May 19, 2012

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Rochester Rallies in Second Half to Win NLL Title

by Travis Larner | LaxMagazine.com

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The Rochester Knighthawks have been a second-half team throughout the 2012 National Lacrosse League season.

Although it seemed like the Edmonton Rush had Rochester's number in the first half of the Champion's Cup Final on Saturday night, the Knighthawks once again roared from behind with a strong third quarter en route to their third NLL championship in team history.

"We never quit all year. Quit's not in our vocabulary. [Goaltender Matt Vinc] stood on his head in the second half, we buckled down on 'D,' and the 'O' came alive," said Rochester captain Pat McCready.

Rochester goaltender Matt Vinc (left) shut out the Rush for a span of 26:22 to help the Knighthawks win their third NLL title.
© Kevin Colton

The Knighthawks (10-9) scored seven unanswered goals bridging the third and fourth quarters, stealing the lead and momentum from the Rush.

"[At halftime] I said that basically that things were going like that all year for us. We never said die all year. We came back. We were down a lot during a lot of games and we always fought and we always clawed our way back," said McCready.

Trailing 5-1 at the half, Mike Accursi, the only player from Rochester's 2007 championship squad, opened the quarter with the first goal of the Knighthawks' momentous run. Cody Jamieson followed with two straight to tie the game at 5-5.

Jamieson finished with a game-high eight points (four goals, four assists) and was named the Championship Game MVP.

Accursi then gave Rochester the lead with a power play goal after former Rochester captain Shawn Williams was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

"Well, it was obviously a hard-fought game and really it was kind of two games in one," said Edmonton head coach and general manager Derek Keenan. "The first half was ours and the second half was Rochester's. That's really what it came down to."

All-Rookie team selections Stephen Keogh and Johnny Powless added goals of their own before the Rush were finally able to end their scoring drought. Keogh closed the third with the game-winning goal with only 19 seconds remaining in the quarter. Powless started the fourth by finding the back of the net.

Edmonton only found the back of the net once in the second half. Vinc shut out the Rush for 26:22 from the end of the second quarter until Ryan Ward scored with six minutes left in the fourth.

"It just seemed like the momentum shifted our way, and that's like of like what we did in the last five or six games down the stretch," Vinc said. "We clawed our way back and we never gave up. I think that's a testament to the type of team we are."

The Rush (8-11) dominated the first 30 minutes of the contest. As advertised, the defense played very well while goaltender Aaron Bold held the Knighthawks scoreless in the first quarter and allowed only one in the second. Edmonton defense kept Rochester to just 11 shots while its offense fired off 31.

"Pretty much we came out a little bit flat in the second half. I lost a little bit of focus. It's a bad feeling," said Bold, who made 26 saves on 35 shots.

Zach Greer gave Edmonton a 2-0 to start the contest. He scored 1:32 into the game, and again at 2:44 in the second quarter.

"It's a game of runs, right?" Greer said. "We had ours and you want to limit theirs as much as possible. I think at halftime in the locker room had the same feel as the last couple of weeks. We were winning those two games too, right? Try and stay positive and keep doing the things we're doing.

"I think our minds were in the right place. We were saying the right things and just necessarily didn't do those in the third quarter."

Defenseman Chris Corbeil and Jarrett Toll each scored unassisted as they took turnovers by Jamieson the length of the floor. Those goals were sandwiched around a power play goal from Aaron Wilson with a 5-on-3 man advantage and Jamieson's lone tally for the Knighthawks.

Williams, playing his first game against his former team since being traded to Edmonton with Bold for defenseman Ryan Cousins and forward Alex "Kedoh" Hill, was tied with a team-high two assists.

"He felt bad," Keenan said about Williams. "He's won a couple and he's been to a few. He's a heck of a competitor. He's led us all year on the offensive end, particularly in the playoffs."

Despite finishing the regular season below .500, Rochester was able to win its first championship at the Blue Cross Arena, and its first since 2007.

Over the past five seasons, many veterans such as Williams have been replaced with younger players like Keogh, Jamieson and Powless. With the Champion's Cup now in hand, the Knighthawks have proven what their young team can accomplish.

"The proof is in the pudding. We're champions," said Rochester coach Mike Hasen.


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