The Rochester Knighthawks were greeted by 6,421 raucous fans applauding a 2014 championship montage prior to Saturday night’s game against the Toronto Rock at Blue Cross Arena. Unfortunately for the Knighthawks and the Rochester faithful, the Rock (1-0) spoiled the Knighthawks’ 2015 season opener with a 13-12 come-from-behind victory.
The Knighthawks (0-1) came out of the gate hot, staking themselves to an early 3-0 lead in the first before entering halftime with a 9-7 lead. Cody Jamieson with eight points (2G, 6A all in the first half) and Dan Dawson with six points (2G, 4A) helped pace the first-half assault, but two players that were not on last season’s championship roster made their presences felt for the host Knighthawks.
Jordan Hall, who was drafted by the Knighthawks and was a member of the 2012 championship team, had three points (1G, 2A) in his return to the BCA as a member of Rochester.
“Obviously, the loss weighs on everyone in our locker room,” Hall said. “But it was good. It’s good to be back on this team. I think it’s one of those things where this team is loaded with talent…It’s good being back with this group of guys.”
Also rejoining the team was forward Aaron Wilson, who played with Knighthawks back in 2009.
“It was a pleasure,” said Wilson about getting back on the floor at the BCA. “I was looking forward to getting on the floor with the guys and getting into a game. I just wish we could have had a different outcome.”
“They’re team-first guys,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “They move their feet well and they move the ball well. They did that tonight very well.”
The Rock were without two major parts of last year’s offense in Garrett Billings and Colin Doyle, but were able to put 13 goals by last year’s Goalie of the Year, Matt Vinc.
“When you take 200 points out of your lineup to start the season, there are some concerns and certainly some growing pains,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “We still have three or four guys that have been a part of this offense for a couple of years…One of the most positive things of this game tonight was our offense. I thought we generated some good chances and moved the ball pretty well.”
Rob Hellyer, named second star of tonight’s game with 3 goals and 4 assists, was a big part of the ball movement tonight.
“Rob really came in to his own last year,” Lovell said. “Especially in the last month of the season, last six games of the season when Garrett Billings went down. He stepped up his game and showed that he’s a pretty elite right shot in this league.”
Right along with Hellyer was fellow forward Josh Sanderson, who had seven assists on the night for the Rock. Those seven assists gave him 801 career helpers.
“The win, it’s the win,” Sanderson said. “They had us all game. We didn’t have our first lead until late. I don’t even know what the numbers were, but to win 13-12, it’s an emotional win for me personally… I thought we moved the ball fairly well. Obviously we still have to get better, I thought we turned it over little too much, but we scored when we had to.”
“Josh is what he is,” coach Lovell said. “He’s been doing the same thing for seventeen years. He showed his resolve and his character and his intelligence.”
The Rock defensively locked the Knighthawks down in the second half, only allowing three goals after giving up nine in the first half, while putting up six of their own.
“We thought we were capable of a much better effort than we put in the first half,” Lovell said. “To their credit, they’re a good team and they were picking some pretty good spots, but we gave them extra opportunities. I don’t think we looked after the ball very well at times in the first half. I just thought we played better as a group in the second half.”
The Rock never led in the game until Kasey Beirnes’ hat trick goal with 4:59 left to play in the game. The Knighthawks battled with Matt Vinc making save after save and Craig Point got a last second shot off to tie the game, but were unable to draw even to force overtime.
“A lot of credit goes to them,” Hasen said. “They came in here with a point to prove, and they proved it. They’re a very good team. At the end of the day, I think we got our emotions caught up on a few things there, a few issues, and we let it get away from us. We did a lot of uncharacteristic stuff and we’ll learn from it and get better.”
“I think we just lost a little bit of our focus,” Vinc said. “It really cost us in the fourth… They improved in the offseason. Lot of good players on the defensive end and their young guys are stepping up. I think we took way too many penalties and we got a little out of our gameplan. We’re a 5-on-5 team and I think we beat them 5-on-5, but they beat us on the other facets of the game.”
“It’s just momentum,” Wilson said. “They got a couple of power play goals, and the momentum swings. That’s the way lacrosse is. We battled hard but we couldn’t find a way to pull it out. Their goalie made a couple of saves and they didn’t drop for us.”
“We’re just worried about getting better for next week,” Hasen said. “We’ve got a lot to improve upon tonight, and we’ll do that Wednesday and get back at it next week in New England.”
The Knighthawks travel to New England to take on the Black Wolves next Saturday, January 10 at 7 p.m. ET. The Rock travel to Vancouver to take on the Stealth that night as well at 10 p.m. ET.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Cory Vitarelli
2) Rob Hellyer
3) Dan Dawson
Story by Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo courtesy of Larry Palumbo/Coyote Magic.