NLL: Knighthawks falter in first game played in over a month

Rylan Hartley. Rochester Knighthawks v Georgia Swarm :: 1.21.2022 :: (Photo By Micheline V)

The Blue Cross Arena was buzzing, as Knighthawks lacrosse was back for the first time in over a month. Oh, and an Eastern Division rival, the Georgia Swarm were in town. Coming off a month-long break, the Knighthawks were trying to create a winning streak and gain ground in the standings. The same went for the Swarm, as they were coming off a loss to Buffalo last week. Both teams are right in the thick of it and any upward movement in the standings is a positive. Georgia had 10 different goal scorers with Ethan Walker leading the way (2G/5A), and beat Rochester 12-8 in quite the back-and-forth contest. A very slow start for Rochester proved to be their downfall, as they almost went goal-for-goal against Georgia for three quarters of the game.

“We came out really strong in the first quarter there, went up 5-1 and then kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit in the second,” said Walker. “This is a great team out here, we just had to dig down deep… We can’t get too high, we can’t get too low. We stayed level-headed throughout the game and it got us a W tonight.”

There’s no gentle way to say it – the first quarter was dominated by the Swarm. Ethan Walker and Ryan MacSpadyen lit the lamp, making it 2-0 just 33 seconds into the game. Walker’s goal was the first of his career. The third of three quick goals by Georgia was a power play goal by Brendan Bomberry. With 12:08 left in the first, Bomberry took a pass up top and absolutely sniped a shot past goaltender Rylan Hartley. To emphasize the word “snipe,” the ball looked like it hit the crossbar and came back out of the net. Rochester took possession and went the other way. A challenge flag was obviously thrown and it was deemed a good goal. Charlie Bertrand got Rochester on the board with a gritty drive to the net, and a quick shot past Mike Poulin. This goal by Bertrand gave the rookie forward at least one in every game the Knighthawks have played this year. For someone who has never played box lacrosse, he seems to be fitting in just fine. Goals by Georgia’s Bryan Cole and another power play goal by captain Jordan MacIntosh made it 5-1 at the end of the first.

The second quarter was definitely a change of pace in comparison to the first. With goals from Curtis Knight for Rochester at the 14:12 mark, and Lyle Thompson at the 4:15 mark, one would imagine there was little-to-no action. Wrong. Hartley and Poulin were sparkling in the second quarter. Hartley stopped 15 of 16 shots, and Poulin stopped 12 of 13. Both clubs took away any chances from the opposition, specifically not giving good looks down low. This made it 6-2 Georgia going into the half.

With four first half points, Thompson became the first player in the NLL this season to reach 30 points.

Coming out of the half, Rochester was on the right track and seemingly had stopped Georgia’s momentum. Buckle up for the roller coaster that was the second half. The beginning of the third quarter was almost a mirror image of the second. Both teams were held scoreless for almost the first 10 minutes. More stout goaltending and phenomenal defense limited all scoring chances once again. With 5:59 remaining, Walker finally broke the deadlock with an “outdoor-esque” sweeping shot from way up top. Two goals from Rochester’s Matt Gilray and Ryland Rees made it 7-4 Georgia with 3:28 left in the third quarter. With 2:59 left, all the Swarm fans in the house erupted as Brad “Bubba” Voigt beat Hartley for the first of his career. Voigt was just signed to the team this week. Talk about an immediate impact.

Oh, and kudos to his teammate Thomas Semple for staying out of the crease and his celly afterwards.

Travis Longboat added another for Georgia, and Ryan Smith for Rochester, making it 9-5 Georgia, going into the fourth.

Side note, funny moment of the night had to be with 26 seconds left in the third. Forward Jordan Hall drove towards Hartley attempting a shot, in turn running into him pretty hard. Rochester captain and bruiser Paul Dawson, took exception to that (rightfully so) and proceeded to drop the “people’s elbow” on Hall right in the crease. The two wrestled for a second, and cooler heads prevailed as Hall took the brunt of the penalties that were issued. 

Bomberry opened the scoring for the Swarm in the fourth on a textbook pick-and-roll play. Rochester realized time was their enemy and seemed to wake up late in the quarter. Three goals from Smith, Gilray, and Knight quickly made it a two-goal game. Unfortunately that was as close as Rochester would get. Despite pulling Hartley multiple times in the last few minutes to gain an extra attacker, Georgia added two more goals from TJ Comizio and Kason Tarbell to make it 12-8.

It needs to be said that despite the score, both goaltenders stood on their heads. Poulin stopped 41 of 49 and Hartley stopped 45 of 57. Rochester did a very good job of containing the dynamic Lyle Thompson, however that opened the door for literally everyone else on the Swarm offense. 

Head coach of the Knighthawks Mike Hasen, was asked after the game if the month-long break had anything to do with the team’s slow start.

“It definitely does, but we don’t want to make excuses,” he said. “It’s on us to make sure we’re doing things to make sure we don’t have that rust coming in.”

On Hartley: “He’s been really good. He did struggle early, but not all game long. It looked like he was trying to track the ball and made a few big saves that he let hit him, which hopefully gives him a bit more confidence.”

Rochester had no time off as they immediately traveled to Philadelphia for a Saturday night away game. Georgia (2-3) returns home to prepare for Philadelphia next Saturday night.