After their comeback in Denver came up just short on Friday, the Rochester Knighthawks (10-5) continue the team’s West Coast weekend by taking on the Vancouver Stealth (5-10) at Langley Events Centre on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET. Watch the game on NLL LIVE in the US and TSN GO in Canada.
The Stealth are competing with the Calgary Roughnecks (5-11) for the third and final playoff spot in the West Division, while the Knighthawks are eyeing the top spot in the East in a race against the Toronto Rock (13-4), who can clinch the East with a Rochester loss.
“They’re fighting for what they need to get to,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “We’re striving for first place. We control that part of it and what we do is going to affect that. That’s in the back of our minds for extra motivation as well.”
A back-to-back on the West Coast could be a daunting task but it does not scare the Knighthawks, who played at Colorado on Friday before heading to B.C. and dropped a tight 11-10 contest despite a strong fourth quarter comeback.
“We’re a veteran team so it’s not like this is going to be new to our dressing room or to anyone in the league,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson. “So you can understand the situation as you’ve been given it. We’re going to do our best to make the best of it. We understand that the travel is not ideal in our league by any means, but everyone goes through it. It’s something every team faces.”
Even with the travel difficulties, there are positives to playing two games in a row for a dressing room.
“You get to spend a lot more time together,” Dawson said. “Having said that, we’ve been pretty blessed to be able to play with each other for the last couple of years with close to the same roster. Not only that, we have Wednesday night practices during the week. We know each other very well. But when you get to pull your family together for a weekend like this, starting on Thursday at the airport and not getting home until Sunday, it’s something really special. Those are the things you are going to remember when you’re done playing.
“They’re fun, especially when you have the young guys who maybe haven’t been to the West Coast before. You understand the opportunity that is in front of you too. But it’s important you enjoy these moments in the league because you don’t know how long you are going to be around for and understand the opportunity as well.”
With a playoff spot locked up and the Knighthawks pursuing a fourth-straight Champion’s Cup, Dawson shed some light on what the mentality in the organization has been.
“As far as an organization, our mentality seems the same year in and year out,” Dawson said. “You want to pride yourself on the things that you can control and that’s your dressing room. That’s been our motto all year. For us, we’ve been priding ourselves on getting better every single week and not being complacent. We hold ourselves to a high regard and by no means are we ever complacent. So we’re going to work as hard as we can and control what we can control.”
Should the Vancouver Stealth spot the Rochester Knighthawks a couple goal lead when the two teams clash in Week 16?
The numbers indicate perhaps they should. In four of the Stealth’s five victories this season, they have fallen behind in the first quarter by multiple goals before rallying for victory. Conversely, in eight of Vancouver’s 10 defeats, they have taken an early lead — usually by a couple of goals — before falling in the end.
The Stealth managed to snap a six-game losing streak, erasing a 2-0 deficit to beat the New England Black Wolves on the road Sunday afternoon. And Vancouver will look to make it two victories in a row when they host the three-time defending National Lacrosse League champs.
It is the Knighthawks first visit to Langley since they captured the 2013 Champion’s Cup against the Stealth.
As for the strategy of purposely falling behind, Stealth defender Bradley Kri doesn’t put much stock into it.
“I would say it is coincidence,” he said. “It is definitely important to get a lead at the start of the game.”
What the team should be focusing on is playing a full 60 minutes, he said.
“I am not sure we have even played a full 60 this year,” Kri said. “If we can do that, I think we can be pretty effective.”
Vancouver head coach Dan Perreault said it is a matter of consistency.
“When you have a lead, you have to protect it,” he said. “There are so many goal scorers in this league and so many runs, when you are not consistent, that is when you let leads slide.”
The Stealth are catching Rochester on the back-end of two games in two nights as the Knighthawks are in Denver the night before.
But Rochester is on an impressive run with three straight victories, surrendering just 14 goals in that span, including a combined seven in the past two. Kri knows the Stealth will be in tough.
“All we can do is prepare the best we can … with a lot of film and a lot of practice,” he said. “We are going to play desperate.”
The Stealth will look to use a balanced attack — all of their forwards scored in their last game — against a Knighthawks team which has allowed a league-low 134 goals.
Joel McCready will be facing his old team for the first time. And he enters the game on a roll after scoring a hat trick in the win over the Black Wolves. The right-hander has thrived in an expanded role, registering a career-high 25 goals and 44 points in 15 games. The point total matches his numbers in 25 games in 2013 and 2014.
The Stealth will be without Rory Smith, who is serving the second game of his two-game suspension. Perreault also said that both transition player Tyler Garrison and goaltender Tyler Richards are getting really close to making a return and could potentially be available this weekend.
Saturday’s game marks the first return of the Knighthawks to Langley Events Centre since the team’s down-to-the-wire win over the Stealth in the 2013 NLL Champion’s Cup Finals.
Story by Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) & Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Larry Palumbo.