The Rochester Knighthawks (12-5) kept their East Division hopes alive and eliminated the New England Black Wolves (4-11) from the playoff race with a decisive 14-6 home win in front of 8,535 fans at the Blue Cross Arena on Saturday night.
When the starting lineup for the Knighthawks was announced before the game, it was Angus Goodleaf starting between the pipes, not All-Pro starter Matt Vinc.
“It was a little after shootaround this morning,” said Goodleaf about when he learned about the start. “At first, I didn’t know what to expect. The last couple games, they were getting 60, 70 shots on net against Vancouver and Toronto. So I was expecting a lot of shots, but our defense held them to 38 shots.”
The team felt like there would be no problem with Goodleaf in net and he proved them right.
“He’s definitely got some great help in front of him, but he showed why we have two of the best goalies in the game,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson. “We’re very happy and very proud of the way they play. We’re lucky to have Angus in there.”
“It was a late decision there with ‘V’ getting a little tummyache,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “He played really well… Our defense in front of him just kept doing their job getting in lanes so ‘Gussie” can make the saves.”
“We knew that we’d need a big effort,” said Knighthawks defenseman Mike Kirk. “They were a desperate team coming in tonight fighting for their lives. We knew we had to match it. We had a great effort from ‘Gussie’ but we wanted to make sure we were good in front of him and dictate where the shots came from.”
While Goodleaf and the defense held the Black Wolves in check, the Knighthawks’ offense were able to take over against the New England defense and goalie Evan Kirk. Cody Jamieson finished the night with 10 points (3+7) and led all scorers along with scoring the opening goal 20 seconds in. Joe Resetarits finished with six points (3+3).
“We were prepared,” said Jamieson. “The coaches did a good job preparing us for tonight. We were pumped up. It was our last regular season game at home We’ve go the playoffs coming up. We just wanted to come out and have a good game in front of the home crowd getting ready for the playoffs.”
“We stress that it’s not on one guy to do it,” Hasen said. “It’s going to be good ball movement and when you opportunity comes, you’re going to bury it. Tonight was ‘Jammer’ and ‘Joey Res’ had a good game too. That group up front has been playing well. We’re getting ready and playing well at the right time.”
“We let the ball do the work,” Resetarits said. “We stuck to our systems, we did everything we were taught to do. You see how we are when we do that, we’re a very high-powered offense. Both sides of the ball, we were dominant. Playing that well going down the stretch, playoffs in two weeks, that’s where we want but have to take it up a notch next week.”
“We were moving the ball and moving our feet,” said Knighthawks forward Stephen Keogh who finished the night with two goals. “Cody got us off to a good start in the beginning and the shots were falling for us tonight.”
The win was big on many levels for the Knighthawks. It kept their dream of first place alive heading into the last weekend of the regular season.
“We control what we can control,” Hasen said. “It was a good effort tonight to get that win tonight. We need help. We need New England next week to do us a favor and we’ll go from there.”
The win was also big coming in the Knighthawks’ final regular season home game. The team finished with a 7-2 record at home and the fans at the BCA certainly were appreciative during the game. Knighthawks forward Joel Matthews spent some time prior to the game on the floor bonding with the crowd by lobbing lacrosse balls to the cheering fans.
“To me, it’s everything,” said Matthews. “I get a paycheck every two weeks and it’s because of these fans. A lot of pro sports don’t give enough respect to their fans I find. These guys are out here and I’ve got to make it enjoyable for them. I think the NLL is the best league for that, for player-to-fan interaction. They clearly feed off it and the environment is better. The smiles I see on these people’s faces is awesome.”
“These are great fans,” Keogh said. “They were real loud tonight. It was unbelievable. They help us, we get some momentum from them and some confidence. They’re a great crowd.”
The Black Wolves’ head coach Blaine Harrison was not happy with the game as a whole starting 20 seconds in with Jamieson’s goal.
“It’s very difficult made even more so by the refereeing which I thought was terrible,” Harrison said. “You just look at the calls that were called early to put us down and the calls that were let go. I think it was Brett Bucktooth goes to the net, gets horse-collared, no call. Yet we get the nickle-and-dime hand off the stick call. The early holding the stick penalty that put us down a man. They scored in the fourth quarter when someone ripped the stick out of our defender’s hand, no call.”
While Harrison may have been unhapy with the refereeing, there were plenty of incidents throughout the game that required intervention. In the second quarter, Knighthawks defenseman Paul Dawson took exception to something that happened with Black Wolves defenseman Bill O’Brien. The two dropped the gloves and Dawson quickly dropped O’Brien to the turf. Dawson was given a game misconduct and ejected from the game.
In the third quarter, it appeared that tensions were going to boil over when Ian Llord and Mike Kirk for the Knighthawks got into it with the Black Wolves with both of them heading for the penalty box. Kirk was handing a roughing major for his troubles. On the Black Wolves side, Craig England was given a trifecta of penalties: two minutes for roughing, a five minute roughing major, and a game misconduct that saw him ejected from the game as well. When the buzzer signalled the end of the game, the Black Wolves finished with 44 penalty minutes to the Knighthawks’ 28.
By no means was Harrison happy with his team’s effort through it all either.
“I think we had an opportunity to be better than we were tonight,” Harrison said. “Most of it’s on us. I didn’t think offensively that we played a very good game. Again we needed our offense to be better.”
Even though New England has been eliminated from the playoffs, they still have two games left on the schedule starting Sunday against the Bandits.
“We’re being paid to play this game,” Harrison said. “We’re professionals. We owe it to the fans, the organization and the ownership group to put our best foot forward. The expectation would be that everybody mans up, be professional and finish the season.”
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Cody Jamieson
2) Joe Resetarits
3) Angus Goodleaf
By Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.