The Rochester Knighthawks (10-4) clinched a playoff berth for a run at an unprecedented fourth-straight title after defeating the Colorado Mammoth (8-7) by a score of 14-5 in front of 7,988 fans at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night. The Knighthawks are now chasing the Toronto Rock for first place in the East Division and potentially the league’s top overall seed.
“Goal one accomplished,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “Onto the next one.”
“That was the first goal, to make the playoffs,” said Knighthawks defenseman Mike Kirk. “Now we’ll see where we sit. Our fate is in our hands, so we’ve just go out and work. It starts next Friday against the same team, so we’re excited to get back out already.”
“It’s huge,” said Knighthawks defenseman Jon Sullivan. “Our destiny is in our hands. All we’ve got to do is just keep winning.”
On this night, the defensive effort showed up on the scoreboard. The Knighthawks place a premium on stopping opposing teams in transition, but tonight they were the aggressors in transition. Three defensemen scored goals for Rochester and another had a primary assist on a fourth transition goal. They also held a prolific Mammoth offense to a season-low five goals.
“We were pushing it offensively,” said Mammoth coach Chris Gill. “Maybe not playing our system. Credit to their defense. They’re smart players. They play together and they pressure the ball pretty hard there and tonight wasn’t our night to handle the pressure. Defensively, they’re a tight, smart unit.”
“They all play as a team,” said Mammoth forward Jeremy Noble. “They’ve been playing together for a very long time. They’re well coached and they have very good systems in place. They’re the reason why they’ve won three [championships] in a row. Hats off to them tonight, they were better than us.”
“It was another good team victory,” Hasen said. “I think our ‘O’ guys did a tremendous job getting off the floor and letting us play five-on-five. When they do that, we’re pretty good back there… You can’t ask for anything better than that, except we need to be better next week. Going into their barn is a different place to play, totally different atmosphere, and we have to be ready to be better.”
“We tried to limit their shots,” Kirk said. “Dictate where they were coming from so ‘Vno’ could see them all and let him do his thing back there…. We’re fighting back there… We can always chip in for a couple. It’s nice to see to help them [the offense] out. Big team effort, full 60 from the guys tonight.”
“If we can get a couple out the back end, help our offense out, that’s huge,” Sullivan said. “They’re a transition team, so if we can stick it back to them like that, it’s always a positive if we can contribute out the back door.”
“It’s great overall for us,” said Knighthawks forward Stephen Keogh. “Vno’s been playing unbelievable the past couple games and same with the guys in front of him. It’s good to have that back there and it sparks us up front. It was good to come out with a win.”
The first goal of the game was scored off a defender’s stick merely 22 seconds into the game. After a loose ball situation off the opening faceoff, Sid Smith grabbed the loose ball and raced up the turf. After the ball took a brief stop on forward Cody Jamieson’s stick, Smith again had the ball and beat Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward.
“It’s always good to score early,” said Smith. “It’s good to get on the board early and get it out of the way.”
“By no means are we known to be a good transition team,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson. “We pride ourselves on stopping other team’s transition. But when you get four goals out the back end like that tonight, that is outstanding. You’ve got Jon Sullivan scoring, you’ve got Sid Smith in a two-man game. When you’ve got guys like that scoring, it’s fun to watch and it gets us motivated up the ‘O’ door, then we’ve got to score.”
“A big boost,” Hasen said with a chuckle. “You don’t see that very often by any means. It’s good for Sid and it’s good for us.”
“It’s tough but it’s a long game, it’s a long process,” Noble said. “One goal at the start of the game isn’t going to deflate our team or kill our team. But obviously that’s not the start we wanted. We have to be better with our starts… We didn’t get going early. We had a bunch of bad breaks. Offensively, we have to be better. We’ve just have to be better, there’s no excuses. We’ve got to be better next weekend. The good thing is we’re playing again next weekend, which is a good thing. I think we all have to look in the mirror and we just have to be better.”
That goal kick started a 4-0 run to start the game for Rochester. Stephen Keogh scored the second goal of the game en route to a four-goal night to lead all scorers and the game’s first star.
“We spread Colorado’s defense out a little bit,” said Keogh. “We were just moving the ball and moving our feet. We were taking smart shots and luckily they were falling for us. It was good to just move the ball and have some help from our defense. Sid Smith scoring a goal, Jon Sullivan, it was great for us.”
While Keogh kept cashing in throughout the night, fellow Knighthawk forward Dan Dawson spent most of his night dishing out assists, finishing with six points (1+5). He did get in on the goal scoring however. After his brother Paul raced down the floor in transition, Dan came off the bench and headed directly for the front of the crease. Paul found Dan on the run and Dan found the back of the net.
“I thought our ball movement was great,” Dan Dawson said. “We’re good when everyone contributes and everyone gets their touches. I’ve said it before, we have a new superstar every night. Tonight was Stephen Keogh. When we do this, it makes our offense really tough. But when we get settled and we hold on to the ball, that’s when we get easy to defend. We’ve done that a couple of times this year. I think that was the biggest difference tonight.”
The Mammoth struggled with Rochester’s offense in the first half and eventually pulled Ward after giving up seven goals in the first half. Backup goalie Alex Buque entered the game with 5:52 left and fared worse than Ward, giving up three goals on six shots. Ward reentered the game after halftime and allowed four goals the rest of the game, including only one in the third period.
“Their offensive players swung the ball, moved the ball,” Gill said. “They cut through the middle and made space for each other.”
“When the ball moves the way it has the last couple weeks and again tonight, it’s anybody’s turn to get hot,” Hasen said. “Tonight, Stevie had four. Everybody else chipped in there really well. It’s an unselfish group and it’s fun to watch.”
The night was not a pleasant reunion for former Knighthawk Jeremy Noble. The second overall pick in the draft was traded to the Mammoth prior to the trade deadline after deciding not to report to Rochester due to work issues. While he did leave a bit of a mark on the stat sheet with three point (1+2), he was disappointed with the game. The Knighthawks faithful were sure to make their feelings known after he scored with two minutes to play with boos echoing from every corner of the BCA.
“It was a different experience,” Noble said. “I tried not to think about it too much, to be honest. No one mentioned it to me from my team. We just tried to act like it was another game, and that’s what I tried to do out on the floor. Obviously I wasn’t at my best tonight and hopefully will be better next weekend. I didn’t look into it too much at all and at the end of the day, it’s still a lacrosse game.”
The Knighthawks travel out west for a rematch in Colorado on Friday night, and the Mammoth are ready to learn from this loss and apply it immediately.
“Anything can happen in this league,” Gill said. “They came out on fire and we took it on the chin tonight. I think we’re all going to watch the video and look at ourselves in the mirror. There’s a lot of pride in that room. We’re not going to let that happen again, can’t let it happen again. A learning experience, yeah, but more of a wake-up call.”
Even with a dominant victory such as this, the Knighthawks will be looking to improve come Friday night.
“There’s still a lot of little things,” Hasen said. “It’s tough looking at the scoreboard, but there’s a lot of little things we need to make sure of. They had opportunities pushing in transition and we’d like to see none. That’s one big thing. And two, defensively I think we did a better job in the second half. First half I think we did a good job, but we also had a lot of gaps where they took some good shots and ‘V’ made some good saves.”
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Stephen Keogh
2) Matt Vinc
3) Dan Dawson
By Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.