Holy cow, what a game. This is what Rock lacrosse was back in the early 2000’s – Lots of offense, strong defense, outstanding goaltending, smart play and just an all-round exciting game. I’m ready to give new Rock owner Jamie Dawick the NLL 2010 Executive of the Year award right now. Can we please just forget that the whole Kloepfer era happened? I don’t know who those guys wearing the Knighthawks jerseys were, but they certainly didn’t play like the Knighthawks I predicted would win the east this year. John Grant had a terrible game – he was dropping the ball left and right. He should have been given assists on two of the first three Rock goals, because they resulted directly from balls he dropped. Grant took a stupid and unnecessary penalty in the first quarter (as he always does when frustrated), though he managed to keep his head for the rest of the game. Gary Gait was held pointless, as were the Knighthawks, since Craig Point was invisible (see what I did there?). Pat O’Toole made some good stops here and there, but… well let’s just say that he didn’t have his best game ever.
Garrett Billings, on the other hand, was everywhere, scoring 5 and adding 3 assists. Other than Billings, the Rock goals were quite spread out, as nine other players scored at least once. Bob Watson was unbelievable in goal, and now has a microscopic GAA of 5.47 after 3 games. The Rock defense was also awesome. I remember reading off the names of the Knighthawks on the floor during their first offense shift – I believe my exact words were “Grant, Williams, Gait, Point, and Bomberry. Ouch.” But those five players were held to a combined total of three points. As I said Watson was outstanding at stopping the shots that got to him, but there were an awful lot of shots that were never made because the Rock defense knocked the ball away, grabbed it out of the air, or just prevented the Knighthawks from getting open enough to even take a shot.
It wasn’t that rough of a game, until near the end when it was pretty much over anyway, and even then it was only two players that caused all the roughness, both of whom are named Evans. Rochester had nine penalties all night, and only one wasn’t by a guy named Evans – that being Grant’s roughing call in the first. Shawn got three minors and a fighting major, and Scott got four minors. In addition, both should have been given at least unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, since they wouldn’t stop chirping at the refs, even after sitting in the penalty box. I get the two of them confused – since there’s two players on the team named “Evans”, their first initial should be on their uniforms as well, like the Rock did with the Sandersons – oh, wait. Anyway, one of them asked the penalty box door guy to open the door a couple of times so he could go back out and yell at the ref some more. Lucky for him the door guy didn’t do it – leaving the penalty box before your penalty is over gets you a misconduct penalty and an automatic game suspension. I almost expected one of them to pull a Pat Coyle and deck the ref.
There are players in pro sports who are just pests. They’re irritating and get on your nerves, but are undoubtedly great players. Scott Stevens was one, as is Sean Avery. Tie Domi as well, though his skill level was lower. In lacrosse you’ve got your Evans brothers, Mark Steenhuis, and Brian Langtry – Kim Squire was another one early in his career. Quite honestly, I find John Tavares is like that too. In many of these cases, you hate playing against them, but would give anything to get them on your team – Tavares, Stevens and Langtry are great examples of this. For me, the Evans brothers, like Avery, do not fall into this last category. They’re great players, no question, and they’re passionate and they play hard – attributes that I like in athletes. But playing hard doesn’t mean punching people in the head when trying to get the ball from them. It doesn’t mean crosschecking the goalie. It doesn’t mean hitting a player into the boards from behind and then throwing up your hands as if to say “What did I do?” when you get a penalty for it. And it certainly doesn’t mean whining to the refs about every single call that goes against your team. Playing hard and being passionate is great and all that, but it has to be combined with sportsmanship, and I didn’t see a lot of that from the Evans boys tonight. Having said that, full props to both of them for taking part in the customary handshakes after the game – I have seen other players lose it completely near the end of a blowout and are either escorted off the floor or simply walk off without shaking hands. I guess there’s some sportsmanship in there.
At the end of the game, the Rock announcer said that the Rock would be playing “this same Knighthawks team” in Rochester next week, and I said to my friend “He’s wrong. That game will not feature the same Knighthawks team. And if it does, Paul Gait should be fired.” The Rock ran roughshod over the Blazers in week 1, only to see a very different Boston team the next week. It will largely be the same players playing, but I suspect the Knighthawks of next week’s game will be quite different from the guys who played tonight. That will be an entertaining game, just as this one was.