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Stories/Op-Ed

They The East: Rock Stop K-Hawks, Headed To Cup Finals

After taking Game 2 by a score of 11-8, the Toronto Rock roughed up the Rochester Knighthawks 8-2 in the subsequent tiebreaker Game 3 in front of 10,210 fans at Air Canada Centre on Saturday night to move on to the NLL Champion’s Cup Finals, which start next weekend.

The Rock recorded a combined 21 points over the tiebreaker’s 10 minutes to lift themselves past the three-time defending champs and advance to the Champion’s Cup Finals for the first time since winning it all in 2011.

“We got it done… we had a mission,” said Rock head coach John Lovell, who enjoyed his first playoff win as a head coach. “Nothing has gotten us down all season, not even in a loss. We showed our resolve here tonight.”

Toronto wasted no time to get on the score sheet in Game 2 as Brett Hickey scored twice within the game’s first 1:36. Stephan Leblanc followed up nearly two minutes later to give Toronto an early 3-0 lead. Rochester forward Stephen Keogh broke the Knighthawks silence with a goal in transition just before the 10-minute mark. After 3:52 of scoreless play, the Rock’s Brock Sorensen and Craig Point traded goals, capping the first quarter at a 4-2 Toronto advantage.

Brandon Miller and the Rock defence were nearly perfect in the second frame as just one goal was scored against. That tally came from Keogh with just under three seconds before halftime. Prior to, Toronto lit the lamp four-straight times (Kevin Crowley, Colin Doyle, Rob Marshall, Hickey) to extend their total to eight goals heading into the second half.

“Everyone came to play tonight,” said Sanderson. “Everyone was working hard and doing the right things and it payed off. It was a great team effort.”

Leblanc opened all scoring in the second half just 1:10 in only to be countered twice by Stephen Keogh, who scored his third and fourth goals on the night, and Scott Self in the latter half of the frame. The 3-1 Rochester mini-run brought the score to the tighter 9-6 three-goal margin heading into the final frame.

Keogh struck for the fifth time of the game to bring Rochester within a 9-7 score just over a minute into the fourth quarter. Rock captain Josh Sanderson however answered with a shorthanded tally 1:37 later to put a stop to a 4-1 Knighthawks scoring run. Leblanc and Keogh traded goals late to cement the 11-8 final ahead of the tiebreaker.

“We didn’t get off to a good start,” said Keogh. “That was really the turning point.”

Sanderson had struck twice 1:13 into the tiebreaker only to be followed up by Doyle, Leblanc and Crowley over the next three minutes. Hellyer pilled on another couple before Joel Resetartis and Joe Walters each scored within the tiebreaker’s final two minutes. Patrick Merrill capped the series with a penalty shot goal with 54 seconds left.

“It was nice to have a powerplay to start that mini-game,” said Sanderson, who scored two of his three goals on the night in the tiebreaker. “It was nice that those [goals] squeezed in for me, and then everyone fed off it.”

Rochester’s season – and its rein as the team to beat for the last three years – came to a bitter and unrelenting end on Saturday night, and it was the first half in Game 2 that perhaps hurt the most. Heading into Toronto with a win in their pocket, the Knighthawks allowed eight first half goals – one less than they gave up in all of Game 1. The poor defensive effort led to the eventual 11-8 Game 2 defeat, and gave Toronto every once of momentum heading into the tiebreaker.

“The game got away from us a little bit and [Toronto] made us pay, good teams will do that,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen.

Despite a premature exit this season, Hasen said he’s very proud of not only the success his team has earned over the last three years, but the squad he carried in 2015.

“You look back and I don’t think there’s a better group than the one we had this year,” said Hasen. “They battled all year long and I’m proud of them, and they should be proud of each other.”

Toronto goalie Brandon Miller played all 70 minutes in goal on Saturday and turned away 48 of 58 shots for a .827 save percentage. Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc played a total of 64:13 in goal and allowed 16 goals on 50 shots for an uncharacteristic .660 save percentage. During the tiebreaker, backup Angus Goodleaf was called upon after Vinc allowed the Rock’s fifth goal. Goodleaf allowed three goals on five shots over 5:47 of play.

Hellyer (2+7) led all scorers with nine points on the night while Leblanc (4+4), Hickey (3+5) and Sanderson (3+5) each followed up with eights points a piece. Keogh led all Rochester shooters with six points on the night (6+0) while Dan Dawson followed up with five (0+5).

The Rock will face off with the Edmonton Rush for the Champion’s Cup Finals, with Game 1 in Toronto set for Saturday, May 30 at 7 p.m. ET. New for this year, the Cup Finals will feature a full best-of-three series with Toronto hosting Game 1 and Game 3 (if necessary). Game 2 is in Edmonton on Friday, June 5 at 9:30 p.m. ET while Game 3 would take place on Saturday, June 13 if the series is tied 1-1. 

Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:

1) Brandon Miller
2) Josh Sanderson
3) Rob Hellyer

By Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.

NLL