NLL: Knighthawks let lead slip away in final game of the season

Photo: Micheline V/Rochester Knighthawks

Following the Rochester Knighthawks’ season ending 13-10 loss to the playoff bound Halifax Thunderbirds, Paul Dawson called it a “microcosm of our season.” The description was not only unexpected (and awesome!) but perfect.

Dawson said, “We’re there, we’re winning, we’re tied and then we just let it fall away from us.”

Head coach Mike Hasen echoed the statement, saying, “We just stalled… They kept coming, they kept pushing.” Ryan Smith and Jared Conners both offered the word “frustrating” to describe yet another game where Rochester led the majority of the way, but couldn’t close out a victory.

Rochester led from the outset, scoring twice in the opening minute, including Conners’ first professional goal. Although Halifax would tie the score at seven just before halftime on a beautiful back door cut and jump through the crease from Chris Boushy for his second, the Thunderbirds seemingly could not take the lead.

The Knighthawks stretched their lead to three with a shutout third quarter. But, that was countered by six unanswered from the Thunderbirds in the fourth. Just over a minute into the period Clarke Petterson was knocked down, but still managed to get a shot away and past Joel Watson, who stopped 45 of 57 faced shots. Off the ensuing faceoff, Jake Withers – who was 19 for 26 at the dot – shoveled the ball to Cody Jamieson on the crease. He’d score again 31 seconds later to tie the game at 10 and cap three goals 36 seconds.

Midway through the quarter, Halifax took their first lead of the game (a lead they’d never relinquish) when Boushy completed his hat trick. Brad Gillies broke out in transition three minutes later, bouncing a shot in the crease. It appeared he had scored his fifth of the season, but he ran through the crease as the ball was bouncing before crossing the line as Hasen’s challenge showed.

Eric Fannell would score goal number 12 less than a minute later. He worked past a screen and shot before the sliding defender could help. Finally, Colton Armstrong scored in transition, beating Lukas Coote who replaced Watson for the run back to the empty net to cap a six-goal run, and a 13-10 victory.

After the game, Fannell commented on his Thunderbirds’ run saying, “We never let it get to us. Now that we’re in the playoffs, we’re just going to take a hard-nosed, put your head down, never give up attitude.”

Conners offered a different perspective from Rochester’s side: “You could definitely feel the energy slip to their side.”

Midway through the second quarter, with Rochester leading 7-5, Warren Hill denied two straight Rochester rushes. The first on a Dan Coates breakaway, and the second a two-on-one transition. They were just two of his 37 saves, but from that point he surrendered just three goals allowing Halifax to tie before the end of the half, and take the lead in the fourth.

Said Hasen, “At the end of the day, good teams find a way and they were the good team at the end.”

It’s been a building season for Rochester, and they’ve taken strides throughout the season. Hasen, though, was expecting more from their final game of the season. “Game 18, we wanted to be our best. We were at our best for three quarters, we just couldn’t finish it off.”