In front of 9,387 home fans at the home opener on Thursday night, the Toronto Rock (0-2) wanted to come out of the gate hot but it would be a night where any Rock momentum would be quickly snuffed out by the Rochester Knighthawks (1-1) as they would leave the Air Canada Centre with a 12-7 victory.
The Knighthawks peppered Brandon Miller early with shots and he came up with with some very key saves to avoid this being a 2-0 or 3-0 Rochester game before everyone was settled in their seats.
Ultimately, Rochester would be the ones to open up the scoring as Craig Point would beat Miller to get off on the right foot.
Kasey Beirnes would have answer but his marker would be the lone bright spot in the quarter as the Knighthawks kept their foot on the gas which resulted in Miller allowing four more in the frame, courtesy Cory Vitarelli, Joe Resetarits and Jordan Hall.
In the second, there was no slowing down the Knighthawks as Vitarelli would put home his second goal of the game with a beautiful diving effort early.
The Toronto offense looked like it had signs of starting to come alive via Rob Hellyer scoring on the powerplay but anytime the Rock threw something Matt Vinc’s way in this one, the Knighthawks had the answer as Dan Dawson would beat Miller twice to give Rochester a 7-2 lead at the half.
There was also a special guest at the ACC in the form of new NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz who spoke with the media in the Air Canada Centre press box. From his first day in his role, he has said that he wants to grow the league even more with more markets for the league to flourish in both the U.S. and Canada.
“We have nine strong teams with very strong ownerships playing in buildings that are very good,” Sakiewicz said. “The foundation is strong, our challenge is to grow that foundation. I think we can put more teams in Canada, there’s some great markets that can benefit from a fan standpoint and a business standpoint.
“We have a blank canvas in the States where there’s so much lacrosse being played at every level and across the country, our job is to get the indoor game exposed to all of those field players, I truly believe when they see this product they will love it.”
With play underway again Toronto got the jump on the Knighthawks with Brett Hickey’s first of the game less than 30 seconds into the third but before we had even reached the 1:00 mark of the quarter, Jordan Hall would bury his second goal of the night to restore the five-goal lead.
The man known as “Jammer” aka Cody Jamieson would get on the scoresheet also to give Rochester a 9-3 lead but the first sustained offensive push would finally come from Toronto with Leblanc, Hickey and Hellyer providing three unanswered goals.
Getting back to within less than two goals still proved to be a big issue for the Rock as Stephen Keough’s third goal of the year would make it a 10-6 affair.
The seesaw battle would only continue into the fourth quarter with Hickey getting his second of the night only to have Jamieson score twice more for a 12-7 Knighthawks lead.
Hopes to close the gap some more were dashed as rookie Dan Lintner had his first career goal called back due to a crease violation which was determined after video review.
With the win the Knighthawks move to 1-1 on the season while the defending Eastern Division champs fall to 0-2.
In their first two games the Rock have failed to score more than seven goals and it’s something that Rock Owner and GM Jamie Dawick wants to see improve for his squad to have a chance to stay competitive this year even though it’s still early in the 2016 campaign.
“There better be a better effort and we’ve just got to continue to keep going,” he said. “There’s no one in that room that doesn’t believe that we can’t beat that team. They are a talented team, they have a lot of offensive players but there’s no reason why we can’t beat them. We put ourselves in a hole, we’re 0-2, two division losses going into Rochester on Saturday night and six more division games staring us in the face. We’re going to have to have a better effort or we’re going to dig ourselves a deep hole where we’re not going to be in a position to be dropping games. It’s tough to say when you haven’t won one but that’s the truth.”
“This weekend, we felt like we needed one, two would be great so now we have to do it in Rochester, a place we haven’t had a lot of success.”
Rock captain Colin Doyle felt that his team needed to the middle of the floor more and knows that settling for outside shots will not be enough to have any shot at success.
“They have big guys (Rochester) and they play a defense that takes a way the middle of the floor,” Doyle said. “But at the end of the day you have to find the middle of the floor and when we did we scored goals. I don’t care what it takes we can’t live from the outside, we won’t compete in this league, that’s a goal.”
Knighthawks assistant coach Paul Day was pleased with his club’s effort especially at full strength and their ability to spread the scoring around on the floor.
“I was really happy with our 5-on-5 play tonight, we had 11 goals, 5-on-5 10 last week, it was a really good team effort,” he said.
Matt Vinc was spectacular in the Rochester night tonight as he made 40 saves in the victory and having him in goal is comforting as coach Day knows that Vinc is able to help give his squad a chance to win every game.
“It sure does give the defensive guys a boost to have him there at his best. He can make little mistakes and he covers up for it. He’s been the best goalie in the world for the past five years and it’s a pleasure to have him, he gets better as the year goes on and he was solid tonight.”
Cody Jamieson and his 10 points on the night were massive in the victory and he knows the importance of getting wins against Toronto and the rest of the East.
“Toronto is a great team,” he said. “Obviously we know what they have, they beat us out of the playoffs last year so any win against them and any division is huge because that’s a plus for us and a minus for them.”
These two teams go at it again on Saturday night, this time down in Rochester at the Blue Cross Arena.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Cody Jamieson
2) Brett Hickey
3) Cory Vitarelli
Story via Avry Lewis-McDougall for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.