By Jeremy Pike / NLL.com Correspondent
Photo by Micheline V / Rochester Knighthawks
In a battle of new-look rosters to open the 2017 National Lacrosse League season, the Toronto Rock defeated the Rochester Knighthawks 12-5 in front of 8,137 fans at the Blue Cross Arena Thursday night. Forward Brett Hickey led all scorers with five points (3+2). Josh Currier (1+1) and Quinn Powless (2+0) led the Knighthawks with two points apiece.
New Toronto head coach Matt Sawyer was understandably pleased with his team’s performance against the rival Knighthawks.
“It’s obviously a nice win to start the season for us,” said Sawyer. “It’s every team’s goal in their first game. We put a lot of work into this the last six weeks, and that’s why we have the commitment we have. You put the work into it the way you do, and it’s good for the guys to be rewarded with a win here tonight.”
The first quarter could have been a commercial for what makes box lacrosse amazing as both teams flew up and down the BCA turf creating havoc with hits and scoring chances. The quarter fittingly ended in a 3-3 tie in what was an evenly-matched battle.
However, the second quarter was decidedly one-sided as Toronto picked apart the Knighthawks in transition en route to six goals in the quarter. Rochester was unable to slow down the Rock and was only able to muster one goal, entering halftime down 9-4.
“It was great,” said Rochester forward Dan Dawson. “They got 3-1, got 3-3. Then all of a sudden, we have a lull of 15 minutes and we’re behind 9-4. That’s the way lacrosse is.”
“It’s tough, right?” said Knighthawks defender Joel Matthews. “You also don’t want to put blame on anyone, because every loss is a team thing. I just think it comes down to little things like competing. I don’t think we were running to the bench hard enough. Offense off, defense off. So they were catching us in transition that way. Loose balls, I think we just got out-worked. Honestly, it sounds bad to say, but at the end of the day, I think they just out-worked us. They earned this one.”
“In the second quarter, our compete level we kind of dropped that a little bit,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen. “We left a lot of loose balls on the floor. That’s the game of lacrosse and it nipped us in the (butt) tonight.”
“We feel that’s the way the game of lacrosse is supposed to be played,” Sawyer said. “We want to play an up-tempo style. We expect everyone on the floor to contribute on offense. Just because you’re a defender and coming out the backdoor, doesn’t mean they’re not expected to be in the offense. You saw that tonight. A lot of times it’s just somebody committing to get to the bench hard or making the proper read, and that can be just as important as putting the ball in the net.”
“We know we have speedy guys on the backend of our defense to push the ball the ball in transition,” said Rock forward Brett Hickey. “That’s what won us the game. I think in the first half there, we had six or seven of our goals were in transition.”
“Tonight was one of those nights where you got outworked,” Dawson said. “That’s inexcusable. It showed with the score. If you look at the stat line, I guarantee you they out loose-balled us. They outshot us. They killed us in transition. Their special teams were better than us. You aren’t winning any games in this league no matter who you are if you’re behind in every stat line.”
Just as Dawson guaranteed, Toronto did win on the stat sheet. The Rock claimed 79 loose balls to Rochester’s 62. Goalie Nick Rose faced 48 shots while the Knighthawks goalies (Matt Vinc was briefly pulled for Angus Goodleaf for the final 1:31 of the first half) faced 56 shots. On offense, Hickey and Kasey Beirnes played a large role in the domination.
“They’re big keys, especially tonight without Stephan Leblanc,” Sawyer said. “The three of them are what we call our ‘returning veterans.’ Brett, Kasey, and Steph when he’s healthy back there are guys we’re going to lean on, and they’re expected to contribute and put the ball in the net every night. We need that from them. Tonight was a good start.”
“It feels good to be back,” Hickey said about missing time at the end of the 2016 season. “I know what I bring to the team is goal scoring. There’s a few chances I probably want back, but I was happy I was able to contribute to the win, help out, and get a few on the board. Kasey’s done it for his whole career, getting the ball in the dirty areas and putting it in the net. He’s a leader and a voice on this team.”
Toronto locked down the Knighthawks’ offense who were without star forward and 2014 Most Valuable Player Cody Jamieson, along with Cory Vitarelli and Stephen Keogh. Rochester only had three returning offensive players on the floor against the Rock in Dan Dawson, Joe Resetarits, and Powless. Dawson and Resetarits were held to one assist each.
However, Rochester feels like the issues that manifested in the loss are correctable.
“We say in the room ‘everything is correctable’,” Dawson said. “It’s things that we can control. They deserved to win tonight. They were the better team, but a lot of that was on us. Getting beat to the bench, getting beat in transition, not finishing our chances, not making saves, not executing on the power play. Those are correctable things in the game, and that’s the positive side of tonight. You do have to take positives away from it. We still got chances. But we have to correct these things real quick. It’s 18 games, now it’s 17 and you’re 0-1. You’ve got to get back to 1-1 next week.”
The Knighthawks return to the turf at the Blue Cross Arena Saturday January 7 at 7:30 pm to host the New England Black Wolves. The Rock get a week off then host the defending Champion’s Cup winner Saskatchewan Rush on Saturday January 14 at 7:30 pm.