The Rochester Knighthawks are headed to the National Lacrosse League Finals for a league-record 10th time after defeating the Georgia Swarm 9-8 Saturday night at the Infinite Energy Arena.
“It feels great right now,” said Knighthawks forward Cody Jamieson. “You start off putting these goals in place, and you’re on the top of the world, and then we were at the bottom after those six games. It’s a testament to the character of our group. We’ve got a lot of character. We all care for each other and love each other and battle for each other every week.”
The matchup proved to be a defensive battle to the very last second with both goaltenders playing remarkably.
Jamieson ended the night with three goals and an assist. Austin Shanks put up a pair of goals and added one helper. Josh Courier, Eric Fannell, Scott Campbell and Kyle Jackson each had one goal in the win. Jake Withers also won 14-of-22 draws.
“We were swinging the ball back and forth, and everyone was getting their touches, and that’s when we’re at our best,” Shanks said. “When they forced harder, that’s when we moved the ball the most, and that’s when we scored. It was unselfishness, moving the ball a lot and just taking those shots.”
Matt Vinc passed Pat O’Toole to take over first place in NLL postseason saves. He ended the night with 46 saves. Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen is now tied with Troy Cordingley and Derek Keenan for second in postseason victories (14).
The first half showcased each teams’ defensive and goaltending units and ended with each team putting up just a pair of goals each.
The second half saw the Swarm strike first, but Jamieson answered right back as he took a pass from Vitarelli and put one past Georgia’s Mike Poulin to tie it up at three. Courier netted his first goal of the night on a diving shot that put the Knighthawks up 4-3 at the end of the third.
Fannell gave Rochester a two-goal lead to open up the final frame, but the Swarm answered right back to pull within one. Shanks, however, bounced in his first of the night off the near side to help Rochester regain the two-goal lead. That goal was the first of three in 1:23 for the Knighthawks. Campbell scored in transition to make it 7-4, and Jackson extended the run with a beautiful behind-the-back goal.
The Swarm halted that run with three of their own. After a game-tying goal was called off due to a crease violation, Rochester took that opportunity to cash in on the other end to take a 9-7 lead. One last-ditch effort from Shayne Jackson brought the Swarm back within one but time would run out, sending Rochester back to the Finals.
“‘Vno’ stood on top of his head,” said defenseman Luc Magnan. “He’s been there for us all year, and we just talked about sticking to the process and taking it one shift at a time. We tried to execute it at the end and came through.”
“It looked like it was going to be close toward the end there,” Hasen said. “But we held, and Vno made a couple of great saves, and a couple of their shots went wide. It ended in our favor.”
Rochester will take on the winner of the Calgary and Saskatchewan game, which is Sunday, May 13 at 7:00 p.m. EST.