NLL: Knighthawks defeat defending champs for first franchise win

Julian Garritano of the Rochester Knighthawks gets a stick in the face of Calgary’s Shane Simpson during the Knighthawks’ first franchise win on January 18, 2020. (Photo credit: Micheline V/Rochester Knighthawks)

For the second time in Knighthawks history, the team secured their first ever win by defeating the Calgary Roughnecks 13-12 in front of the 4,505 faithful fans at Blue Cross Arena. A power play goal by Curtis Knight midway through the fourth turned out to be the game winner and capped off a gritty performance by the seven-year veteran. Knight recorded three goals and added three more helpers on his way to being named the game’s first star.

It was 25 years ago that the original Knighthawks franchise began play in the precursor to the NLL, the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. That 1995 roster featured the likes of Paul Gait, Randy Mearns, Brian Lemon, Regy Thorpe, Steve Dietrich and coach Barry Powless. In that inaugural season, they finished 4-4 and made it to the championship game before falling to Philadelphia.

Fast forward 25 years, through five championships, a franchise gone, and a franchise returned and we have the unusual situation that unfolded on Saturday night: a second, first ever win.

Despite letting the visitors jump out to an early lead, Rochester didn’t waiver from their game plan. In what turned out to be a fast paced, back and forth affair, the Knighthawks played a solid team game especially after some first half adjustments. The defense did an excellent job of containing the Roughnecks and then were able to convert in transition. Rookies Ryland Rees and Thomas Whitty scored their first NLL goals, while fellow defenders Paul Dawson and Cory Highfield also chipped in with goals. Up front, it was Curtis Knight and Holden Cattoni with six points each, followed by Shawn Evans with a five-assist night. Goaltender and fan favourite Craig Wende locked up his first NLL win with a 42-save performance including a spectacular late game save off the stick of Curtis Dickson.

A depleted Calgary offense was bolstered on Saturday night with the return of Rhys Duch as well as the additions of Dereck Downs and Zach Herreweyers. Not surprisingly, the new look offense struggled at times to find chemistry and seemed to default to Dickson whenever a shot was needed. To help ease the pressure on the forwards, Calgary loosened the reigns on their transition attack and it struck early and often with Eli Salama scoring twice in the opening minutes. After Dan Taylor was held on a breakaway in transition, Calgary was awarded a penalty shot which Dickson converted. Defenders Mitch Wilde and Reece Callies added goals to aid in the Roughnecks’ attack, but it wasn’t quite enough on this night. Curtis Dickson ended up with five points, while Zach Herreweyers had four points and Dan Taylor netted the hat trick. Christian Del Bianco stopped 40 of 53 shots in the loss.

Calgary (2-3) will head back home next Saturday for a game against the undefeated Halifax Thunderbirds (5-0). Rochester (1-5) will get next week off and then head to Buffalo for a game against the Bandits (3-1