy out there, but, he’s in the gym every single day, watching film, taking shots at practice. Whatever it is, he’s doing it better and spending more time at it then anyone else has in the past.”
“It makes our job easier,” Knighthawks Defender Paul Dawson said of Vinc’s effort each game. “You’re not worried about screwing up or giving up shots because you know that if you do, most likely Vinc is going to make that save. At the same time, when you have a guy like that in net, you play harder knowing how good he is and what he can do. It’s great to see a guy like Vinc finally grab all the records he did this year. It’s a nice tip of the cap to him.”
The belief that the Knighthawks can upset the top-seed Rush on their home turf Saturday in Saskatoon is present. Now, if each player can put in the effort the Vinc puts in each game, they will have a chance to beat the Rush for a third time this season and possibly go on to win the NLL Cup in few weeks time.