NLL: Thunderbirds snap a three-game skid in win over Knighthawks 

Halifax, Nova Scotia – Jan 27, 2024: National Lacrosse League game between the Halifax Thunderbirds and Rochester Knighthawks at the Scotiabank Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Trevor MacMillan/Halifax Thunderbirds)

Ryan Benesch became the fifth all-time leading goal scorer in NLL history as his five goals propelled him up the record books and helped the Halifax Thunderbirds defeat the Rochester Knighthawks 10-8 on Saturday night in Halifax, N.S. 

Benesch, who is in his 16th season, came into the game four goals away from passing Colin Doyle for fifth all-time with 527 goals. Not only did Benesch pass Doyle, but he scored his fifth goal of the game with under three minutes left  for good meaure. Benesch was happy to achieve the milestone at home. 

“The city has embraced us from day one and our fans are amazing. They show up every day, they’re loud, they’re very supportive and this city is a second home for all of us, and it is incredible to set that milestone here at home,” said Benesch. 

“Obviously (Benesch) has got a lot of years under his belt but he’s just like a fine wine, gets better with age,” said Halifax’s goalie, Warren Hill. “He knows goalies, he knows shots, he knows how to read different situations. It’s kinda like hockey players they get smarter as they get older, he’s the same way, so I’m glad he’s on our team.”

This game was full of milestones for the Thunderbirds. Hill collected 2000 saves, Jake Withers moved up to eighth all-time in face-off wins and Randy Staats scored his 200th career point.

Even with all the individual accomplishments, the team is happier that they snapped their three-game losing streak. During their skid, Halifax outshot their opponents 176-134. Their issue was they would get blown out for one quarter allowing the opposing team to either get back into the game or create too big of a lead to come back from. Halifax ran off to a 4-2 lead in the first quarter and never allowed Rochester back into it.

“This our first game putting a full 60 (minutes) in. It’s bitten us in the butt in the past where we had a lead and then took a quarter off. Obviously, we didn’t want that to happen again,” said Hill. 

Thunderbirds fans didn’t have to wait long to get into this game. Jake Withers won the face-off and took the ball down the floor. Clarke Petterson was open at the side of the net. Withes fed Petterson and he dove over the crease to put it past the Knighthawks goalie, Riley Hutchcraft, six seconds into the game. 

Three minutes later, Halifax added another by Benesch scoring off an assist by Petterson. However, Rochester answered immediately, with Matt Gilray scoring in transition.

Warren Hill made his presence known in the game early. He got an assist on a transition goal from Colton Armstrong to make the score 3-1. A minute later, Hill made a ridiculous save while falling down, he managed to reach up and grab a shot aiming for the wide-open top part of the net. Hill stopped 42 out of 49 shots tonight and was key in Halifax’s win. 

“Big time, he was incredible,” said Benesch. “He made big saves when we needed it and that’s the goalie we’ve come to know and love, and it’s great to see him play like that.” 

Both teams traded goals to round out the scoring in the first quarter, with Halifax up 4-2.  

The second quarter started slow with neither team scoring during the first six minutes. Then Dawson Theede drove to the net and shot with Hutchcraft making the save. But Benesch put away the rebound for the hat trick goal. 

Rochester answered with Ethan O’Connor scoring on a transition break-a-way. 

The back and forth kept going, with Randy Staats scoring two for Halifax and Ryan Smith scoring for Rochester to make it 7-4. 

Then history was made on the next goal. Ryan Benesch grabbed a rebound in front of the net to become the sole holder of fifth highest goal scorer in NLL history.

Clarke Petterson opened the scoring of the first half, so logically, he opened the scoring of the second half. He had the ball high in the offensive zone and took advantage of Austin Shanks’ pick to burst down on the goalie to score. 

A few minutes later, Dan Lomas elbowed Jake Withers in the head in the offensive zone sending Halifax to a five-minute man advantage.  Shanks scored one goal on an otherwise abysmal power play, with Halifax blowing the shot clock twice. 

Ryan Smith and Clarke Petterson traded power play goals to end the quarter at 11-5. 

Rochester broke open the scoring with two goals in the first five minutes. Ben MacDonnell took the ball in transition and scored his first NLL goal in his first game. Connor Fields added another goal for Rochester four minutes later to make the score 11-7. 

However, with nine minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Petterson and MacDonnell got into a shoving match which escalated with everyone on the floor being involved. Dawson Theede ran over to MacDonnell and started punching him, with Macdonnell not ready for a fight. Theede received a five-minute roughing penalty on the play sending Rochester to a long-man advantage. 

That power play was a pivotal point of the game. If Rochester could score at least two goals, they would only be down two goals with four minutes left. However, if Halifax could surrender one or fewer, they would considerably limit Albany’s chances of winning. 

 Warren Hill wouldn’t allow Rochester to score. He made many key saves, including stretching out to stop Thomas McConvey, who one-timed a shot off a back-door pass. 

“I think just being tenacious, not giving up and not accepting ‘oh we’re man down we’re going to give up a goal,’ no let’s just go out there,” said Hill. “Obviously, it’s diminishing to the other team if they can’t score on a power play. Unfortunately, we have been on the wrong end of that before and it is really deflating. So we knew if we could get a big kill that it puts the nail in the coffin.” 

A minute after the penalty expired, Connor Fields came off the bench and scored in transition to make the score 11-8. 

With three minutes to go, Benesch had the ball on the right side and shot around defender Mitch Ogilvie to score his 529th career goal. He is now 22 goals behind Dan Dawson for fourth all-time.

Austin Shanks added an empty-netter to seal a 13-8 win for Halifax. 

Halifax outshot Rochester 55-49, and both Hill and Riley Hutchcraft made 42 saves. Offensively, Benesch led the way with five goals, Clarke Petterson had three goals and five points and Randy Staats had two goals and five points. For Rochester, Connor Fields led the way with a hat trick, and Ryan Smith had two goals. 

With the win, Halifax improves to 3-3. They travel to Philadelphia to play the Wings on Friday night. Rochester drops to the same record and is now on a three-game losing skid. They play at home on Friday against their Western New York rivals, the Buffalo Bandits.