The Georgia Swarm (11-7) can return to the NLL Finals for the second-straight season, but standing in the way is East Division Rival Rochester Knighthawks (11-8). The two teams will meet for the fourth time this season on Saturday, May 12 at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Rochester took the season series against the Swarm with two wins out of the three meetings. Both teams spent some time in the East Division cellar before catching fire at the right time of the season to emerge as the top two teams in the East.
Georgia’s foe is familiar to the coaches and players, but for fans, the two times Rochester visited The Hive is only a portion of the Knighthawks story in 2017-18. This scouting report should catch fans up to speed on one of the top teams in the NLL going into Saturday’s contest.
How the Knighthawks got here
Rochester started off the season hot with two blowout wins. Unfortunately for it, a crazy trip down to Georgia kicked off a six-game losing streak, and with only 10 games left in the season, it seemed like maybe the Knighthawks season was done before the halfway point. With its second visit to Georgia, the Knighthawks managed to turn its season around. Rochester only dropped two of its last 10 games, finishing the season 8-2 and securing second place in the East Division.
Last weekend at the East Division Semifinals, Rochester welcomed New England to its barn for the fourth contest in 2017-18 between the two. The Black Wolves had downed the Knighthawks three times this season, sweeping the season series. Yet, Rochester won when it was most important, and thoroughly handled New England with a 15-11 win.
Rochester featured the third-best offense, averaging 13.11 GF/GAME. It features Joe Resetarits, the first American NLL player to hit 100 points (37G, 63A) in a season. Resetarits also had a 14-point (3G, 11A) game against Buffalo in Feb., the most points scored in a single game by one player this season.
The Knighthawks have enjoyed the return of former MVP Cody Jamieson. After missing almost all of the 2017 season due to injury, the alternate captain was a great feeder as his 63 assists attest. Second-year player Kyle Jackson tied Resetarits for most goals scored on the Knighthawks, finishing with 73 points (37G, 36A). Cory Vitarelli (25G, 20A) and Josh Currier (17G, 14A) round out the veterans on the offense.
Rochester’s rookie forwards, Austin Shanks (27G, 25A) and Eric Fannell (1G, 21A), have impressed all season long. Against New England in the East Division Semifinals, Shanks scored four goals, and Fannell contributed one more for a third of Rochester’s goal total Friday night.
Jason Noble defending Kyle Jackson | Photo Credit: Kyle Hess
Rochester is known for its consistently strong defense. Allowing 11.67 GA/GAME, the Knighthawks have one of the strongest goaltending tandems in the NLL. Starter Matt Vinc has put himself in the thick of Goaltender of the Year conversations with his solid 2017-18. In 960:12 min., Vinc compiled a 9-6 record, made 651 saves, and finished with an 11.37 GAA and a .782 SV%. Angus Goodleaf has been strong in relief, ending the season with a 1-2 record after playing for 121:13 min. Goodleaf has made 91 saves and has an 11.38 GAA and a .798 SV%. Facing New England in the East Division Semifinals, Vinc made 49 saves on 60 shots, finishing the night with an .817 SV% and the win.
In front of the goaltenders is perennial Defensive Player of the Year contender Graeme Hossack. He compliments a strong veteran defensive unit consisting of team captain Sid Smith, Paul Dawson, Scott Campbell and Billy Dee Smith. Jake Withers, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 NLL Draft, has been fantastic for Rochester, setting the new record for most rookie faceoff wins with 279. His 66.9 win percentage leads the league.
The Knighthawks transition game is strong. Brad Gillies led all transition players with 19 points (8G, 11A), but all players took advantage of transition opportunities when they became available, and that success helped Rochester finish the season with an 8-2 record. Last Friday, Gillies recorded a hat trick against the Black Wolves.
Rochester is one of the more successful franchises in the NLL, having won five NLL Finals Cups in its 24 seasons. The Knighthawks won three in a row from 2012-2014. In 2015, Rochester was eliminated in the East Division Finals. It then missed the playoffs for the next two seasons, finishing both with 7-11 records.
The Knighthawks and Swarm met in the East Division Finals in 2013. Rochester was the victor that night, taking a 12-10 win in its home barn.
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