NLL: Riorden, Wings keep playoff hopes alive with OT winner

ROCHESTER, New York, USA – MARCH 19: Rochester Knighthawks v Philadelphia Wings March 19, 2023 in Rochester, New York, USA. (Photo by Micheline Veluvolu/ Rochester Knighthawks)

Who doesn’t love some Sunday afternoon lacrosse? I’ll even add to that: who doesn’t love a massive East Conference matchup with serious playoff implications? That’s exactly what we had in store Sunday afternoon in Rochester, New York. The Knighthawks were in third place in the East, and Philadelphia was in fifth. It would be interesting to see what kind of shape the Wings would be in, as they played Saturday morning. Any win at this point of the season is crucial, especially when jockeying for playoff position. To say this was a monster game for both sides, is an understatement.

Rochester sported their “Top Gun” inspired military appreciation uniforms in front of a pumped-up crowd at Blue Cross Arena. Unfortunately for them, Philadelphia stole the show. Fairport, NY native Blaze Riorden tallied the OT winner on the Wings’ first possession, leading them to a 9-8 win over the Knighthawks. Philly’s playoff dreams live on. Let’s do it.

Mitch Jones opened the scoring for the Wings under two minutes in to set the tone for a dominant first quarter for his club. Fun fact about Mitch, he has at least one point in all but two quarters he’s played in this season so far. Um, excuse me? Unreal stuff. Rochester would answer back with the only goal they’d score in the first, from guess who? Connor Fields. Fields found himself right on the crease and buried his 39th goal of the season. Philadelphia rattled off three straight to end the quarter. Goals were scored by Eric Shewell, his first NLL goal, Taite Cattoni and Jones’ second. 4-1 Wings after one.

Two more factoids for you, this game had a pair of brothers facing off against one another in Taite and Holden Cattoni, and this would be the first time they’ve ever played each other. Gotta love some brotherly competition. Secondly, young goaltender Rylan Hartley eclipsed 1,000 career saves after his first quarter performance. One would have to assume that there will be plenty more where that came from for the kid.

Rochester scored the first two goals of the second quarter. The first by Fields could have been the goal of the game (stay tuned for my vote). Fields, a lefty, dodged and decided to shoot a shovelling, backhand shot that beat Zach Higgins for his second of the game and number 40 on the year. The second was by Thomas Hoggarth, who jumped up for a rebound off the glass and buried his shot. Ben McIntosh stopped the K-hawk momentum with his first of the night and was followed up by Taite Cattoni’s second to end the quarter. 6-3 Philly going into the break.

Both goaltenders saw a ton of shots in the first half. Hartley was as acrobatic as always, stopping 29 of 35. Higgins was a stud, making 25 saves on 28 shots.

“Energy levels are high, especially on the back end of a back-to-back,” said Jones about Philadelphia’s performance in the first half. Jones also commented on his success with his new team saying, “They’ve been very welcoming. We’re moving the ball and shots have been dropping.”

Shots did not drop for Jones and the Wings in the third quarter. Rochester came out and completely shut down the Wings’ offense. Only two goals were scored in the third, one from Ryan Smith and the other from Holden Cattoni. 6-5 Wings going into the fourth.

Rochester continued their second half dominance to begin the final frame. The Knighthawks tacked on three more. Scorers were Smith, his second, Cattoni, his second, and Turner Evans, who gets my vote for the goal of the game. Evans found himself in front of the crease as Higgins and a few Wings players were trying to corral a loose ball. Evans kept fighting, ended up with the loosie and fired a behind-the-back shot into a semi empty net, as Higgins was very much out of position. They are professionals for a reason, sheesh. 8-6 Rochester with 7:24 to play in the game.

One thing we can say all year, is Philadelphia really is never out of a game. Just 1:21 after Evans’ goal, this game was tied back up. McIntosh tallied his second and Joe Resetarits finally got one to go in. After a few solid saves from each goaltender and some back-and-forth, this one was headed to overtime. Free afternoon lacrosse in the 585, sign us up.

The overtime period was short and sweet. Nineteen seconds to be exact. Trevor Baptiste did what Trevor Baptiste usually does, and won the faceoff and Philadelphia took a timeout. On that possession, Blaze Riorden cut through the middle, received a pass and fired a shot that just trickled past Hartley. Your final from Blue Cross, 9-8 Wings.

Final factoid, there wasn’t a single penalty in this game. Not one. Couldn’t tell you the last time that’s happened.

Players of the game for Rochester were Fields (2+4), Cattoni (2+2) and Smith (2+1). Hartley was sparkling and had an unfortunate bounce to end the game. The young netminder made 47 saves on 56 shots. As for Philadelphia, Riorden (1+4), Resetarits (1+6) and Jones (2+2) led the way. Higgins was unreal in the first half and got right back to that when the game was on the line. He stopped 46 of 54 on the afternoon.

“It was a designed play, I was surprised they were putting the ball in my stick,” said Riorden after the game. “I got a trickler and we got the win in a doubleheader weekend. Every game is a playoff game from here on out. This is just the start of a long battle between us and Rochester.”

The long battle Blaze referred to was Philly having to play Rochester two more times to close out the season. In the meantime, the Wings (6-7) are right on the cusp of a playoff berth. They travel back home to take on the team directly ahead of them, the Halifax Thunderbirds (6-7), this Saturday at 7 pm. As for Rochester (9-4), they sit comfortably in third place in the East. They look to continue scaling the standings as they travel to Las Vegas (4-8), this Saturday at 10:30 pm. Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy next couple of weeks.