Minnesota tops Rochester with preseason road win before crowd of 10,073
The three-time defending NLL champion Rochester Knighthawks took to the turf at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night in front of 10,073 raucous fans to open the preseason in their first game back home since winning the title last May. But it was the Minnesota Swarm, keyed by four goals and seven points from rookie Miles Thompson, who stole the show with a hard-fought 14-8 win in the exhibition opener.
The rookie Thompson, the co-winner of the Tewaaraton Award who was selected by Minnesota with the third overall pick in the 2014 NLL Draft out of University at Albany, tallied seven points (4G, 3A) in his pro debut.
“What was great about him is he came into the game a rookie,” coach Sullivan said. “But he really immediately played like a man that had been here for a while, with the poise and confidence that you would expect a guy to maybe have five or six years in the league. Not only did he get the four goals and the assists, but I think he could have thrown the ball at the net a few more times. He started to use his linemates out there and they started to play better.”
“I definitely feel good about it,” Thompson said. “One thing my brother texted me was play with confidence. It was something I went out there and did today.”
He paced the Swarm attack, but they also received quality contributions from Kiel Matisz (2G, 2A all in the third) and Jordan MacIntosh (2G).
“(Andrew) Suitor said in the huddle when we first got out there, ‘Change those nerves into good feelings’,” Thompson told MNSwarm.com. “To be honest, I was a little nervous going out there, but I realized what he was talking about. After my first shift I was a little nervous, but then I started to get the hang of it, and it started clicking after that.”
Still, there were many positives to draw from the game for Rochester, especially the impressive turnout in the stands.
“Great crowd,” said Knighthawks forward Joe Walters, who had four points (2G, 2A). “We’re really excited for our fans. It’s always nice to have a huge crowd.”
Not only was it a homecoming for the champs, it was also a reunion of sorts for Jordan Hall, who made his return to the BCA as a member of the Knighthawks since being reacquired by the team from New England during the offseason.
“It’s great coming back,” Hall said. “It’s great seeing an arena that was so full tonight, that was really cool. Loved having everyone come out and supporting.”
His second debut was impressive, notching two goals. His Knighthawks debut was not the only notable one against the Swarm. Gavin Prout, who signed as a free agent prior to training camp, tallied three assists.
“Both of them were good,” Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen said. “Both moved the ball well and their feet well.”
“Two superstars,” Walters said. “Two guys that are elite players in the league that have proven themselves. They’re going to help us immensely. You have two guys like that, it can be a special season.”
The Knighthawks, between the contributions of the new additions and the players from last year’s Cup run, were able to keep the game close as the third quarter opened. When Dan Dawson (2G, 3A) scored his second of the night less than three minutes into the third, the Knighthawks drew within one, 6-5.
Then the Swarm took the game over with speed, going on a 5-0 run in the third that put them out of Rochester’s reach for good.
“Fitness,” coach Hasen said. “Minnesota took it to us most of that game. They showed we’ve got to reach a new level.”
“We know we’re young,” Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan said. “We know we had to be fast and our competition level had to be high. I think the guys did that today. Rochester is always a tough place to play, tough place to win.”
The Knighthawks were without three contributors from last year’s team. Forwards Cory Vitarelli and Stephen Keogh, along with transition player Brad Self, did not dress for the game.
The Knighthawks finish off their preseason against the Toronto Rock on Sunday December 14th at 2 p.m. ET at Bell Centre in Montreal. They return home to the Blue Cross Arena to open the season against the Rock on January 3.
Meanwhile, Minnesota travels up to Toronto Rock Athletic Centre for a Sunday scrimmage with the Calgary Roughnecks at 12 p.m. ET.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Miles Thompson
2) Kiel Matisz
3) Jordan MacIntosh