I’m here in the press box at the Blue Cross Arena, where in about 15 minutes the final contest of the 2012 National Lacrosse League season will be played. This is one of the most exciting things I’ll get to experience this season — the championship of the world’s most recognized box lacrosse league. And it features two teams that at various points in the season might have not been considered a contender for their own divisions, let alone possibly making it all the way through the playoffs and to the final contest of the season. The Rochester Knighthawks, playing on their home turf, face the Edmonton Rush, a team featuring three former Rochester Knighthawks, including veteran forward Shawn Williams and starting keeper Aaron Bold, who backed up two-time NLL Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc when he was playing here in Rochester.
This one is going to be a barn burner, at least we hope. These two teams are scorching hot in the playoffs so, far but none of the matters. This one is all that matters. We’re not far from the start now, so stay tuned.
Starters just announced:
Sid Smith, Tyler Burton, Pat McCready, Brad Self, Ryan Cousins
Goal: Matt Vinc
Jarrett Toll, Jeff Cornwall, Chris Corbeil, Zack Greer, Kyle Rubisch
Goal: Aaron Bold
15:00 – The KHawks win the opening face-off and what looks like a packed house goes nuts. For all the talk of this game not selling out, it sure looks pretty full from where I’m sitting. After Rochester fails to get a look on their first possession, Matt Vinc makes his first stop of the night. There’s still a haze over the floor from the crazy fireworks show that went on during the introductions.
13:28 – Rush 1, KHawks 0 - Zack Greer starts the scoring for the Rush with an overhand rip from the nearside top of the box, beating Vinc to his left side. Give the assists to Ryan Ward and Shawn Williams. Watch for Ward here to play a big role. He’s been unreal so far in the postseason.
12:11 – Walts fumbles a pass with one hand on his stick, and the over-and-back call gives the ball to Edmonton again. Vinc with a quick save on low shot coming from the far side. We’re looking for the Rsuh defense to play physical on the Rochester forward corps, and Jamieson just got tackled by Rubisch from behind. Another quick save by Vinc on the other end.
10:00 – Five minutes in, Rochester hasn’t managed a quality look at the cage yet, as Edmonton has had multiple opportunities, capitalizing on just one so far. Rochester has yet to find its flow, as the Rush have been executing their plan so far. AS I type that, Ryan Dilks causes a turnover and takes it the other way. With 8:47 left, we’ve got a timeout on the floor.
8:25 – Right out of the timeout, Vinc makes another quick stop. Walters hot on the other end is deflected into the stands by Rubisch, then the KHawks fail to get a shot off. It’s been all Rush so far. Vinc makes a chest save on a big blast from Ward. Edmonton gets another thirty seconds. Vinc again making the save. Kriss Kross blaring on the soundsystem. Cory Vitarelli tries the diving dunk shot, but Bold doesn’t give him an inch.
6:00 – Jamieson penetrates the defense, but his shot is turned aside by Bold. Vinc makes a great arm save on a long-range shot from Aaron Wilson, and then Greer hits the left post after snagging the rebound. While Rochester hasn’t managed much, Vinc appears to be on his game, which has bought the Knighthawks time and has allowed them to be down by only one goal. As I type that, Craig Point looks inside to All-Rookie pick Stephen Keogh, but the pass doesn’t connect.
3:10 – Jamieson made a nice fake and then deked by his man to get down the far lane, but his shot was just high. He grabs the rebound, but the pass across the crease isn’t there. As the shot clock expires with Vitarelli chasing it, there’s a timeout on the floor.
3:00 – Vinc has already made 11 saves, which is huge. The Rush offense has been on a tear, and they’ve been scoring in bunches. So holding them to a single tally this far into the first quarter is actually not a horrible start for the KHawks. But they’ve been held in check themselves on offense. Again, with 2:15 on the clock, Keogh has to roll the ball into the back corner as the shot clock expires with the Hawks still without a look.
1:30 – Tom Johnson streaks in on a near break, but he loses the ball and steps in the crease, and Rochester quickly has a look but doesn’t hit the cage. Back and forth again, with another save by Vinc, and then Walters’ low-angle shot is easily stopped by Bold. Time winds down as Rochester looks for a last-second shot, but Keogh’s shot is block and time expires as he tries to flick it inside.
End of the First Quarter: Edmonton Rush 1, Rochester Knighthawks 0
15:00 – First quarter was all about the Rush’s super tough defense. Nothing easy for ANY squad that faces this team. And how wonderful for Bruce Urban’s team that they found that rhythm when they did this season. This team is on the verge of making history for the franchise that has only been as far as the West Division finals. Edmonton will have the first possession of the second quarter.
14:00 – Passes knocked down. Guys put on ther cans. That’s all you see happening on the Knighthawks’ offense right now. With that, Jamieson eyes the five-hole, but Bold is there.
13:00 – Vitarelli looked inside to All-Rookie Johnny Powless, but the pass doesn’t connect, almost bouncing by Bold.
12:16 – Rush 2, Knighthawks 0 – Greer spins off a defender, winds and fires low-to-low to beat Vinc from way out. The former Duke Blue Devil is feeling it (could it be the Reebok Cross Fit workouts he’s been doing?). Crowd not liking this so far here in Rochester.
10:16 – Rush 3, Knighthawks 0 – In transition, defender (and former Buffalo Bandit) Chris Corbeil buries a shot. Rush look like they’re in great shape up to this point. LaFontaine bangs a shot off the right post. The Knighthawks have had some luck on their side so far. Three goals isn’t an insurmountable deficit, but the Rush defense has been pressing them extremely hard. Could be a long night for the Rochester guys.
7:47 – Rush 3, Knighthawks 1 – Jamieson gets inside his defender while carrying at the nearside top of the box, and he doesn’t stop. He drives inside, leaps and buries the shot. The goal is being challenged, and it’s being reviewed as I type this. Not sure if this one will stand. But after seeing it couple more times up on the big screens, it looks like it will be upheld. And it is.
7:22 – That goal appears to have fired up the home team. Lots of Rush bodies getting put into the boars on the ensuing draw. The Rush come up with it, and Corbeil finds himself with time and room to the left of Vinc to throw a few fakes and shoot, but Vinc stuffs it and collects it out of his pads.
7:15 – Shots on goal so far are totally one-sided: the Rush with 25, the Knighthawks have just 10. This is what was talked about all week: the Rush defense keeping the KHawk shooters to the outside, taking away their interior threats and forcing long shots that are pretty easy pickings for Bold. A sell out or not, this place is crammed (including the press box). It’s sweaty, loud and people are boisterous and into it. I see my man Larry Palumbo shooting across the way, catching some of the action in the crowd. Dinosaur BBQ was packed on my way in, with a nice mix of bikers and devoted KHawk fans wearing their colors.
6:30 – After Rochester can’t get off a shot with the thirty seconds, Vinc makes another wing save on Ward’s crank from the nearside top of the box. Holy cow, there’s a lot of cowbells in the crowd here.
6:00 – Penalty coming up on Kyle Laverty. As my colleague and much wiser friend Bob Chavez pointed out, Laverty will need to stay out of the box. Turns out that Mike Kirk also got called for a slash. Two men down for two minutes.
5:47 – Rush 4, Knighthawks 1 – Just like that, it’s an easy man-up deposit for Aaron Wilson. Pretty quiet for a moment after that one. Stupid mistakes are something this Rush squad will punish you for, and Rochester is feeling that now, still playing man-down. Sid Smith just laid Wilson out, and he was slow to get up. But the Rush continue to wheel the ball around. Williams winds and fires, but it’s deflected and Vinc collects it. Led Zeppelin now on the soundsystem. A little better than the crap that was playing a few minutes ago.
3:44 – Knighthawks looking sloppy on offense. Vitarelli and Keogh fail to connect on a pass, and time gives the ball back to Edmonton. Refs call timeout. Pretty cool to see Vinc and Bold bump gloves as they went to the benches. A couple of true competitors, but respectful of the time they spent together, for sure. In talking about shot domination, in this quarter alone, the Rush have 15 shots on goal to Rochester’s 4. Outstanding defense.
3:18 – Scott Campbell makes a great play by slapping the ball away from a Rush forward to give himself a break along with Dylan Evans, but Campbell steps in the crease as he’s faking on Bold.
2:22 – Rush 5, Knighthawks 1 – A couple exchanges later, Jamieson’s pass up to Point is intercepted by Jarrett Toll, who slips it right over Vinc’s shoulder on the run. That’s a HUGE goal to put the Rush up by four, and the Khawks look a bit defeated.
1:56 – Lots of boos coming from the crowd now as Smith gets called for a checking-from-behind penalty. Another man-up opportunity here for this dangerous Rush offence (feels cool to spell it like my Canadian homeboys every once in a while).
0:30 – Still down a man, the KHawks are looking for a quality shot as halftime approaches. Jamieson waits until time winds down to about 10 seconds, and then he tries to go through multiple defenders, which isn’t going to happen with the way the Rush are clamping down. No love in the world of box with a first-half performance like that. The Rochester crowd is none too pleased with a single goal in the first half. But remember, this team held Minnesota to just 3 goals last weekend. Crazy stuff from a team that some had counted at this season.
Halftime: Edmonton Rush 5, Rochester Knighthawks 1.
To bring you up to speed, the Rush are outshooting the Knighthawks 31-11. Matt Vinc is keeping it interesting with an impressive 26 saves so far, while his old backup Aaron Bold has stopped 10 saves. And on top of that, Rochester has six penalty minutes thus far, while Edmonton has yet to find itself a man down. That’s translated into 3 powerplay opportunities for the Rush, and they scored on one of those (easily).
15:00 – The Rush get nothing going on their first possession of the second half, but then Bold makes a great save on a behind the back shot from Point that was heading between his legs. Wilson gets punished by McCready after taing a shot, and then the action heads the other way.
12:42 – I would love to have a tally of the shot clock violations in this game by the Knighthawks. Whatever it is, it’s really just a testament to how strong the Rush have been playing on D.
11:35 – Jamieson sets up Davis perfectly, but the shot hits a body on the way to the goal, starts to roll by Bold, but he falls on it. Another save for Vinc on the other end. Then Keogh flings it behind his back to avoid yet another shot clock violation, but Bold grabs it and the Rush clear up the floor.
10:08 – Rush 5, Knighthawks 2 – There’s a name I’ve yet to type so far this game. But I guess it was only a matter of time. No Mercy Mike Accursi finishes on the doorstep while falling to the ground and avoiding the crease. That fires up the Blue Cross Arena. The KHawks get a rare face-off win, as the Rush’s Jarrett Toll has been nearly automatic every time.
8:44 – Crazy stuff there as a rebound shot from the Rush nearly rolled into the KHawks net, but took a funny hop, hit the right post and kicked out.
7:44 – Rochester with a real sloppy offensive set, and then a blatant pass to the Rush. “Johnny Be Good” playing right now. How fitting.
7:01 – Rush 5, Knighthawks 3 – You can’t make this crap up. Johnny Powless finds time and room about 12 feet out, catches, sets his feet and unloads to beat Bold to his right side. Seriously, he just scored that to Johnny be good. Walters on the assist. Perhaps a little wind in the sails of the KHawks now. They’re fans continue to chant “Let’s go Hawks!” like mad. Place is rocking.
5:40 – I couldn’t catch the number from this angle, but a Rush player just got trucked down near GLE. Wicked hit. It happened real quick.
5:26 – Edmonton 5, Rochester 4 – Jamieson scores in similar fashion to how he netted his first, driving inside his man, getting momentum going with his big frame and then leaping, this time dunking the shot top right. He’s fired up, nearly swatting a ref with his big mitts as he jumps up to celebrate. Cow bells just hammering in this place. People getting rowdy. Teal, purple and white everywhere.
4:10 – Rochester 5, Edmonton 5 – Wow. Jamieson backs down his man, flips it up top, where Point grabs it and redirects back to him. Cody then makes one move, rolls and moves down the lane and places a perfect shot (even a little off-speed) over Bold’s left shoulder. He’s playing much better this half, so far. Huge goal, and the Knighthawks are officially in this thing again. The Rush get a great chance after the next face-off, with Wilson getting free right in front of Vinc, but the 2011 World’s Most Outstanding goalie stops it. On the other end, the Knighthawks look rejuvinated. And why shouldn’t they be? Montell Jordan’s classic “This is How We Do It” was playing for a moment. Perfect.
1:37 – Not sure what happened, but Point just threw one in, but as he did it, Bold was already waving to the refs at something behind the play. It’s penalty on the Rush.
1:17 – Rochester 6, Edmonton 5 – Accursi catches to the left of bold, hesitates and bounces a shot through Bold’s legs. The crowd is absolutely insane right now. Can’t imagine not being here for this as an upstate bumpkin.
0:19 – Rochester 7, Edmonton 5 – This doesn’t look like the same team that was on this here Dieter Turf in the first half. Jamieson moves it to Powless, who moves it to Keogh, who fires a hard shot to beat Bold and lift this crowd to its feet.
15:00 – Vinc already with one save after the first series. Then with about 14:45, Jamieson zips a rope of a pass to Accursi, and he dives, but Bold stops it — one of his best saves. Then Keogh forces a turnover and gets it back. Vinc makes another stop on the other end, and the possession goes to Rochester as it kicks into the stands.
12:51 – Rochester 8, Edmonton 5 – Powless from the same spot he scored a few minutes ago, he sets his feet and again beats Bold to his right with that beautiful lefty stroke of his. Six Nations in the house tonight.
11:35 – My man (and boss) John Jiloty just Tweeted that he was at the first ever Kighthawks game. How awesome is that? And just to point it out, the KHawks hosted the Champions Cup just one other time: in 2003, a game in which they fell to the Toronto Rock 8-6. And we all know they were winners back in 2007, 13-11 winners over the Arizona Sting. With 9:59 on the clock, and with Vinc squatting on the ball after making yet another save (his 37th, actually), there’s another timeout. In the second half, the Knighthawks are outshooting the Rush 16-11 (in terms of SOGs).
9:00 – Just received the attendance total, and it’s solid: 9,277. Glad to be one of the folks here on a great weekend of lacrosse action. I went from Baltimore last night (Towson, actually), to Rochester tonight, to Philadelphia tomorrow.
7:44 – Vinc with a great kick save on Corey Small, another player who’s been a bit quiet tonight. Then Sid Smith just takes the ball away from a struggling Rush forward. The teams have almost reversed roles so far in this half, with the Knighthawks defense just locking down, giving nothing easy and Vinc remaining more than reliable in cage. The Rush offense, which is pretty balanced across the left and right sides, has been stifled this half.
6:00 – Rochester 8, Edmonton 6 – Just as I was about to update you that the Rush had yet to score in the second half, they score. Ryan Ward slips a shot into the lower left corner. Nice placement there by a guy who’s been on fire in the postseason, and is consistently under-appreciated in this league. It’s being challenged by the Knighthawks (perhaps just because of the situation: not a lot of time left, no harm in challenging one that could get overturned. But it doesn’t, and it’s a two-goal game. Vinc with another stop right after the ensuing draw.
5:09 – Bold stops a KHawks shot, but then Walters and Keogh check it loose to give the KHawks another chance. Powless winds and fires, but it’s off a Rush defender’s helmet and out of bounds. Timeout on the floor.
2:55 – The Rochester defense is really being tested right now, as you can feel the Rush feeling the urgency and turning up the jets here. With 2:02 on the clock, Vinc stops a big crank by Ward, deflecting the ball off his pads into the stands. Not a lot of time left here, and you can expect Bold to be heading to the bench for an extra-attacker pretty soon.
1:57 – We’re under two minutes, Bold was pulled, and yet the Knighthawks came up with a turnover there as Kirk scooped the mishandled ball and heads up the floor. Open net, but they pull up. Jamieson eventually shoots, and Keogh sells out to fight for it, but the Rush get it. Vinc with another great save. Everyone on their feet. This is the stuff championship games give you.
0:31 – Rochester 9, Edmonton 6 – As Bold and the Rush defense are trying like heck to get back into position after that turnover, Jamieson gets a pass from Walters (who carried behind). Jamieson fakes, hesitates, has Bold off balance, and he slams a shot just inside the right post. The roof is about to blow off this place.
0:00 – That’s it. The Knighthawks somehow turn it around in the second half, and they win it all. For all their struggles and even their controversy this season, the young Knighthawks are the 2012 NLL Champions.
FINAL: Rochester 9, Edmonton 6.