Knighthawks take down defending champs for first win in franchise history

Photo: MichelineV/Rochester Knighthawks

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Rochester Knighthawks (1-4) battled back from a 12-11 deficit with two fourth-quarter goals and held on for the final seven minutes of regulation as they took down the defending NLL champion Calgary Roughnecks (2-3) in thrilling fashion Saturday at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena for their first win in franchise history. The 13-12 victory also snaps Rochester’s four-game slide to begin the season.

Curtis Knight (3+3) and Holden Cattoni (1+5) each notched six points while Shawn Evans ended the night with five assists. He and Cattoni remain within one point of each other through the first five games of the season. Turner Evans also contributed four points (1+3) while Ryland Rees andThomas Whitty also found the back of the net for their first NLL goals. Craig Wende, who got the start for the second straight week, was brilliant in net making 42 saves, including several big stops late in the fourth quarter, to pick up his first pro win.

Curtis Dickson paced Calgary’s offense with a team-high five points (2+3) while Dan Taylor scored three goals, all of which came in the third quarter. Christian Del Bianco suffered the loss to fall to 2-3 on the season despite a 40-save effort for the Roughnecks, who lost for the first time on the road this season.

“The guys are pretty pumped right now and deservingly so,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “It’s been a bit of a grind as of late, but I liked how we competed tonight. They’re the defending champs for a reason, but they never really got too far ahead of us. We just kept coming, and at the end of the day that’s what we need to do every game.”

It was a back-and-forth offensive battle between the two teams for most of the contest, which at one point saw five different lead changes. The turning point of the game for Rochester came in the latter half of the second quarter when the Knighthawks reeled off three straight goals – their second of three different 3-0 runs throughout the night – to even the game at 7-7.

With the matchup tied at 11-11 entering the final frame, the teams tightened up defensively in a goaltending duel between Wende and Del Bianco. Zach Herreweyers put Calgary ahead 3:29 in, but it would prove to be the only goal of the quarter for the Roughnecks.

Rees netted his second of the game at 7:05 and Knight completed the hat trick less than a minute later on the power-play to give Rochester the lead for the good. Calgary pressed to find the equalizer over the final five minutes of regulation, but Wende came up with some timely saves to preserve the one-goal victory for the Knighthawks.

“It’s a happy scene right now compared to other games, so we’ll enjoy it for now, but we need to focus on the next one,” said Knight.

A pair of goals each by Eli Salama and Dickson bookended a 3-0 run by Rochester as the teams combined for seven goals in the opening quarter.

Salama scored twice in the game’s first two minutes to stake the Roughnecks to a 2-0 lead, but Rochester would answer with three straight to quickly turn the deficit into a one-goal advantage.

Cattoni, coming off a nine-point night last Saturday in Toronto, picked up right where he left off as he fired one past Del Bianco off a set-up from Evans and Knight. The trio would factor again just over two minutes later when Cattoni found a streaking Knight backdoor to even the game at 2-2 game at the 5:24 mark.

The Knighthawks took their first lead of the night at 10:11 thanks to a sensational individual effort from Rees. After causing a turnover near midfield, Rees, Rochester’s second overall pick in the 2019 NLL Draft, corralled the loose ball and went the distance before wiring a last-second shot inside the right post for his first NLL goal.

“You’re always happy to score goals, but looking at the bigger picture, it was the first team win, the first for a lot of people, a few of us had our first goals. I think it’s just a great all-around team win.”

As the first quarter was dwindling down, Calgary retook the lead on the strength of back-to-back goals from Dickson. The veteran forward converted on a penalty shot opportunity at 12:41 after he was tripped up on his way to the Rochester goal following a long stretch pass from Del Bianco and then picked the upper corner with 12 seconds remaining to give the Roughnecks a 4-3 lead.

After trading goals in the second quarter, the Knighthawks emerged determined to start the second half and would outscore Calgary 5-4 in the third, marking the first time this season they outscored the opponent through 45 minutes.

“It’s super exciting, obviously,” said Cattoni referencing the emotions in the locker room following the team’s first win of the season. “It’s also a good blessing. We’re going to spend a lot of time on the bus on the way down to Philly, but it’s time to turn the page and work on getting our second one.”

The Knighthawks close out the weekend on Sunday, Jan. 19 when they travel to Wells Fargo Center to take on the Philadelphia Wings for the only time this season. The 7:00 p.m. matchup will be carried live on 107.3 FM The Bull as well as B/R Live.

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