By Graeme Perrow
Tonight was the worst. The absolute worst. I've been going to Rock games since 2001 and it's never been as bad as it was tonight. Oh, the game was fine; in fact it was pretty good. I'm talking about the traffic into Toronto from Waterloo. Took me over three hours. Three freakin' hours. I could have been most of the way to Detroit or over halfway to Ottawa in that time. I left work a little after 4:30, and I think it was quarter to six before I hit 60 km/h. I arrived at the parking lot near the ACC around 7:45. <grumble>
Anyway, I suppose it's possible that you, dear reader, are not interested in the fact that it took me three hours to drive to this game, so on to the game report. The Rochester Knighthawks have been an enigma to me for years. They've had a ton of offensive talent – Grant, Williams, the Evans boys (who I don't like, but can't deny their talent), Gait, Point, Bomberry, Accursi, and now Jamieson, and sometimes they gel and are unstoppable. For example, the entire 2007 season. Other times, this same group of players just can't seem to put the biscuit in the basket, to quote Bob McCown. For example, tonight's game against the Toronto Rock. OK, Grant, Gait, one of the Evanses, and Bomberry are no longer there, but the Knighthawks still have a bunch of offensive talent and yet cannot score. I don't want to take anything away from either the Rock defense or Bob Watson, but the Hawks just couldn't get anything going at all. Five goals total? Only one in the second half? What are you, the Colorado Mammoth? I'm sorry, Rochester fans, that wasn't nice.
Watson continues his unbelievable last season in the NLL, winning his 100th career game. Not only is he still a better-than-average goalie at age 40, he's the best in the league. Nobody has a higher save percentage, and the only goalie with a lower GAA is Angus Goodleaf, who's only played one game. Watson was his usual outstanding self on this night and his defense was solid as well. The Rock's transition wasn't as good as last game, as shown by the fact that there were no goals and only two assists by defensemen. As for the offense, the best word for that would be inconsistent. 80% of the Rock's goals were scored by Kasey Biernes (5) or Garrett Billings (3). Manning had one accidental goal, and in the first quarter, rookie Aaron Pascas snuck around a couple of defenders and scored his tenth of the year. Manning's goal was an attempted pass to Kasey Biernes (he already had five at this point, why not pass to him?) but Biernes was covered and couldn't catch the pass. I saw that Biernes wasn't going to catch the pass and was in the process of asking Manning "What are you doing?" when the ball trickled by Vinc and into the net. Captain Colin Doyle was kept off the scoreboard entirely, and I have to wonder if that has ever happened to him in his fourteen year career. Stephan Leblanc's scoring streak was stopped at 23 games, as Leblanc finally experienced a game without scoring for the first time in his career. It's too bad, since he only had 30-odd more games to go to catch John Grant, whose streak ended tonight at 55 games. Apparently Leblanc was injured during the shoot-around before the game and was given stitches at the bench just before the game, so this might have put him off a bit. I had to be told about this rather than see it because I missed the first eight minutes of the game because it took me three hours to... oh right, sorry.
The Knighthawks really did resemble this year's Colorado Mammoth, as they had no offense but their defense was strong. Vinc did not look like last year's Goalie of the Year but did make some pretty amazing saves here and there. Vinc did do one thing that I had never seen before. One Rock player and one KHawk fell into the crease and after Vinc picked up the ball and tossed it to another Hawk, he reached down towards the Rock player lying down – I thought he was going to pound him one, as goaltenders are sometimes wont to do when someone is in their crease, but no. He grabbed the Rock player's stick out of his hands and made like he was going to toss it away. I think the ref was looking right at him, because he suddenly stopped and gave the stick back. He looked like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
- Patrick Merrill made a great play to strip the ball from a Knighthawks attacker at the centre line, then ran in on a breakaway... and missed the net entirely.
- Quote from the guy sitting behind me: "My grandmother didn't like to watch hockey cause she couldn't follow the puck. Can you imagine her watching this? We need Foxtrax for this! It's too fast!"
- Professional athletes are a superstitious lot, and goaltenders seem to be the most superstitious of the bunch. They all have their little quirks and foibles. Whenever Anthony Cosmo goes out to his net, he faces it and smacks his stick against the posts and crossbar a bunch of times, then turns around and does it some more with his back to the net. Matt Vinc went out to his net, made sure it was in the right position, turned around, and that was it. The fact that he didn't do anything weird was weird.
These teams meet again tomorrow night in Rochester, so we'll see how much difference the home field advantage makes to the Knighthawks, who have dominated the Rock in their own barn over the years. The Rock's victory a month ago and the Championship game in 2003 are the only games Toronto has ever won in Rochester.