Back on Jan.7, Rochester Knighthawks forward Thomas Vela made his debut in the National Lacrosse League against Panther City Lacrosse Club, producing his first professional point with an assist on a Ryan Smith fourth-quarter goal.
“It’s a dream come true ever since I was a little kid, so I’m pretty excited for tonight,” said a smiling Vela when asked about the excitement heading into his first pro game.
However, since that first game where Vela’s long-awaited dream came to fruition against Panther City, the rookie hasn’t seen much time on the floor. It took until this past weekend, Week 12 of NLL action, for Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen to make the decision to play eight forwards instead of seven and for Vela to get his next opportunity to suit up.
“We played eight offensive players instead of what we have in our previous eight games of the season with seven offensive players,” said Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey when asked about the decision to put Vela back in the lineup. “Coach Hasen and the staff decided it was a good decision to bring him in and give him another opportunity. So, he (Vela) started off well and I think he showed what we’ve seen in him.”
And, boy, did Vela deliver.
In the Knighthawks’ 16-14 win over the Halifax Thunderbirds, Vela went on to produce a pair of goals. Vela’s first came on a shorthanded opportunity in the first quarter at Segar & Sciortino Field on Saturday night and all the pressure slowly faded away with just 2:39 to go in the first frame.
It doesn’t get much prettier than that for your first NLL goal 🤩
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) February 12, 2023
“The first one’s always a lot of pressure, but it felt good to get the monkey off the back early in the game and obviously it helped us swing momentum a little bit,” said Vela after the game when asked how it was to find the back of the net for the first time professionally. “I definitely just found a groove, I was just working hard, setting seals, setting picks, just getting through and creating some space for me and some others. Obviously, it worked out for me, so I just need to keep doing that.”
It comes as no surprise that Vela delivered the way he did this past weekend.
In preseason, Vela was quite impressive for a rookie in the NLL. Though he only played in the first half of the final preseason tune-up against the Panther City, Vela did appear in all three preseason matchups, leading the team with eight points on two goals and six assists.
So far Vela has only played in two games during the Knighthawks 2022-23 campaign, however, if he continues at the pace that he brought against Halifax, we may be seeing him more often, especially with the great job that Carey and staff feel the rookie brought to the floor.
“I thought he (Vela) did a great job,” said Carey. “He played well, he works really hard and is very skilled player and a great teammate.”
Following the bye week this week, the Knighthawks and Vela resume their 2022-23 campaign on Saturday, Feb. 25 when they host the New York Riptide at 7 p.m. at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. The matchup will be the second and final meeting between the intrastate rivals this season and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.