It’s championship day in the National Lacrosse League and the two Champions Cup contenders are in some ways a study in contrasts. The Rochester Knighthawks came into the season as defending champs and were a popular pick to repeat thanks to their defence and goaltending, and thanks to an offence that featured a mix of talented youngsters and savvy vets, including the addition of the great Casey Powell and Dan Dawson. Well, the former is gone to Colorado but the latter is front and centre in Rochester’s pursuit of a title after what yet another veteran righty forward, Mike Accursi, aptly called a roller coaster ride of a season in a championship game preview on the Hawks’ web site.
While Rochester started the season with high expectations that weren’t fulfilled until the playoffs, the Stealth came into 2013 as the only team to have missed the playoffs last year and full of question marks with an infusion of rookies but started the season with a bang. They won the NLL season opener against Rochester and went 3-1 in the first quarter, then never really looked back en route to a three-way tie for first in the West and a playoff run that has them in their third title tilt in four years.
Tyler Garrison has led the wave of newcomers, bringing the intense defence and quick-strike transition presence the Stealth were hoping for when they made him their first pick in the 2012 entry draft. Make no mistake, though, the Stealth still look to their veterans to lead them, and Rhys Duch and company have come through in spades.
The Stealth have also had Head Coach Chris Hall all season after he missed much of last year while undergoing treatment for cancer. His presence has certainly helped them and he’s a major factor why being forced to move the game to Langley shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Washington. For example, he made the wise decision not to tell the team about the move until after they had beaten Calgary in the West Division final.
“That was going to be a potential distraction for them and you don’t want to think beyond the moment,” Hall told the Everett Herald. “We had our hands full thinking of how we were going to beat a very good Calgary team. It was something we really felt the players didn’t need to know because we had lots of time to deal with it should we be fortunate enough to win.”
The Knighthawks, meanwhile, have their own reasons to feel fine about being on the road for the Champions Cup. For one thing, they were only 3-5 at home. More importantly, they have steady-as-she-goes Head Coach Mike Hasen at the helm. “We’re just preparing ourselves like it’s any other game,” Hasen told Knighthawks.net. “Washington is going to be a tough opponent for us. That’s all we’re focused on right now. If we just try to dot our I’s and cross our T’s and get on the floor and battle, results will happen after that.”
Rochester also has a touch of extra motivation to win this year. Dawson and Scott Self, both added to the team this year, have never won the Champions Cup in their illustrious careers and their teammates would like to help them to do so. “You want those people to feel the success you felt,” said Accursi, who already has three championship rings. “Dan’s been there three times and has come up empty three times, but he’s a premier player in this league. It would definitely be nice to pass him the Cup and let him feel that excitement that some of us have felt before.”
When all is said and done, it comes down to playing the game. The Stealth and Knighthawks will do that at 4 pm local time, 7 pm in the east. You can watch the game live on CBS Sportsnet. And if you can’t get there in person or see it on television, you can follow along on IL Indoor’s live blog by Bradley Vrecko.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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