Knighthawks clinch first franchise playoff birth
ROCHESTER, N.Y. --- The Rochester Knighthawks are going to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. They clinched in a win at home 12-10 against the Georgia Swarm. Along with the win and the clinch, Rochester snapped Georgia’s six-game winning streak.
“Since Rochester came back that was the goal and being an expansion team, it takes a while sometimes to get here but this was always the goal and we clinched so everyone’s super excited now,” captain Paul Dawson said.
Connor Fields led the Knighthawks in points with five. His two goals put him at fifty total on the season, one goal behind league leading Jeff Teat. His 14 loose ball recoveries put him over 130 on the season, making him only the third player ever to notch 100 points and 130 loose ball recoveries in a season.
“It is a real honor but none of that happens without the staff here, the culture they’ve built here, and the players that we have on this team. It’s all one unit, it doesn’t matter who gets the glory. It’s just get the win,” Fields said.
Rookie Austin Hasen notched four assists to lead the team, his less noticeable work is starting to finally show on the stat sheet.
“He’s banging bodies, he’s getting through the middle. It’s hard work and he’s working hard,” Coach Hasen said. “He’s doing a lot of the little things right now that add to our success and it’s a good thing.”
Ryan Smith and Matt Gilray also had four-point nights. Gilray notched two goals and was crucial in stopping the Swarm transition offense to produce goals, often the first defensemen off the bench. Rylan Hartley had a night that has become average for him but impressive for most, 46 saves for an .821 save percentage.
The Knighthawks had not held a lead at the end of the first quarter at home since February 11 in their 16-14 win over Halifax. Until they faced Georgia at home. Rochester initially went down by a goal on their only penalty kill of the entire game. Three minutes after that they went on a three-goal run to close out the first.
Thomas Hoggarth scored first from mid-range, receiving a pass from Connor Fields, and shooting before Brett Dobson could set his feet. Turner Evans scored the next Rochester goal and only a minute and a half after that Paul Dawson scored in transition with an outside shot.
The second quarter was a bit higher scoring. Ryan Lanchbury opened the scoring for Georgia only 39 seconds into the game. An answer came from Holden Cattoni a minute later as he notched his first of two on the night. The teams traded goals again over the next five minutes with Hoggarth doing his best Fields impression, hitting a bouncer from the carpet ads. Fields piled on three minutes later with his first goal of the night and Rochester was up 6-3 with 7:15 left in the half.
In the closing six minutes, Georgia went on a three-goal run to tie things up before halftime. They were led by Shane Jackson who contributed on all three of the goals. They extended that run by two more in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Lyle Thompson scored his first of the day just over a minute in. Six seconds later Jeremy Thompson won the faceoff and scored it himself to make it a two goal Georgia lead.
The Hawks took that personally as Rochester ripped off a four-goal run and reversed the lead in their favor over the next eight minutes. Hasen, Fields, and Smith each had two points apiece in the run. Fields’ goal was number 50 on the season, scoring his notorious carpet ad bouncer. Ryan Smith scored his lone goal of the game moments later giving Rochester the lead. Lanchbury scored his second before the end of the quarter and Rochester carried a one goal lead into the fourth quarter.
Rochester’s defense stood strong against Georgia all day and that didn’t stop in the fourth quarter. Georgia’s only goal against the Knighthawks defense came in 6-5 play in the closing minute of the game. Rochester scored two more to seal things off before that Swarm goal. Turner Evans scored his second from the outside and Gilray scored an empty netter with 27 seconds left in the game.
Rochester is now sealed into the playoffs in the eastern conference and will prepare to face either Toronto or Buffalo in the opening round. With the loss, Georgia falls to 8-9 with fate in their hands as they will play fourth seeded Halifax in their last regular season game. They must win by more than three goals to take the tiebreaker over the Thunderbirds. The Knighthawks final regular season game will be against a hungry Philadelphia team. Rochester is yet to beat them this season.
“All it takes is belief in the room and I think we have that right now, and it starts with another good game against Philly next week. No one wants to go in the playoffs as the team that’s been struggling the last couple games. You want to be playing your best lacrosse” Ryan Smith said.