Zack Greer scored five goals to lead the defending champion Saskatchewan Rush (13-5) to a 13-9 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks (6-11) in front of 6,547 fans at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night.
For the Rush, the theme was bouncing back. Not only bouncing back from their 14-12 loss to the Vancouver Stealth at the Langley Events Centre last Saturday, but also bouncing back from falling down 4-1 early against the Knighthawks.
“We had a tough start,” said Rush head coach Derek Keenan. “You’ve got a five-minute major in the first 30 seconds of the game, it really kills any potential momentum because you don’t have the ball a lot, you’re giving up a lot of shots. I thought we did an okay job on the kill. We were fine. We’ve been in pretty well every position in a lacrosse game you can been in, this group’s been in. So 4-1 with a lot of time to play in a lacrosse game isn’t a lot. I thought we bounced back, I believe we got seven in a row, so we responded.
“I really liked how we played tonight, because we needed to bounce back after last week. We needed to play well going into the playoffs.”
“I think we needed to rebound after last week,” said Greer. “It was a little bit stagnant on offense, so we got back to trying to spread the game out, spread the ‘D’ out a little bit and get to the middle of the floor with hard cuts and hard picks, and it paid off tonight.”
While Greer certainly lit up the scoreboard, he was not the only Rush player who had a big impact on the night. Mark Matthews led all players with seven points (1, 6) and Ben McIntosh had a five-point night (2, 3).
“It’s a common theme with our team,” Keenan said. “They all do contribute. We have balance, I think. We get some contributions from the back end usually. [Ryan] Dilks got a huge goal in the fourth quarter that might have iced it for us. Zack for some reason plays well in this building. He has big games here quite often… Good contributions throughout. I thought we paid the price a lot more. Last week we only scored two five-on-five goals. Tonight we got seven. I thought we were a lot better that way.”
“Benny must have hit five pipes tonight, so he’s getting chances,” Greer said. “We had everybody getting chances tonight. I think that’s what is hopefully dangerous for us comes playoff time. It’s hard to key in on one or two guys because other guys are going to have big nights too. We try to be an offense by committee, move the ball, and bury our chances when we get them. They kind of went my way tonight.”
For the Knighthawks, the word of the night and the season seemed to be unacceptable. Even if the they had found a way to come back and win, the Georgia Swarm won their game Saturday night over the Stealth and locked up the third and final seed in the East Division. That meant that the Knighthawks missed the postseason for the first time in five years.
“Bitter disappointment,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson. “The way this season has gone is unacceptable. If there’s anything, one word to sum up the season, it’s unacceptable. We can’t really find the answers right now… It’s not like it’s the coaching staff. We have an amazing coaching staff, we’ve got the best owner in the league, we’ve got great fans. This one is on the players. We just didn’t execute this year. It was tough.”
“We go into every year with the goal of winning the championship,” said Knighthawks defender Brad Self of Dawson’s use of unacceptable. “That’s our job, so yeah, it’s pretty bang on… It seems to have haunted us all year long, game in and game out. Three or four minutes where we just can’t stop the run, and they’re scoring whether it’s power play, transition, or straight offense. We didn’t do anything to counter, and it’s been the story of our year.”
“It was a tough game,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “It’s another night we’re here and we let four minutes slip away from us and it cost us. But hey, there’s onward and upward. We’ve got to get on a bus and go play New England tomorrow… We battled hard. We’ve had our ups and downs this season so far, but it’d be real nice for these guys to come out on top.”
For a team that is not far removed from a record three consecutive championships, the 2016 NLL season is definitely unacceptable for the Rochester Knighthawks.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Zack Greer
2) Mark Matthews
3) Ben McIntosh
By Jeremy Pike for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.