The Jr. Knighthawks U13 team started and ended the 2022 Jr. NLL Tournament with victories. But, in between, the kids created friendships and lasting memories as they battled their counterparts from around the National Lacrosse League.
“I always love playing box, but these guys and this tournament was so fun,” said forward Kiki Condon.
The annual tourney in Oakville, Ontario, featured 11 teams, with the Jr. Knighthawks competing against teams from Halifax, Albany, Philadelphia, Toronto and Buffalo from August 26-27. It was a whirlwind event over two days, with Rochester playing five games in less than 48 hours.
Two of those games were decided by one goal. In the other three games, the kids from Rochester, Onondaga and Canada competed for the full 40 minutes.
“No matter the score, our guys played like it was 0-0 and played their hearts out,” said coach Jordan Jarvis. “It was fun to watch.”
“There were a lot of kids from different areas who came together quickly and started playing together as a team by games two or three,” said coach Bradley Voigt. “To beat Buffalo was awesome and was a good way to end it.”
It was the third win over Buffalo for the U13 in two weeks as they captured a pair of victories on August 13 to earn the I-90 Cup. Rochester concluded the tournament with a come-from-behind 12-6 win over the rival Jr. Bandits. The Jr. Knighthawks extended their winning streak over the Jr. Bandits by outscoring Buffalo 9-1 in the second half to erase a two-goal first-half deficit.
Dycen Nanticoke led the way with six points (2+4), team captain Gunnar Smith chipped in five (1+4) and Samuel Marciano added four assists. Rhys Reynolds played the final 20 minutes in goal and turned aside eight shots to pick up his second victory of the tournament.
“It was fun,” said Reynolds. “I am glad I could beat Buffalo.”
The Jr. Knighthawks stormed out to a 3-1 advantage as leading scorer Nanticoke notched two of those tallies. But Buffalo rallied by scoring four straight times to take a 5-3 lead into halftime. In the second half, however, Rochester blitzed Buffalo to open the final frame by netting six straight goals to pull in front 9-5.
Nicholas Mete sparked the run with a goal at 3:15 of the second. Smith scored 1:30 later as he ripped a shot from the left-wing side to tie the contest. Marciano assisted on the goal and helped set up the next tallies by Nathan Terrance, Hayden Summers and Nanticoke. Jonas Saucier notched the final marker at the 13:50 mark of the second. After a late Buffalo goal, Summers, Colton Giles and Nanticoke finished off the scoring for the Jr. Knighthawks.
The victory was the product of hard work after three losses, including an 11-10 loss to the Jr. Philadelphia Wings on the first day. Rochester also tested the Jr. Albany Firewolves as they battled back from an early deficit in a 12-7 setback. The Jr. Knighthawks grit was on display as they scored the game’s last four goals. The Albany contest was one of the most memorable for Smith.
“We went down by five in the first three minutes and were able to make a comeback,” he said.
The showdown against the eventual champion, Jr. Toronto Rock, may not have gone their way, but goalie Ethan Cole stamped his mark on the game with a 17-save effort in the first half. Cole finished the tourney with the most saves in pool play, turning aside 100 shots. It was a learning experience for the seventh grader who has made a major investment in box goaltending.
“I learned I need to start training for better tournaments and better teams,” said Cole. “That I need to work on everything I do as a goalie. I need to keep pressing on to keep making saves to help my team win.”
The Rochester club played one of the best games of the tournament as they opened the Jr. NLL event with a thrilling 7-6 win over Halifax by scoring the last four goals, including the winner with just seconds left.
“The first game we played against Halifax, we didn’t know what we would come into,” Jarvis said. “The game went back and forth, and we came out with the win in the end. That was my favorite moment.”
The Jr. Knighthawks fell behind 6-3 three minutes into the second but started chipping away as Saucier and Condon scored to get Rochester within one midway through the second half. Then, with time ticking down, Nanticoke took over. With 3:35 left, he buried a breakaway chance to earn the contest at six. Then, Nanticoke caught an outlet pass from Smith and scored with 21 seconds left to give Rochester the victory.
Nanticoke, who had four points (2+2), ended the tourney with a team-high 14 points (6+8), while Condon (6+7) and Smith (5+8) each chipped in 13 each. Marciano also notched seven points (1+6) and Terrance (3+3) recorded six. Taylor Wilkins (4+1), Saucier (3+2) and Summers (2+3) registered five apiece.
“I had so much fun because there are a lot of people on different teams who are your friends,” he said. “And it was just fun playing.”