June 1, 2014

Rochester Captures NLL Cup Once Again in Thriller

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Rochester celebrated its third straight Champions Cup with Saturday night's rally over Calgary at home. (Larry Palumbo)

Photo Gallery by Larry Palumbo | Great Calgary Run Halted in Final

ROCHESTER, N.Y. - The Rochester Knighthawks showed in the last three minutes why they have won three straight NLL championships.

They trailed by two goals. Yet, they took the ball into Calgary's end and patiently passed it around as if they had all the time in the world. Craig Point scored with 2:14 left, Joe Walters scored with 1:23 left, and Point struck again with 59 seconds remaining. Bang, bang, bang. Three goals in one minute 15 seconds for a 3-2 win in a 10-minute, series-deciding minigame, and a few minutes later they are posing with the Champion's Cup.

''I can't say enough about this team and the resiliency we've shown,'' said captain Sid Smith. ''Our play speaks for itself, what we did when we were down by two. It's unbelievable.''

But wasn't he concerned time might run out before they could score one let alone three goals?

''Definitely, we were concerned, but the best thing to do there was to stay calm and that's what we did,'' Smith said. ''We're a veteran team. We'd been there before. We knew that was our best chance at winning so that's what we did, and we pulled it out.''

Point's heroics in the minigame and the return of Dan Dawson for the preceding Game 2 of the home-and-home set were the difference. Oh, and let's not forget that handful of saves by goaltender Matt Vinc when the Roughnecks stormed the 'Hawks end in the last 15 seconds.

''We never once panicked,'' said head coach Mike Hasen. ''We knew we'd get our opportunities and we snuck 'er out.''

Dawson, who was unable because of a concussion to suit up for Game 1 in Calgary which the Roughnecks won 10-7, scored three goals including the winner and assisted on four in Game 2. A 6-1 fourth quarter enabled Rochester to pull away to a 16-10 win.

''Ask anybody in this league who has played with Dan, he's one of the best leaders in this sport,'' said Smith. ''He easily could be wearing this C. He's a tough competitor. I can't say enough about the way he played (Saturday night). He was huge.''

Dawson, a firefighter in Brampton, Ontario, on weekdays and a former NLL MVP, was grateful for the opportunity to pull on the pads.

''I couldn't get cleared for the first game,'' he said. ''It was heartbreaking. I pushed it this week and was cleared at the last minute. Thank God we've got a great training staff and doctors who got me ready for this.''

Owner-GM Curt Styres couldn't have been happier to see Dawson come out for the anthems.

''It was a relief,'' he said. ''He was very upset he wasn't able to play in Calgary.''

There was no relief for the Roughnecks when Point started erasing Calgary's 2-0 lead in the minigame.

''Most teams would crumble under that pressure,'' said Dawson. ''But if you'd look down our bench there wasn't one guy who doubted our ability to get back in this (minigame) and win it. That just goes to show the character we have. It's been a long since. They added to extra games to the regular season and introduced a new playoff format. We had guys playing with broken bones. This is just an amazing feeling.''

Nobody was more amazed than Point. He had a clear shot for the goal that won the minigame and the title.

''All game, our coaches were saying, 'Go high and put it low,' and that's what I did,'' he said. ''Sure enough it went in. It was awesome.''

No other team in the 28 years of pro indoor lacrosse has won three consecutive championships.

Full Game Replay

Post-Game Interviews

''This team has come a long way,'' said Point. ''Curt has built this team up for so long. We've been together as a family for three to four years. Can't explain the feeling right now. It's just so good. It's an awesome feeling to win three in a row.''

The faith Styres has in his core players is commendable. He can't say enough about Point's dedication to the sport.

''Craig Point is an amazing athlete,'' he said. ''He shoots the heck out of that ball.

''His work ethic is unbelievable. He's in the gym every day. He's one powerful man. I've seen him do stuff that two guys have a hard time doing.''

Styres has Cody Jamieson on a 10-year contract and Dawson and Point each have seven-year deals.

''It's amazing how the guys took to each other,'' said Styres. ''I always tell the guys, 'You've always got to play your best.' With our scouting staff and our coaches, a lot of our players were hand-picked for their personality on the floor and off the floor. These guys just went the whole 10 yards. These guys just want more and more.''

He admitted to being extremely nervous when the 'Hawks fell behind 2-0 in the minigame.

''If I take my shirt off it'd probably be wringing wet,'' he said.

''It was a great team effort to come back like that so late in the game,'' said Stephen Keogh, who along with Jamieson had three goals in the full game. ''You've got to give it up for Craig Point on that last shot he took and Vino standing tall at the end.''

Take this in: Rochester now is 11-0 at home, including the two minigames it played this spring, in playoff games dating back to a 2004 loss. That was 10 years ago! The 'Hawks love playing in Blue Cross Arena. Opponents hate it.

''We've got great fans,'' said Walters, who besides scoring himself set up Point for both of his late goals. ''We've got the best fans in the league. This is a great venue for lacrosse. We just play well at home. We feel really comfortable here. It's on the fans. The fans make it tough (for opponents).''

Rochester won the title in Langley, British Columbia, last spring.

''This year we wanted to do it in front of our home fans,'' said Dawson. ''We wanted to give them a little bit of an extra thank you for everything they've done for us.''

Holding the NLL's to goal scorer, Dane Dobbie, to only one goal in the full and mini-games combined was another element to the 'Hawks triumph.

''He seems to be able to put the ball in the net from anywhere on the floor _ behind the back, overhand bounce _ so we paid special attention to him, especially in the extra time,'' said defenseman Mike Kirk. ''And when you've got Vino behind you to make big saves, that's always big.''

Vinc's last save, just before the final buzzer, will go down as one of the biggest of his career.

''That was huge,'' said Kirk. ''A lot of people talk about our defense and I think we have the best goalie in the league. A lot of the credit goes to him.''

Credit also goes to Hasen. Signing Hasen just might be the best move Styres has ever made with his team. Hasen did an outstanding job steering it through a 14-4 season and the playoffs. He's the ideal coach for this group of veterans. He never gets rattled in the heat of the action. He doesn't scream at the on-floor officials. His patience seems endless. He'd rather nurture than scold. He deflects praise.

''It's not about (the coaches),'' he said. ''It's about the players. I'm just happy to be part of this group.''

His players are certainly reaping the benefits of his role, which can not be overstated.


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