History was made during the evening of Saturday May 31, 2014. For the first time in National Lacrosse League history a team won back-to-back-to-back championships. The Rochester Knighthawks wrote their way in to the NLL history book as the first 3-peat champions.
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo
In game one, the Knighthawks fell on the road in Calgary, 10-7. Although Rochester had the higher seed, the game was played in the Scotiabank Saddledome because of the new playoff format for 2014. Instead of holding one game to decide the semi-finals and the finals, like years past, this year the two series were decided by a best of 2 playoff format.
To simplify, if a team wins both games they win the series, if they split the games with one a piece, a ten-minute “mini game” followed the end of the second game. This new format raised a lot of eyebrows early, not often do you ever hear of playoffs in any sport playing a “best of (even number)” series.
This meant that game two would be played in Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, where the Knighthawks historically have been quite successful. The game started off in favor of the Roughnecks but momentum quickly shifter to the Hawks who were beating away on the Calgary scorers. By design the ROC defense found a way to exhaust the Riggers for a comfortable 16-10 victory and to force the mini-game.
I’m sure the men were exhausted, but the mini game showed no lack of effort. Scoring started off slow, but in the 10 minutes we were able to see 5 electrifying goals. The Knighthawks had just enough left in the tank to hold off the Roughnecks and to claim their spot in lacrosse history.
The K-hawks benefited this year from the new format, although without it they would have had home field advantage first, so there’s no way to be sure that it really shook things up. It did make for an electrifying perspective from the fans, more lacrosse games to watch and something different to talk about. It seemed everyone had an opinion on the new NLL format, whether they followed the league or not.
In the semi-finals, Rochester dropped game 1 to the Bandits, which according to years past, that would have been it for the season. Thanks to the new format they were able to seek revenge the following week at home. In both chances for a mini game to occur, it did, and in both situations the Knighthawks took advantage and won game 2 and the following shortened match to advance.
It speaks volumes for the Rochester locker room, many of these guys are veterans yet have no issue adapting to the changing situations. Last year the Hawks had a mediocre regular season, but had an extremely focused run in the playoffs to win their 2nd Cup in a row. The team made very few changes in the offseason and were able to shrug off any of the NLL’s changes to make their 3rd succesful run for the Chamipons Cup in a row.
I was lucky enough to be able to catch up with Rochester native and backbone for the K-Hawks, Joe Walters.
Without the new 2-game playoff format, it seems that the Knighthawks would have been out of contention for the cup, did that alone make you a fan of the new layout?
Well, not necessarily. With the old playoff structure of single game elimination, we would have had home floor advantage, after winning the Eastern Division. It would have been a completely different picture as our games would have been home, in which our record was 8-1 this season.
What was the general feeling around the locker room toward the new playoff format?
Initially the overall consensus was that the new playoff structure was formed to make it harder for an underdog to peak at the right time and win the Champions Cup.
We all bought into the new playoff format quickly though. The biggest change was that only 6 teams made the playoffs; meaning we had to start winning games from the start. There was a sense of urgency all season.
Would you suggest making any changes to the playoffs?
The term “mini game” has to go, if it will remain in the playoff structure.
Ideally, I think most players in the league would prefer a 3 game series. Maybe single games until the championship, then go with a 3 game series for the Champions Cup. Overall, the “mini game” or deciding game really added to the playoffs this year and made it very exciting for the teams and fans.
What did it mean to you to be a part of the first ever team to win 3 NLL Champions Cups in a row?
Still in shock and not sure it has set in how special this accomplishment really is.
We felt all season that we were the underdogs, with a lot of attention going to Edmonton, etc. This is a very resilient family, starting with our owner Curt Styres. It definitely gets tougher after each championship, but we never focused on the past or thought about “3 peat.”
When we start training camp and celebrate this years accomplishment, it will be history, and we will shift our focus to a new season with new challenges.
Was it particularly special to accomplish this feat with your hometown team?
Absolutely. I have been going to Knighthawks games since I started playing lacrosse. Every time it’s time to head to the arena for a game I drive the same route and I get the same feelings.
That sense of pride and gratefulness of representing the Knighthawks and hopefully inspiring the next generation of kids.
What does the 3-peat mean to the Rochester lacrosse/sporting community?
We made history, even if you are not a lacrosse fan in Rochester, you have to appreciate that.
How would you describe the support from the people of Rochester?
Our fans rallied! We earned the right to have those deciding games in each series at home. Our fans were a big part of our success and I want to thank the people of Rochester for their ongoing support for the Knighthawks.
Dan Dawson had an impressive recovery and a clutch return to the floor, what did his presence do for the Khawks?
You can’t replace Dan. It was tough in Calgary for game 1 without him on the floor. He is a calming presence and a big game player. His return gave us a fresh sense of confidence for game 2.
What’s next for the the team, can they make it four?
Ownership and the front office has done an incredible job forming this team and keeping the team together, especially after the new CBA in effect. Everyone will be back next season and the expectation will remain the same, winning a championship. Like I said, after we finish celebrating the 3 peat, this chapter will end and we won’t talk about 4 in a row, it will just be the next one.
What’s going on with Joe Walters in the off-season?
I have a few days off and then right back into playing, joining the Bayhawks.
Luckily, our game is here in Rochester on Thursday then a nice weekend off, which I am very excited about! We are struggling a little bit, so I am excited for the challenge of hopefully turning around the season and making another run.