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Finish Strong: Knighthawks Over Black Wolves In Finale, 10-8

The Rochester Knighthawks (7-11) finished the 2016 season on a high note, taking down the New England Black Wolves (10-8) by a score of 10-8 on Sunday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The pack kept pace throughout the game, but the Knighthawks took advantage of key mistakes and secured the win. As the Black Wolves focus on tune-ups for their home playoff game, the Knighthawks prepare for an offseason of evaluation and potential changes. 

“It certainly wasn’t what we wanted,” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “Obviously we wanted to have a good feeling going into the playoffs, but we also needed to be aware of bodies and health and all that type of stuff. It’s a bit of a sour taste, but the one thing I said to the group is ‘let’s look at the season in its totality.’ If you take a step back, we’ve earned a spot in the playoffs and we played well so let’s focus on that and be ready to go next week.”

“For tonight, 60 minutes, I think it’s the first 60 minutes of lacrosse that we’ve played in a very long time,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “It’s good to finish on that note. It’s tough that we don’t get to continue, but we didn’t earn it.”

“Every year you look at it and evaluate and I think Curt [Styres] is going to do that from the top right on down,” Hasen added. “We’ll come up with a plan here quick enough and we’ll be better next year for it. We talk about having 18 lessons this year and moving forward with that, so we take these 18 games and move forward for next year now.”

It was a physical game from the start with bodies constantly colliding with the turf and glass. While the Black Wolves were more focused on staying healthy in preparation for Friday’s home playoff game, the Knighthawks seemed to let a lot of their frustration about this season show throughout the game. The first quarter was very sloppy for both teams, with bad turnovers on offense and good defense forcing a few turnovers as well. The backup goalkeepers started for both the Black Wolves and the Knighthawks and both made very impressive saves as the game went on. The score was 0-0 until the Black Wolves put one in the back of the net at the eight minute mark, but the Knighthawks scored a couple of goals, taking a 2-1 lead. 

“There were a couple in the first quarter that beat me clean,” stated Black Wolves goalkeeper Tye Belanger. “After that I regrouped, the defense played great in front of me, gave me confidence behind me, and I was just feeling it.”

The second quarter was more of the same, and the physicality escalated quickly. The Knighthawks scored first to take a 3-1 lead, but the Black Wolves retaliated just 12 seconds later to make it 3-2. From there, the pack scored two more goals to take a 4-3 lead. The Knighthawks’ frustration grew as the game continued, and forward Stephen Keogh received a five minute major penalty for elbowing. The Black Wolves were unable to capitalize on the man-up advantage though, as they received a two minute penalty as well. The Knighthawks tied it up at 4 and took a 5-4 lead as Keogh ran out of the penalty box and scored immediately. The Knighthawks built up a two goal lead, but Black Wolves rookie Phil Caputo put one in the back of the net in his NLL debut and the Knighthawks led 6-5 at halftime. 

“Tye had a strong, strong game and Phil [Caputo]; it was nice to see him get his first goal,” Clark said. “It was a bit of a scrambling play, but they don’t put pictures on the scoreboard so that was good for him.”

“It always feels good to get in there and help the team out,” Caputo stated. “Unfortunately we didn’t get the win, but it was still fun. Scoring the first one feels pretty good, but then again we always want to win.”

The Knighthawks came out firing in the third quarter, scoring quickly to take a 7-5 lead. The Black Wolves responded just under a minute later, with Brett Bucktooth’s shot bouncing into the back of the net after being saved by the Knighthawks’ Angus Goodleaf. It was back-and-forth from there and the frustration bubbled over as Kevin Buchanan and Dylan Evans turned a light bit of shoving into a brawl with both ending up in the box. The Knighthawks ended the stalemate as Black Wolves goalkeeper Tye Belanger was unable to keep a rebound out of the back of his net. A little bout broke out at the end of the quarter, and both teams went into the fourth quarter with a man in the penalty box; the Knighthawks held an 8-6 lead.

“It could’ve been worse,” Belanger stated. “They had opportunities on the shorthand, I came through and made the save. I’ve got to give credit to my defense, they kept the shots to where we wanted them tonight. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get too many on the other end offensively. It stings a little bit for now, but we’re looking past this game now and gearing up for playoffs.”

The Black Wolves struck first in the fourth quarter, cutting the Knighthawks lead to just one goal. However, the Black Wolves were slow to get back on defense and the Knighthawks answered immediately to take a 9-7 lead. After more back and forth action, the Black Wolves scored to cut the deficit to just one goal. The Knighthawks fought hard to answer, but Belanger made three phenomenal saves in face-to-face match-ups right around the crease. The Black Wolves offense came alive a bit, but a penalty drew boos and took a bit of a toll on the momentum shift. 

For the Knighthawks, defense was key in keeping the Black Wolves offense on its heels. Backup goalkeeper Angus Goodleaf got the start and made an impressive 36 saves on 44 shots faced. Dan Dawson led the offense with two goals and four assists, while Cody Jamieson had two goals and three assists. Brad Self added one goal and three assists.

Defensively, the Black Wolves fought hard and the goalkeeping was fantastic, but it just didn’t seem to be enough. The offense never really got off the ground, and that could be attributed to Shawn Evans being scratched from the lineup. Backup goalkeeper Tye Belanger got the nod and had a phenomenal night, making 49 saves on 59 shots faced. Pat Saunders led with two goals and one assist, while Kevin Buchanan added one goal and two assists. Buchanan collected his 60th point tonight, making this the first 60 point season in his NLL career. Kevin Crowley and Kyle Buchanan both added one goal and one assist. 

“We’re not sure at this point,” Clark stated. “He’s being evaluated by the doctors, so today was precautionary. He’s obviously a big part of what we do and what we need, so we’ll hope he’s ready for Friday.”

The New England Black Wolves take on the Georgia Swarm on Friday May 6th at 7 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena in the East Division Semifinal where the winner moves on and the loser goes home. Though the Black Wolves won the regular season series 3-1, including the home game against them on April 23rd, the playoffs create a completely different atmosphere.

“Going into the third quarter, it was 9-9,” said Black Wolves defender Bill O’Brien. “I think Georgia’s wheels fell off. They’re a real young team, don’t have the experience, and they have a lot of great players on offense. They’re able to score when they want to, but we were able to shut them down on defense. We’re looking to do the same thing on Friday.”

“We’re looking at this one playoff series,” Belanger stated. “One game and the winner moves on.”

Three Stars of the Game:

1) Dan Dawson
2) Cody Jamieson
3) Tye Belanger

By Alyssa McLaughlin for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.