Fresh off sweeping the I-90 Cup, the Jr. Knighthawks had one of their finest showings ever at the Jr. NLL Tournament. Playing against the top junior teams from around the league, the Jr. Knighthawks sent the Pee Wee and Bantam teams to Championship Sunday.
“I was thrilled with how competitive all three of our teams were this weekend,” said Jr. Knighthawks coach Brad Gillies. “In my four years helping to run this program, this was our best yet. It’s rewarding to see the development these kids are having with the box game, and it brings a lot of excitement for what the future holds for box in Rochester.”
Gillies, who plays for the Halifax Thunderbirds, headlined an all-star coaching staff. On the Knighthawks’ bench, he was joined by Knighthawks players Julian Garritano, Turner Evans and Shawn Evans; former Knighthawk Ron Cogan, former 11-year NLL pro Brett Bucktooth, and local lacrosse coaching veteran Cory Holbrough.
The Pee Wee team won the Red Division with a 4-0 record in round-robin action and advanced to the Finals in dramatic fashion. The Jr. Knighthawks used three goals in the final 1:21, and a penalty-shot stop by Blaine Powless, to race past the Jr. Roughnecks, 8-7. Chace Cogan’s fast-break marker with just 5.8 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner.
Cogan finished the tournament tied for second in goals (13) and third in points (22) in the Pee Wee Division. James Holbrough, who scored on a penalty shot in the title game against New England, was tied for 10th in points (13).
“It was an incredible experience being able to work with the Jr. Knighthawks this past weekend,” said Garritano. “There are a lot of really good players who competed this weekend, and it was awesome to see the growth in American box lacrosse.
“I had an absolute blast being on the bench and getting to work with the Pee Wees. They have good character players and have been taught the right way to play box lacrosse. I have no doubt they will be a team to be reckoned with going forward.”
The Bantams also had an exciting finish in their semifinal contest but fell 9-8 in overtime to the eventual champion Jr. Mammoth. Trailing 6-3 at half, the Jr. Knighthawks stormed back and forced overtime on a shot from the near corner from Brett Bucktooth Jr. He netted the shorthanded goal with 3:05 to play and while Rochester was killing off two penalties.
Bucktooth scored earlier in the half, to go along with tallies from Luke McNamara, Conner Vaughn and Joe Green. Bucktooth finished with a game-high five points (3+2), while Vaughn posted four (2+2).
The Jr. Knighthawks finished fourth in the competitive Bantam Division, with Bucktooth leading the way with 21 points. He placed third in the division in points, while Vaughn was tied for sixth (17) and Wheeler was tied for eighth (16).
The Midget Jr. Knighthawks finished third in the Red Division with a 2-2 record, earning wins over the Jr. Bandits and Jr. Thunderbirds. Rochester was two goals away from finishing undefeated but dropped overtime contests to the Jr. Seals and the Jr. Mammoth. Jon Pierce led the squad with 12 points (6+6), while Christian LeFeurve was second with 11 (5+6). The team was backstopped by the duo of Will Dempsey and Kyle Meagher.
“It was great to be on the bench this weekend during the Jr. NLL,” said Midget coach and Knighthawks forward Turner Evans. “The tournament was first-class, and the competition on the floor was at a high level.
“I had a lot of fun coaching the Midget Jr. Knighthawks. They were a great group of players who worked hard throughout the weekend. The future of box lacrosse in the city of Rochester is promising with players like that.”