NLL: Rochester outlasts Albany with big third-quarter push

Rochester Knighthawks @ Albany FireWolves, December 17, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the National Lacrosse League)

Who’s ready for an Empire State battle?

The Rochester Knighthawks walked into MVP Arena in Albany, New York Saturday night as arguably the hottest team in the league and maybe even most improved thus far. I know, pump the breaks, it’s only week three of the season. However, it demands attention how well Rochester has played in their first two games this year. Albany also had a phenomenal season opener, as they walked into Buffalo and won. This would be a battle to the very end between two young and hungry clubs.

This game was a tale of two halves. Albany handled the first; however, Rochester must have had a serious talk at halftime because they came out red hot in the second. A monster third quarter propelled Rochester to a 14-13 win. Fasten your seatbelts for this one.

Albany set the tone early with a three-goal run. John LaFontaine, Tanner Thomson (from the parking lot) and Hiana Thompson all beat Rylan Hartley. These three goals were in a span of eight plus minutes, but don’t mix it up, there was a ton of back-and-forth transition and quality defense in that span. Rochester finally got on the board as Dan Coates notched his first on the ensuing face off. Ethan Walker got his first and Ryan Smith scored on the power play to close the quarter out. 4-2 Albany after one.

This new look Albany offense continued to impress at the beginning of the second quarter. Connor Kelly and Walker, on the power play, each beat Hartley in the first few minutes to bump their lead to 6-2. Arguably the player of the year so far, Connor Fields, found the back of the net and was followed up by teammate Matt Gilray to erase that Albany run. It seems a bit redundant, but these quick two-goal flurries were a big story in this game. Albany’s turn. Thompson got his second and Charlie Kitchen got his first, to regain the advantage. Thomas Hoggarth got the last tally of the quarter to make it 8-5 Albany going into the half. Little did Hoggarth know, that goal would set up a monster run to begin the second half for Rochester.

Doug Jamieson showed why he is one of the best goaltenders in the world as he saw a ton of shots and stood on his head. Dougie made 24 saves on 29 shots. His counterpart, Hartley, struggled a bit, stopping 12 of 20.

Albany forward Connor Kelly commended the defense for setting the tone and giving the offense energy.

“We’ve got a lot of leaders at that end. They’re pushing the ball, and we’re making smart decisions,” Kelly said.

Remember that reference to Rochester’s run to start the third quarter? How about the tale of two halves? Here we go. Nothing gets the comeback train started better than a five-goal run to start the third. I’ll save you all the details on each goal, because to be frank, we’d be here for a while. Let’s just say that Rochester completely controlled the first 10 plus minutes of the frame. Knighthawks goal scorers were: Holden Cattoni twice, Curtis Knight, Smith and Fields. Let’s not forget about the stout defense and absurd goaltending from Hartley during this run as well. All of a sudden, Rochester led 10-8 with 4:25 left in the third quarter. Colton Watkinson finally stopped the bleeding with a shorthanded goal. Smith wasted no time getting that goal back, and completing his hat trick. Albany tallied the last two goals of the third, one by Aaron Forster and the other by Thompson, giving him his hat trick. 11-11 going into the final frame. Whew.

The first few minutes of the fourth were an absolute stalemate. The almost chaotic transition play continued, along with good goaltending on both sides. Justin Scott finally broke the silence with his first of the game, and most importantly gave the FireWolves the advantage. Rochester rattled off two straight about a minute later, one by Knight and the other by Fields, giving him his hat trick. Scott continued to put Albany on his back however, with his second goal of the game and an important answer to tie it back up. With 4:05 left in the final frame, there went that man again. Fields wound up from deep and beat Dougie to give Rochester the lead that they’d ride out the rest of the way. Your final, 14-13 Rochester.

Players of the game for Albany were Scott (2+1), Thompson (three goals), and Kelly (1+3). Dougie had himself quite the game, just coming up short. Jamieson made an absurd 50 saves on 64 shots. As for Rochester, Fields (4+4), Knight (2+5), and Smith (three goals), led the way. Hartley, who started a bit shaky, stood tall late. The young goaltender stopped 28 of 41. With this game under his belt, Fields now has a league leading 25 points in his first three games. Unreal stuff from the Western New York native.

“It’s a credit to our locker room, management, coaching staff, and players”, said Fields. “I think we just stuck to the game plan, tried to stay calm and composed and just play our game.”

The red hot Rochester Knighthawks (3-0) look to continue their phenomenal play as they travel back home for the holidays. They’re next contest is January 7th at 7pm against Panther City Lacrosse Club (2-1). As for Albany (1-1), they too will stay home and wait a bit as they prepare for their next matchup against Halifax (2-0), January 7th at 7pm.