Another day, another mini game, another thrilling ending to a National Lacrosse League division final. Friday night it was the Calgary Roughnecks pulling out the West Division. Last night, the Rochester Knighthawks took the regulation game 13-8 then won the mini-game to book their tickets to the Champions Cup when Cory Vitarelli ripped a shot from his off side over Anthony Cosmo’s shoulder to give the Knighthawks a 2-1 overtime win over the Buffalo Bandits and the East Division title.
It took over half of the 10-minute game before anyone could find the back of the net. Joe Resetarits snuck a shot from the high slot just under the left leg of Matt Vinc to give the Bandits the lead at the 5:22 mark. A couple of minutes later, Joel McReady pinballed off defenders as he drove to the net and tucked the ball behind Cosmo to tie things up.
Both teams had chances to win it in before the 10 minutes expired, but both goalies were equal to whatever tests they faced, forcing the overtime session. A little under two minutes in, Vitarelli took the ball from Jon Sullivan near mid-floor. He trotted towards the left wing then, noticing that he had a lane to the net, turned and raced up the floor. His overhand shot was perfect, hitting the small space available in the top corner to send the Knighthawks to victory.
Rochester had won the full-length Game 2 of the series by dominating the second quarter, outscoring the Bandits 6-1 in the frame. Each of the other three quarters were tied. Cody Jamieson showed why he was the regular-season scoring champion, posting 3 goals and 5 assists. Johnny Powless, who is still missing Junior A games to take part in the NLL playoffs, added a hat trick as well. Dhane Smith led the Buffalo attack with 3 goals and 3 assists.
Vitarelli opened the scoring before the Bandits connected for three straight goals, but the Knighthawks bounced right back with three of their own to regain the lead. As Buffalo did through much of their playoff run, the Bandits answered right back when Jamie Rooney connected 26 seconds after Rochester’s last goal of the first quarter. That made it 4-4 heading to the decisive second frame.
Jamieson scored on the power play to put the Knighthawks back in front. He was then stoned on a breakaway by Cosmo. Moments later, Brad Self rolled the ball ahead to give Jamieson another breakaway and this time Jammer made it count. Powless followed with a pair of goals, both set up by Jamieson and one on the power play. Then McReady completed the 5-goal run that would be the difference in the game when he bounced off a defender and fired home his first of two in the game.
Both goalies were excellent in the second half, limiting the teams to one goal each in the third and two goals each in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately for Buffalo, trading goals wasn’t going to get them any closer to coming back for a win. For the last couple of minutes of the game, both teams seemed more focused on not taking a penalty that would carry over to the mini-game than they were on trying to score.
That set the stage for the exciting conclusion to the series with Vitarelli’s overtime heroics. Now the Knighthawks will head to Calgary to face the Roughnecks in Game 1 of the Champions Cup next Saturday, May 24 at 9pm ET. Game 2, and the mini game if necessary, will be back in Rochester on Saturday May 31 at 8 pm ET.
Rochester 2, Buffalo 1 OT
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