The Jr. Knighthawks left Oakville, Ontario, with a pair of medals on Sunday. The second and third-place finishes completed one of the most successful tournaments in years for the Rochester Knighthawks’ youth teams.
“I am really proud of how all three teams played this weekend,” said Jr. Knighthawks director and head coach Brad Gillies. “Many of the U17s have played since they were U13s and have stuck with it and shown a ton of growth over these years. The teams all came together quickly with limited practice and really showed well all weekend.”
The U17 team was recognized as the Gatorade Canada Team of the Tournament for their hard work and passion for lacrosse. They also finished second, while the U15 Jr. Knighthawks placed third. The U13 just missed reaching the postseason, falling one win shy of the semifinals. The Rochester Knighthawks did, however, capture one title, as U15 player John Burrows and Gillies won the accuracy event at the Skills Competition, combining to hit eight targets in the fastest time.
The weekend also featured a historic win as the U17 team knocked off the host Jr. Rock in the tournament’s opening game. The 11-8 victory over Toronto was one of the biggest in the program’s history, as it marked the first-ever win for the new Knighthawks over the Jr. Rock.
“Our boys came to play,” said coach Cory Holbrough. “We played well as a group, and the game was fast-paced and featured two strong teams. We were clicking on offense, moving the ball very well, and getting everyone involved, which played to our strengths. Blaine (Powless) played great in net and helped us really gain confidence and momentum through the game.”
Powless then led the Jr. Knighthawks to wins over the Jr. Firewolves, Jr. Wings and Jr. Panther City. The Jr. Knighthawks advanced to the Finals with a 16-5 win over previously unbeaten Jr. Panther City. In the title game, the Jr. Knighthawks fell to the Jr. Rock 10-7 despite rallying late to get within one goal. James Holbrough and Chace Cogan finished tied for the U17 lead in points with 22.
For Holbrough, who has played for the Jr. Knighthawks since he was nine years old, the opportunity to play for his hometown team never gets old.
“I grew up watching the Knighthawks and going to games at Blue Cross,” said Holbrough. “Now, playing for the Jr. Knighthawks is a great feeling.”
Cogan was tied for the league lead with 14 goals. The 15-year-old forward was playing against college students at the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) National Championship just days before the tournament.
“It’s different from playing against 23-year-olds to kids my own age,” said Cogan. “It’s way easier playing at my own age level.”
The Jr. Knighthawks U15 team collected the most wins of any Rochester team, going 5-2. On Day One, they recorded convincing wins over the Jr. Thunderbirds, Jr. FireWolves, and Jr. Wings as they outscored their opponents 44-13. The Jr. Knighthawks posted a 15-4 win over the Jr. Bandits on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth for the second straight year. Rochester finished second in its division by ending the tourney with an 11-10 victory over the Jr. Swarm in the bronze medal game.
The U15 club was backstopped by Jack Pearson and Rhys Reynolds, who split time in goal and notched 6.86 and 8.00 goals-against averages, respectively. Burrows led the team with 15 goals and 23 points, while Mason Snyder also posted 10 assists and 18 points.
“It was a lot of fun playing for Rochester, playing with your friends, and being in a great environment,” said Burrows. “It was just a lot of fun.”
The U13 Jr. Knighthawks played in some of the most exciting games of the tourney, finishing 3-2. One of Rochester’s most inspiring games was against the Jr. Rock Friday afternoon. Down 11-3 early in the second half, the Jr. Knighthawks scored six straight goals to get within two at 11-9. Trevor Blount scored three goals, and Liam West chipped in two goals and three assists. Despite falling 14-10, the Rochester kids had the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre buzzing with chants of “Let’s go Hawks!”
That game was a sign of things to come as the Jr. Knighthawks completed an incredible rally the next day. Trailing 6-2 at half to the Jr. FireWolves, Rochester stormed back by scoring 10 goals in the second half to win 12-10. West netted four goals and added five assists for nine points. He finished tied for the league lead with 26 points.
“It’s really cool because you get experience playing against better players and the best of the best,” said West about his Jr. NLL experience. “It’s just really fun to win against them.”
The U13 team was coached by Knighthawks players Brad Gillies and Riley Hutchcraft. The Jr. NLL is an event that Hutchcraft wishes they had when he was a kid. His brother Bradley, however, played for the Jr. Knighthawks.
“I wish I did have this growing up,” said Riley Hutchcraft, who has coached the Jr. Knighthawks for two years. “My brother got to play in it. It’s so much fun. It’s good to see this event happen every year, and it grows more and more every year.”