The Georgia Swarm became the first team to clinch an NLL playoff berth on Friday night, but it didn’t come easily against Chris Boushy and a revamped Rochester Knighthawks squad.
The Swarm were at Blue Cross Arena to face the Knighthawks, which had six new faces in their lineup (with two more in the stands waiting their turn). The Swarm jumped on them early, leading 5-0 just over five minutes into the game, but the Knighthawks’ new kids proved resilient and fought back to tie the game at 14 only to fall 15-14 on Shayne Jackson’s fifth goal of the game.
“We just knew we had to come out and play with speed, and we knew that they had a lot of new faces in the lineup,” Jackson said in a Swarm press release. “We wanted to play our game and jump on them early, and luckily we did, but I thought we let our foot of the gas a little bit.”
Georgia scored so quickly into game that BR Live’s clock hadn’t started counting down. Jake Withers won his first of 29 faceoffs but a turnover saw Alex Crepinsek pick up the ball, make a long pass to Jordan MacIntosh who passed to a streaking Chad Tutton who threw a couple of fakes before beating Warren Hill 15 seconds in. Lyle Thompson increased the lead to two with one of those easy goals that come when everyone is distracted by a player appearing injured on the floor. Thompson’s second goal came as he beat Oran Horn’s check for a diving goal at 5:21 that put the Swarm up 5-0.
Rochester broke up Georgia’s run with Chris Boushy and Ryan Benesch sandwiching Miles Thompson’s goal with their first tallies as Knighthawks. Lyle Thompson finished his hat trick with a power play goal to go up 7-2 but Rochester doubled their output with two goals in the final minute.
Mike Triolo, the definition of perseverance on his fourth stint with the Knighthawks, finally cracked the active roster and spun off a defender and beat Mike Poulin low far-side with 48 seconds left for his first NLL tally.
You could feel the Knighthawks gain some confidence after Triolo’s goal. Suddenly they were energized, and indeed, Boushy was able to corral a rebound with a second to go in the first.
“‘Jammer’ [Cody Jamieson] told me before the game to let the ball fly and trust my instincts, and that’s what I did,” Boushy said in a Knighthawks’ press release. “I am happy it worked out, and I’m excited to see what this team can do. A lot of people in the room want to make a statement and prove people wrong. I am happy to be a part of that mission. It was amazing to see veteran players have such a trust in me, a rookie.”
Boushy replied to Shayne Jackson’s early second quarter goal with two more of his own. Holden Cattoni and Cody Jamieson exchanged goals before Georgia ended the half on a three-goal run to lead 12-7.
Jackson contributed in the penalty column as well, coming out of a scrum fighting Darryl Robertson. Jackson was the recipient of a sucker punch from Billy Dee Smith the last time the Swarm and Knighthawks met, so he got a modicum of revenge. After that, Rochester had a five-minute power play but squandered it with a series of penalties that resulted in five ‘Hawks in the box and three Swarm.
“You can’t give teams opportunities,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “They’ve got good players there. They’ve got guys trying to make a name for themselves in the league, which some of them did tonight.”
Indeed, the third quarter belonged to Rochester. Graeme Hossack got them started with a shorthanded goal. Jackson scored a power play goal after he got out of the box, but after that the Knighthawks went on a four-goal run that included two power play goals, two more from Boushy (that’s six if you’re keeping count) and another first, this time from Dawson Theede. Suddenly, Rochester had closed the gap to 13-12.
Boushy’s seventh goal, shorthanded, tied the game at 13 only 11 seconds into the fourth.
Jackson’s fourth goal gave Georgia back the lead at 1:36, but Rochester tied it again seven seconds later after Jake Withers won a faceoff to himself and streaked in unchallenged to beat Poulin. Jackson gave the Swarm the last lead they would need just 3:22 into the period. Poulin and Hill each made a number of great saves the rest of the way; Hill especially looked confident in the last quarter in front of a defense that began soaking shots as they, too, grew more confident.
“Rochester was much better than we were in the second half and maybe even deserved a better fate than what they got,” Comeau admitted.
‘Hawks fans thought Ryan Benesch had tied the game with 2:24 left but officials ruled he had been in the crease prior to scoring.
The Knighthawks have no time to rest as they’re back on the turf tonight at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto to face the Rock.
The Swarm host the Rock next Friday, March 22nd.
With Rochester’s loss, Buffalo also clinched a playoff spot.