A stellar goaltending performance from Matt Vinc has ended the Toronto Rock’s National Lacrosse League championship reign.
Vinc made 51 saves and Cory Vitarelli scored four times as the Rochester Knighthawks earned a trip to the NLL final with a 17-13 win over the Rock in the East Division final on Saturday. It was Rochester’s first playoff win in Toronto in franchise history.
Toronto outshot Rochester 64-41 but could not overcome 3-2, 7-5 and 11-7 quarter deficits because of Vinc’s excellent goaltending.
“It’s a good feeling for all the boys,” said Rochester captain Pat McCready. “We’re really happy.
“Matt played out of his head. You ride a goalie into the playoffs and here we are.”
Joe Walters, Mike Accursi, Cody Jamieson and Johnny Powless scored two each for Rochester, while Craig Point, Dylan Evans, Stephen Keogh, Jarrett Davis and Mike Kirk got one each.
Josh Sanderson scored four goals for Toronto, Colin Doyle scored three, Garrett Billings got two and Jesse Gamble, Brenden Thenhaus, Kasey Beirnes and Stephan Leblanc added one each in front of an Air Canada Centre crowd of 9,384.
Coming in, the Knighthawks were 4-18 all-time in Toronto including 0-4 in playoffs. They’d lost eight in a row, home and away, to the Rock. They had to believe they were due for a win.
“We hadn’t had any success here in the last two years so coming in here that was weighing on our shoulders a little bit,” Vinc said. “But we knew that all we had to do was beat them once.
“We were looking to play four solid quarters to get a W and that was almost as perfect a game as we can play.”
Vinc empathized with Toronto starter Nick Rose, who entered the division final with a 6-1 win-loss record since joining the Rock in March. This just wasn’t his night.
“A couple of bounces didn’t go his way,” Vinc said. “It’s all confidence. Bounces don’t go your way and all of a sudden you’re starting to feel the pressure.
“As a goalie, I feel for him. Everybody has been in that situation. It happened to me two years ago against the Rock when I was with the (Orlando) Titans. He’s a young kid who had a great year. He’ll bounce back. He’s a good goalie.”
Rose sat in a quiet Rock locker-room still in full equipment long after the game ended.
“We got outplayed and outworked and any time those two things happen you’re making it real hard on yourself to win,” Rose said. “Credit to Rochester. They played the game they wanted to. They executed and we didn’t. That’s what it boils down to, really.
“They were coming at us real hard right from the start. I’m sure that’s what their game plan was — to throw a lot of balls on the net early and just keep coming at us. It worked. Sometimes somebody else’s is a bit better than your’s and that’s what happened tonight.”
Doyle rued the loss of the chance to repeat as NLL champs.
“They played like a championship team and I don’t think we did,” said the Rock captain. “That’s how it goes.”
The Knighthawks had to believe they were due for a win in Toronto and, energized by that prospect, they jumped to a 2-0 lead. Toronto tied it and the teams exchanged goals until Rochester pulled back ahead by two for their 7-5 halftime lead.
The `Hawks got three straight goals in the first five minutes of the third quarter to jump ahead 10-5. They also got three in a row to start the fourth and go up 14-7.
Rock coach Troy Cordingley pulled Rose for an extra attacker with nearly nine minutes left. That’s when Kirk scored an empty-net goal to make it 16-9, and Toronto was done.
The Rock scored the game’s last four goals, making the score look less lopsided.
“We ran into a very, very hot goaltender,” Cordingley said. “They played very well. That’s a very good team, very well coached, and they had a very good plan. They deserved to win.
“The majority of the game we were waiting for things to happen instead of making them happen. Vinc made big saves then they’d go right down and score. That happened four or five times.”
Jamieson had a contented grin on his face as he grabbed a slice of pizza in the winners’ dressing room.
“Our coaches put in a great game plan,” he said. “They’re a great team. They won the championship last year. We just had to execute the game plan the coaches instilled and we did for a full 60 minutes. We’ll take the win and get prepared for next week.”
Rochester played its best game of the year to advance.
“It’s perfect timing,” said ‘Hawks coach Mike Hasen. “We stuck to it. (Goals) were dropping for us and we just kept rolling. We took the shots we wanted to take and they went in. (Rose) battled hard but we had good quality shots.”
Notes: The Rock dressed D Scott Johnston in place of D Damon Edwards, who had to serve a one-game suspension for boarding Buffalo D Ian Llord, who separated his right shoulder, in the East semi. An appeal by the Professional Lacrosse Players` Association was dismissed by an arbitrator . . . Rock F Dan Carey’s season was done after he took a high hit from Darryl Gibson during a game in Buffalo on March 31, and Rock D Phil Sanderson was out since a high hit from John Grant Jr. during a game at Colorado on April 14 . . . Knighthawks owner Curt Styres footed the bill for seven buses to carry 325 fans from Rochester. Styres, a resident of the Six Nations community of southern Ontario, also paid for their game tickets.