Boy, how time flies. It feels like just yesterday that one of the best weeks of end-to-end NLL action concluded. Each game had its fair share of thrills and spills, but it was hard to match the excitement that emanated from the historic moments that occurred in Rochester and on Long Island on Saturday night.
Before diving into Week 9 action, it’s important to reflect on the enormous feats that were achieved last week.
There was something in the air on that six-game night, not only in the state of New York, but in every NLL barn that evening from Halifax to Saskatoon. It was the kind of night where something magnificent was going to happen. And for the league’s expansion franchises, it happened, not once, but twice within about 35 minutes.
Not far from the U.S.’s northern border, the new-look Knighthawks were nipping at the toes of the defending-champion Calgary Roughnecks all night. The match stayed tight throughout the evening and was defined by a one-minute stretch midway through the fourth quarter. Pinpoint passing, an electric stop, and a power play goal later, a deficit quickly became a lead, a lead that would not be relinquished.
Chaotic would be the only suitable word to describe the final moments of the game. Yet, despite being down a man because an extra attacker that the Roughnecks had brought on, this version of the Knighthawks did enough defensively to hold on for their first win in franchise history.
According to Knighthawks forward Holden Cattoni, to come out victorious in such dramatic fashion, on their home floor, against the reigning NLL Cup champions should give their team the belief that this success can be replicated.
“It’s really exciting,” Cattoni said. “Everyone has played at a high-level before whether it’s in the NLL or in the summer. Everyone is accustomed to winning and playing competitive games. It’s good to be in the situation, and it’s good that it came against the team that won [the NLL Cup] last year. This builds our confidence a bit, and it’s a sign that we’re there. If we play the way that we’re capable of, we can compete with anyone in the league.”
A moderate six-hour drive South East of Blue Cross Arena to Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, the New York Riptide were in the midst of their own heated exchange with their East Division Rivals, the Georgia Swarm.
With their heads solely focused on the game at hand, the Riptide were on a course to make their own history against the NLL’s 2017 Champion’s Cup winners. Prior to the game, the Riptide were visited in the locker room by Erik Baker, co-founder and managing director of GF Capital, who shared a motivating personal story.
Whatever he said seemed to work. Matching the potent Swarm offence nearly the entire game, the Riptide benefitted from timely stops and shots, including a near-buzzer beater by Gale Thorpe in an unsettled situation – they had no timeouts – to send the game to overtime.
In the extra frame, where the first goal wins, an unlikely hero provided the offense. Riptide Captain Dan MacRae was running ahead of the defense after a missed opportunity that hit the post from the opposition. Ryan Fournier saw his teammate out front and provided a well-placed long-floor feed for MacRae who at first stopped in his tracks and looked for a pass before cutting in and sneaking the ball past one of the league’s best goaltenders of the last decade, Mike Poulin for their first win in franchise history.
It was another improbable ending to yet another expansion team. The Riptide celebrated with raw passion. MacRae joked that his teammate’s reaction was partially spurred on by the fact that he, a guy that had 22 goals over his 10 years in the league, had just scored the goal to give his team their first win.
“I don’t know if it was just because of the surprise factor from a [defensive] guy shooting the ball or what it was for everyone to go to the dog-pile,” MacRae joked. But, seriously, we got the monkey off our back so-to-speak.”
Of course, though, one win wins you the battle, but stringing multiple wins together can win you a war, or in this case, the NLL Cup. Regy Thorpe and Mike Hasen, head coaches from the Riptide and Knighthawks respectively, were quick not to get too excited about one win. Within the days of the historic win, Thorpe and his staff were already looking ahead to their next game, which is tonight against the Philadelphia Wings.
“It’s good, but we’ve got a big weekend coming up,” Thorpe said. “We’re already moving and getting our scouts and everyone ready for [the Wings]. It was nice to get a win, trust me, but we know we’ve got two big games coming up.”
Hasen noted that his team’s effort has continued to improve game-by-game and letting up now just because the team has won would be counter-productive to the team’s ultimate long-term goal of winning a championship.
“We like our team where we are, but we still need to get better, obviously,” Hasen said. “But, we’re getting better; that’s progress, and I see that. They were rewarded for the [last] Saturday night.”
While the Knighthawks have the week off in Week 9, the Riptide will have a shot at another expansion rarity when the face the Wings: winning games on back-to-back nights – the San Diego Seals pulled it off last season.
Following unfortunate slow starts to their seasons – something, realistically, you would expect from most expansion franchises – could the uncommon occurrence of two new franchises winning on the same night turn both their season’s around. If it does or it doesn’t, few will forget what happened the night these clubs made new marks in the NLL’s history books.