May 11, 2013

Rochester Wins Back-to-Back NLL Titles

by Ben Tole | LaxMagazine.com

Rochester became the first team to repeat as NLL champs since Toronto won in 2002 and 2003.
© Clint Trahan

LANGLEY, B.C. — For the first time in 10 years the National Lacrosse League has a back-to-back champion.

The Rochester Knighthawks overcame an 8-8 regular season to win all three playoff games and hoist the NLL Champion's Cup for the second consecutive year, capping off another remarkable season with an 11-10 win over the Washington Stealth Saturday evening in Langley, British Columbia.

"[Tonight's game] was worth the ticket it was a great game back and forth an offensive filled first half and a defensive second half and was just great to be a part of," said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen.

For the Stealth it was its third trip to the championship game in the last four years but just appearing in the game was remarkable given its 4-12 season in 2012 where it failed to make the post season.

"In any sport the only team that can say their season was a success is the team that wins the championship but I don't think our season not being a success should be considered a failure," said Stealth forward Rhys Duch.

"A lot of positives came out of this year to rebound and do what we did is pretty remarkable. It's very rare to see a team come last place and then the next year lose the championship game by one."

When these teams last met on Feb. 2, they combined for a total of 13 goals in what was a 7-6 Rochester win in what was probably the league's best goaltender matchup during the 2013 season.

The first half of Saturday night's championship tilt got off to a different start with both teams combining for 17 goals before half time.

It was the second half that featured the battle between two of the elite goaltenders in the NLL.

Trailing 10-7 at halftime the Stealth needed a MVP-caliber performance from netminder Tyler Richards. That is just what they got.

The Coquitlam, British Columbia native held the Knighthawks to just one goal on 18 shots in the final two frames giving the Stealth every opportunity to tie the game.

Unfortunately for the Stealth, the league's goaltender of the year was on the other side keeping them in check. Rochester's Matt Vinc allowed just three goals in the second half including just one goal on 11 shots in the fourth quarter alone.

"[The goaltending] was what we expected Tyler Richards was dynamite and came up big especially early and Vinc for us you can't say enough about him he is the back bone of our team and tonight he was dynamite," Hasen said.

The Knighthawks jumped out to a 7-3 lead in the first half and while the Stealth came back to tie the game at 7 late in the second quarter it never managed to take a lead in the game.

The Knighthawks quickly regained the lead at 8-7 before halftime and never looked back.

Cody Jamieson was named the NLL Champion's Cup MVP for the second consecutive season for his three-goal and two-assist performance just two weeks removed from sustaining an ankle injury midway through the East Division semifinals.

"It's hurting right now," Jamieson said after the game. "At the start of the game in warmups it was hurting and once you get into the game adrenaline just takes over and you forget about it."

Cody Vitarelli was the only other Knighthawk to finish the game with multiple goals coming in with two goals and assist.

Washington pulled within one goal at the 3:19 mark of the fourth quarter but Vinc and Richards both shut the door after that and teams played the final 11:41 minutes of the game scoreless.

"Our defense was able to settle down and kind of shut the door," Vinc said. "I can't say enough about our defense in that game we held them to three or four thirty second violations with fewer than nine minutes left and I think that was the difference late in the game."

The game was an instant classic with a sold out Langley Events Centre on the edge of its seat until the final buzzer.

After forcing a turnover with under 10 seconds remaining in the quarter Duch was given one last shot in the dying seconds but as he has done all season Vinc came through in the clutch and the Knighthawks will bring the NLL Champion's Cup back to Rochester.

It was the first NLL championship for 12-year veteran Dan Dawson, who was playing in his fourth championship game.

Among one of his teammates celebrating with him after the game was his brother and Knighthawk defenseman Paul Dawson, making the accomplishment that much better for Dan and his family.

"[Winning with my brother Paul] makes it a little bit extra special I've been lucky enough to win a couple Mann Cups with Paul but we haven't had much luck in the NLL so to win this with him is a little extra special but as far as I've concerned I've got 25 brothers in that room," said Dawson on his first championship.

Rochester will go into the offseason looking to make even more lacrosse history in 2014 when it attempts to three-peat as NLL champions.


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