The fans at the Langley Events Center are going to be treated to an absolute beaut of a game this Saturday. The Rochester Knighthawks are slated against the Washington Stealth for the Champion’s Cup.
These two teams have met twice this season, but haven’t crossed paths since the third week – they split the early series, but both outcomes were decided by a single goal. A lot has changed for both of these teams in the last few months, and this head-to-head tilt will be legendary.
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo
Let’s look at some recent results to see what we can glean?
The Rochester Knighthawks mounted an unbelievable come-from-behind win over the Minnesota Swarm last weekend. After such a rough start to the season, no one thought the Knighthawks would be back in the championship game, especially me. The Knighthawks tightened their chinstraps, buckled down, and shifted some personnel around – they won games down the stretch and earned home seeding in the playoffs. Now they are just a 9-iron away from winning back-to-back NLL Championships, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since the Toronto Rock in 2003 (who won over Rochester).
The Washington Stealth have steered their ship back into familiar waters. The Stealth will now have been in 3 of the 4 past championships, winning one over the Rock in 2010. Washington put together a solid season are were always near the top of the league standings. Last week, they beat Calgary by the slimiest of margins, and now their focus is on Rochester. One little slip up – the game will not be played at either team’s home arena but rather the Langley Events Center. I expect to be a good mixture of fans on both sides, but maybe their will be more Stealth strictly because of location. We shall see.
- Offense: Advantage – Tie
Both offenses can be very potent, but both teams have struggled lighting the lamp at times throughout the season. Cody Jameison played on a bum ankle and still managed to put up 5 points, a heroic effort. Dawson has been hitting his stride throughout the postseason and was able to relieve the pressure from an absent Jammer in the first round game. Rochester also has Stephen Keogh, Johnny Powless, Mike Accusri, Joe Walters, and Craig Point chipping in points. There are a lot of weapons surrounding the big guns of Dawson and Jameison. All it takes is one of the other guys to go off for a huge night and that’s all she wrote for the Stealth. Look for the veterans to lead the charge for the Knighthawks.
Washington’s offense is no slouch either. The Stealth put up 193 goals this season compared to Rochester’s 179. The heavy-hitters for the Stealth are Rhys Duch, who was recently named to the All-Pro team and Lewis Ratcliff – but once again, have an arsenal of other scorers as well in the likes of Athan Iannucci, Cliff Smith, Brett Bucktooth, and Dean hill. Both teams know how to score and have deadly offenses, which should make for a great back and forth battle.
- Defense: Advantage – Stealth
Another category where both the Knighthawks and the Stealth are evenly matched, but I will lean with slight favor towards Washington. I don’t think players like Mitch McMichael, Matt Beers, and Jeff Moleski don’t get enough credit for being such tenacious defenders – possibly some of the best in the league. Rochester’s defense is led by 4th year player, Sid Smith, along with Paul Dawson and Rory Glaves. These two defense s are too close to call, overall I’ll hand it to K-Hawks because of Matt Vinc, but we will get to that later. If we take Vinc out of the equation, Stealth have the upper hand. They are a little bit more athletic and physical down low. By the slimmest of margins I have to give the advantage to Washington.
- Transition: Advantage – Tie
OK, honestly you guys are probably getting sick of me saying this is a close match-up but this is another category that is too close to call. Rochester can run with the best of them, and they made their living on scoring transition goals in the beginning of the season. Joel McCready and Brad Self are excellent at pushing the ball, but as of late Rochester has been electing to put the balls in Jameison and Dawson and you can’t argue with that logic. So I would expect Rochester to not push the ball and try to keep it settled on offensive BECAUSE if Rochester turns it over in transition Washington is going to make them pay.
The difference in this category is going to have to be Bob Snider taking the draws for Washington. Once again, Rochester doesn’t have a dominant face off guy and this is where they lose out. Snider is going to take the majority of face offs and win around 70% of them. Those are just extra possessions that are going straight into the pocket of Washington. In a championship game, that can make or break you.
- Goaltending: Advantage – Knighthawks
Little bit easier to pick an advantage in this category. Make no mistake about it, Matt Vinc has solidified himself as the best goaltender in the league. He was recently selected 1st team All-Pro and he is the ace in the hole for Rochester. He stood his ground and was instrumental for the comeback over Minnesota last weekend. Vinc has the playoff experience and the ring on his finger from last year championship – nothing but confidence coming from #48.
Tyler Richards also had a strong showing last weekend, saving 75% of the shots he faced. He finished 5th on the Goals Against list, and 4th on the overall saves list. Those are solid numbers, but unfortunately for the Stealth, Matt Vinc is number 1 on both of those lists. Richards is a capable goaltender with a strong defense in front of him. Most importantly, Richards is on top of his game right now and that is where you want your goalie to be in the playoffs. Richards will stay hot and give the Rochester shooter all they can handle.
- My Prediction!
A very tough game to call. Rochester has a slight advantage with Matt Vinc in net, but on the other hand, Washington has Snider on face offs which equate to extra possessions. The big scorers for both teams are going to get their points, its inevitable, but it is going to be the 4th and 5th guys on the floor who are going to make the difference. Whoever wins the little battles between the 4th and 5th runners is going to make a world of a difference. Whether it is an extra lose ball or drawing a double team and dishing the ball – those are the plays that get you to hoist the cup. I love both teams but it is hard to choose. If I don’t pick it is a cop out. Gotta go with Washington. There are a lot of players on that team deserving of a championship, I think it is their turn.
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