In what will likely end up as a tight NLL North Division, the Toronto Rock gave themselves some insurance with a 13-12 win over the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena.
It completed back-to-back wins over the Knighthawks and gives the Rock a tiebreaker over them should one become necessary to determine playoff spots.
Zach Manns and Rob Hellyer led the Rock offensively, each with a hat trick. Hellyer also picked up his 500th NLL point.
“Robbie’s been on a pretty good run here for the last three games and that’s something that you kind of expect,” said Rock head coach Matt Sawyer. “He’s constantly moving and getting opportunities from different areas. Zach keeps getting better and better. We were real fortunate to be able to draft him where we did.”
Holden Cattoni and Dan Craig traded goals in the first 1:26 of play but Rochester came out of the first with a 3-1 lead. Shawn Evans assisted on all three of Rochester’s goals; his assist on fellow Peterborough native Dan Michel’s shot from the left side was his 1200th career point. Evans becomes just the sixth player to reach that plateau.
Toronto and Rochester traded goals three times in the second until Hellyer scored a pair to tie the game at six. Matthew Bennett went top corner with 3:31 left in the period, finishing off a three-on-two started by a huge Craig Wende save in Rochester’s net.
If not for Wende, Toronto could have had their way with Rochester. The NLL rookie kept the Knighthawks in the game, making saves he probably had no right to.
“There were some saves where he really stood on his head and kept us in the game when they could have pulled away a bit,” Cattoni said. “That’s exactly what we need when we’re not pulling out wins.”
Toronto turned on the heat in the third. Hellyer’s hat trick goal, a shot right up the middle, tied the game at seven 1:16 into the half. Adam Jay and Brad Kri caused a turnover in Rochester’s end on the ensuing faceoff, which Jay took to the front of the net for an 8-7 lead. Cattoni and Manns then traded goals twice.
The Rock led 10-9 heading into the fourth. Cattoni scored again to tie the game but once again Manns had the answer. Dan Craig put the Rock up by two goals after Dan Dawson’s rebound popped right out to him. Forty seconds later Curtis Knight slipped Michel’s cross-crease pass into the yawning cage to get the Knighthawks back within one.
Damon Edwards intercepted a pass and scored on the fast break for the game winner. Rochester’s Phil Caputo again cut the lead to one but Nick Rose shut the Knighthawks down at the most important time.
“For our D to hold them at the end there, and with Rosey making a couple huge saves for us, that really gave us a chance to win. Rochester works really hard and they made it tough on us,” said Hellyer.
“Sometimes the games like that end up being the prettiest. We found a way in a pretty gritty effort and it was certainly not our best moment but you’re going to have those some nights,” Sawyer said. “Offensively I thought we were real good and defense and goaltending really bared down there in the fourth.”
Holden Cattoni and Shawn Evans did everything they could to help lead the Knighthawks to that all-important first win, each with nine points on the night, but it was not to be.
“I did have personal success but only because we played our best offensive game so far,” said Cattoni, who had five goals. “Other than the first game, we’ve scored 12 goals a game and we’ve gotten by on our skill but I think tonight it was more systematic goals we were getting and a lot of game-plan goals for Toronto. We had an opportunity to win the game. Hopefully the next time we’re in a tight game like this we’ll know how to win it.”
The Rock now move to 3-1 on the season while the Knighthawks fall to 0-4. The Rock are in Buffalo on January 18th at 7 p.m. while the Knighthawks host Calgary at the same time.