What went right for the Rochester Knighthawks in the 2012 National Lacrosse League season is made fairly obvious by the pictures of the Champions Cup making its rounds during the offseason that have cropped up in the team’s Facebook status updates. If pro sports is all about the ultimate goal of winning, then Rochester is coming off a season of indisputable success. But if you talk to GM Curt Styres and Head Coach Mike Hasen, don’t expect them to be sitting idly by figuring that everything is hunky-dory in Knighthawksland. Besides the the fact that successful team architects are by nature always looking to get better, the club has plenty it can improve on as it prepares to defend the title in 2013. Rochester had a losing regular-season record, gave up more goals than it scored and was near the bottom of the league on the power play and penalty kill.
On opening night, three Knighthawks scored eight or more points and Cory Vitarelli had five goals. Rochester blew out the Wings 22-12 to start the season in spectacular fashion. Then they dropped three straight games. Rochester then went 2-2 in each subsequent quarter of the season. Welcome to the age of parity in the NLL. If you can figure out how to predict accurately what will happen in a given week’s games, let us know: as is obvious from the IL Indoor staff picks last year, there are no obvious favourites in any game in the league these days. The boys in teal had exactly one two-game winning streak during the 2012 regular season. That serves to make their cinderella run to a three-game stretch of playoff victories en route to the championship all the more surprising. It takes a great sense of timing to put together your only run of sustained excellence when it counts the most.
They were sixth in the league with 191 goals scored. The offence ran through Cody Jamieson as he firmly established himself as a superstar in the NLL. Jammer led the club in goals (36), assists (49) and points (85) and he was remarkably consistent. Fellow youngsters Stephen Keogh and Johnny Powless both cracked the 25-goal and 50-point marks in rookie seasons that saw typical ups and downs. Veteran Mike Accursi was second on the team in scoring (with a coolly symmetrical 22/44/66 stat line) and Vitarelli was second in goals with 29. The offensive suffered a bit of a blow with Jordan Hall having to miss half a dozen games and Craig Point only being able to dress for seven. Brad Self (7/16/23) and Pat McCready (5/13/18) were significant contributors in transition and Joe Walters took on an increasingly central role towards the end of the season and into the playoffs.
Defence and Goaltending
Smack dab in the middle of the league: 197 goals was fifth most overall but just one behind Toronto for fewest in the East. Matt Vinc had a subpar year after earning back-to-back goalie of the year honours. He posted a .753 save percentage and seldom looked as comfortable in the goal as he usually does. Of course, like the rest of the club, he was on his game in the playoffs. Vino sported a stellar .807 save percentage and 10.67 goals against average in the three post-season wins. While Jamieson was a deserving MVP in the title game, there was a strong pro-Vinc faction who thought the goaltender was the difference in the win over Edmonton.
The defence, as is the wont with a Hasen club, was a solid team effort based on sound positional play and good communication. Self had a breakout year defensively without sacrificing too much in transition. Tyler Burton, Dylan Evans and Mike Kirk have all spent plenty of time learning Hasen’s modified pressure system in Brampton and it showed in their steady performances throughout the year. Kyle Laverty and Sid Smith continued to bring toughness and McCready, as he has been for so long, was a rock-solid leader in the back end.
Rochester scored on 40.5% of their power plays and killed 45.7% of their shorthanded situations. Both were eighth in the league and both need to improve if the Knighthawks are going to get over .500 this season. The poor showings meant that even though they were almost even in power plays for and against (79-81), they gave up 12 more power play goals than they scored. Getting beat on special teams is not a recipe for success in any league and it certainly doesn’t play well in the NLL. The power play didn’t get much better in the playoffs, connecting at a 42.7% clip, but the penalty kill posted an excellent 75% success rate. One special teams area where the Knighthawks were successful in the regular season was shorthanded goals, in which they outscored their opponents 10-6.
The only significant change during the season was the addition of two-time former defender of the year Ryan Cousins, who had been acquired in a trade but didn’t join the Knighthawks until near the mid-point of the season when he was ready to return from an injury. Cousins is a nice addition to any defence and he rounded back into form as the year progressed.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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