January 30, 2013

NLL Notebook: Knighthawks Look to Regroup

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

"We've got to get better,'' former league MVP Casey Powell said of the Knighthawks' offense. Rochester is 0-3.
© Rochester Knighthawks/Larry Palumbo

The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks are not falling apart because they are 0-3. As the players sat behind tables on the green Blue Cross Arena carpet signing autographs after their 11-7 home loss to Toronto last Saturday night, they left no doubt that they intend to stick together and once again be battling for the Champion's Cup once April rolls around.

''It's not a good way to start the year but I think we're getting closer to the way we want to play,'' said goaltender Matt Vinc. ''We've just got to play a full 60 minutes. I don't think we've done that yet and it has cost us. A couple of lapses at the beginning of the game and at the end of the game [Saturday] was the difference. We've just got to keep working hard.''

The lack of offensive cohesion among the right-handed shooters was obvious against the Rock. Casey Powell and Dan Dawson are former league MVPs but one would not guess as much from watching what transpired Saturday.

''We got off to a good start but just couldn't finish,'' said Powell. ''Our defense did a good job but our right side didn't score any goals. We've got to get better.''

Dawson has scored one goal in three games, and he's not happy about it.

''We're obviously not off to the start we wanted,'' said Dawson. ''Our best players have got to start being our best players. No one is pointing fingers right now. We're just trying to figure out what the problem is. We can start with me. I've been awful the first three games.''

Rose Sensational

Toronto's Nick Rose frustrated Dawson and the rest of the Knighthawks' shooters time and again. He allowed only one second-half goal.

''When we broke down, Rosie was there to make some big saves,'' said coach Troy Cordingley.

The previous night, he blanked Minnesota in the fourth quarter and his teammates scored four unanswered goals to pull out a 13-12 victory.

Rose leads all NLL goalies in wins (4), goals-against average (9.31) and saves (201). Pat Campbell, the former NLL goalie who is the Rock assistant coach in charge of goaltending, has been doing an excellent job mentoring Rose. Since being acquired from Calgary last March, Rose has started all 13 Rock games and has won 10 of them.

Open Net Beckons

With Toronto up by three in the last minute, Rock defenseman Cam Woods ran into Rochester territory with the ball in his stick. Matt Vinc had been pulled for an extra Knighthawks attacker. The empty net beckoned.

''I wasn't sure if I should keep running or just throw it in there,'' Woods said afterwards. ''My opportunities to score one don't come very often so I decided to throw it in there.''

It was the first goal of the year for the Rock vet. He scored two in 16 games last year. He had none in 14 games in 2011. His team doesn't rely on him to score goals, or course, and he's been a valuable member of a strong core of defensemen that has helped Toronto to the top of the overall NLL standings with a 4-1 record.

''If last night was a character win, I don't know what to call this one,'' Woods said in a corridor outside the visitors' dressing room. ''Playing against a character team, the defending champs, and we came in and outwilled and outwanted them and were fortunate to come out on top.''

Suitor Overcomes Knee Injury

Andrew Suitor is one determined lacrosse player.

The Swarm captain, who had missed Minnesota's first two games while under league suspension, charged back into the fray with an inspirational performance in a 15-14 win over Washington in his team's home opener Saturday night.

Suitor was carried to the bench by teammates Ryan Benesch and Jeff Gilbert when he hurt his right knee early in the fourth quarter. But wait. He wasn't done. With 9:30 left, he ran back onto the floor wearing a knee brace and proceeded to score his second goal of the game.

Big Weekend for Rookie Matisz

Kyle Matisz showed during the weekend exactly why he was a high draft pick — third overall — last September.

The Minnesota rookie scored his first three NLL goals during a 13-12 loss in Toronto on Friday and came right back with three more in a 15-14 home win over Washington on Saturday. This 6-foot-5 brute is tough to stop when he heads for the crease with the ball in his stick.

He grew up just west of Toronto and played summer ball in nearby Brampton so supporters showed up en masse.

''All the [veteran] guys have welcomed me with open arms,'' he said after the game in Toronto. ''I'm not too far from my family and friends here so it was awesome to play in front of them in one of my first games in the NLL. It was a great experience.''

Sweet Victory for Evans, Hominuck

It's mighty sweet to score a goal against a team that traded you, and to do it in that team's building is a double dose of satisfaction.

Scott Evans, who spent his first six NLL seasons with the Knighthawks, was one happy dude after chipping in with a goal in Toronto's 11-7 win in Rochester. He'd played in Blue Cross Arena a couple of times since being traded by Rochester but this was the first team win he'd experienced there as an opponent.

''The last two times I was in this building as an opponent my team [Edmonton] lost so coming in here and getting a win feels good,'' he said. ''It's a huge win on the road for us and boosts us to 4-1. I'm big-time happy to be part of this group. It's a good bunch of guys and we're movin' forward.''

Mike Hominuck, who was with the Wings last year, fired in a Buffalo-best three goals in the Bandits' 14-13 home win over Philadelphia.

Shawn Evans Leads Scoring Race

Shawn Evans, 26, has matched his brother Scott's age, 31, in total points. He leads the NLL scoring race.

Shawn amassed a club-record 13 points (4-9) in Calgary's 19-12 win at Colorado on Friday and got six more (2-4) in the Roughnecks' 16-8 win in Philadelphia on Sunday. He now has 13 goals and 18 assists in only four games.

Toronto's Garrett Billings is next with 28 points (7-21) and Washington's Rhys Duch is third with 27 (14-13). Both have played five games.

Mammoth Shakeup

It was easy to pinpoint the main problem after Colorado struggled to a 1-2 start: goaltending — it just was not good enough.

GM Steve Govett reacted Tuesday by releasing veteran Chris Levis and re-signing Dan Lewis, the 23-year-old native of Coquitlam, B.C., who split last season between the active roster and the Mammoth's practice squad.

Lewis saw only nine minutes 40 seconds of NLL action last season and was not retained for the 2013 campaign. Govett had referred to him in 2011 as ''a goaltender for the future of this franchise.'' So, in a roundabout way, it now appears as if Lewis is finally going to get his big chance.

''This is Dan's opportunity to prove that he can be an impact player in the NLL,'' Govett said.

Matt Roik, who had been backing up Levis, stays.

Nick Rose was handed the No. 1 job in Toronto without a previous NLL start and he's been great. Maybe Lewis can come out of nowhere and do the same thing for the Mammoth.

Doyle Second Mr. 1,200

Toronto Rock captain Colin Doyle edged past the 1,200-point career milestone last weekend. He's only the second player in pro indoor history to surpass 1,200.

The 1,000-Point Club: 1. John Tavares 1,641; 2. Doyle 1,201; 3. Gary Gait 1,165; 4. John Grant Jr. 1,112; 5. Josh Sanderson 1,099; 6. Shawn Williams 1,061.

Attendance Count

The biggest crowd of the weekend, 15,103, watched Denver as the Colorado Mammoth fell 19-12 to Calgary.

Attendance elsewhere: 13,808 in Buffalo for the Bandits' 14-13 win over Philadelphia; 10,504 in Toronto to watch the Rock rally for the last five goals to overtake Minnesota 13-12; 8,785 in Philadelphia for Calgary's 16-8 win; 8,782 in St. Paul, Minn., for the Swarm's 15-14 win over Washington; 5,762 in Rochester where the Knighthawks yielded an 11-7 verdict to the Rock; and 5,416 in Edmonton where the Rush lost 12-10 to visiting Washington.

Close Watch on Head Hits

The NLL's crackdown on high hits appears to be having a favorable impact but that doesn't mean team trainers are going to be out of work. Far from it.

''Hits to the head are still going to happen, unfortunately,'' said Rochester Knighthawks athletic trainer Stephen Lobsinger. ''It's part of any contact sport, lacrosse or otherwise, and we obviously want to do our best to try and minimize injuries. The game is so fast that they're going to happen but we're trying our best to try and limit them.''

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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