The National Lacrosse League playoffs always have great moments. Saturday night’s Rochester Knighthawks 10-9 victory over the Toronto Rock at the Blue Cross Arena was no different. 5,805 fans witnessed a SportsCenter Top 10 Play with 37 seconds left in the game with the score knotted up at 9-9.
Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson scooped up a loose ball with about 40 seconds to go. He then used every inch of his 6’6″ frame to outmuscle two Rock defenders en route to the front of the crease. Rock goalie Brandon Miller came out to the top of his crease to challenge Dawson. Dawson faked low then elevated to tuck the ball over Miller’s right shoulder. It is a goal one has to witness in order to fully appreciate. ESPN picked it up and aired it as a featured highlight (WATCH).
The fans certainly appreciated the goal that gave their Knighthawks the victory in the first game of the East Division Finals. It was a quiet game on the statsheet for Dawson with two points (1+1) but he certainly left his mark when it was all said and done.
“It was kind of ‘Johnny-on-the-spot’,” Dawson said. “I thought that I was quiet all game, I was kind of a spectator out there. The ball just happened to go near my stick, I got lucky with the loose ball. Caught the goalie off guard with a couple fakes and was lucky to bury it… Like I said, I think I was a bit of spectator our there for the first 59 minutes and 30 seconds out there. Maybe a bit too unselfish, giving guys the ball, trying to get them open. I’ve got to be better at going to the net, drawing penalties, getting double teams. I was just lucky the ball was in my stick at the end of the game.”
“Perfect timing,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “Can’t ask for anything more than that.”
While Dawson scored the biggest goal of the game, the brunt of the scoring came from a perhaps unlikely source. Transition player Brad Self had himself a career game with six points (3+3) to lead all scorers. He played on both ends of the floor to help the Knighthawks overcome an injury to superstar forward Cody Jamieson during the first quarter.
“It’s nice, I grew up playing ‘O'” said Self. “I love my role now as a ‘D’/transition guy, but obviously when a guy like Cody goes down, we only have three lefties dressed tonight. Guys are forced to step up. Me and Soupy (Scott Campbell) are guys that can go both ways who are lefties. It was nice to find the back of the net and contribute, help the team win.”
“He definitely was our MVP tonight,” said Dawson about Brad Self. “When you lose the heart and soul of your organization in Cody, probably the best player in the world, it’s easy to fold. But it shows we have a ton of character in our dressing room. When one guy goes down in any situation, you have guys that will back him up. That’s what our family is all about and it showed tonight.”
In fact, the Knighthawks put up nine of their 10 goals without the league’s 2014 Most Valuable Player. With Jamieson being spotted on crutches after the game, his status is up in the air and the Knighthawks may have to go into Toronto without him.
“Like we’ve done all year and dating back to the last couple of seasons, we have guys in place for a reason,” Dawson said. “We have depth guys. You talk about Joe Walters, I thought he was our best player the first eight games of the year. He’s going to come in motivated this weekend. I really do think he gives us a new, dynamic look on the left side. Hopefully we’ll be all right this weekend, but we’ve got to be better.”
Rob Hellyer scored the first goal of the game, giving the Rock the lead 2:02 into the game. That would be their only lead of the game. The Knighthawks answered back in a big way, carving out a 5-1 lead. However the Rock would not go away. They tied it up at 5-5 early in the third, then three more times in the second half including at 9-9 with under four minutes to go.
“They’re a team with a lot of character,” Dawson said. “They responded every single time we scored. They went on their runs. They made it a game. We know that they are going to be better next weekend in Toronto so we are going to have to be better.”
“We know there are going to be runs throughout the game,” Self said. “They’re a very good team, we kow that, and we have to be ready next Saturday night. It’s not going to be easy and it’ll be another tight one next Saturday night.”
“I’m not disappointed with these guys one bit,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “I thought they played hard. It’s a tough building to win in and we gave ourselves a chance for 59 minutes and 30 seconds. I’m very proud of how we played. If we do that, we still have a great chance to win this thing.”
Fighting hard but falling short puts the Rock behind the eight ball but they head back home for Game 2 with the opportunity to force a 10-minute tiebreaker game.
“It makes us a little more desperate, a little more hungry to respond,” said Rock transition player Brodie Merrill. “It came down to a few big plays and Dan made a big play at the end and that was the difference.”
Brett Hickey led the way for the Rock with a five-point effort (3+2). He helped key the resurgence of the Rock offense with a controversial buzzer-beating goal at the end of the first half to close the gap to 5-4. He then scored twice in the fourth to tie the game at 9-9.
Hellyer also pitched in three points (2+1) to help the Rock stay close all game.
“They’ve been doing it all year,” said Rock transition player Brodie Merrill. “They’ve been so consistent. They seem to find ways to score big goals. They’re young guys but they play the game the right way. They’re great guys and great teammates.”
“They just play hard,” said Rock coach John Lovell. “They get us big goals when we need it and nothing changed tonight.
Game 2 is set for Saturday, May 23 in Toronto at Air Canada Centre, a night that will ultimately determine which team will represent the East Division in the Champion’s Cup Finals.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Brad Self
2) Matt Vinc
3) Brandon Miller
By Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.