The Jr. Knighthawks and Jr. Bandits renewed their rivalry Saturday at the second annual I-90 Cup. After a two-year hiatus because of COVID, the interstate foes met in three age groups for the right to hoist the prestigious silver cup.
After sweeping the event in 2019, the Jr. Knighthawks hosted the I-90 Cup at Tri-County Sports Complex in front of a capacity crowd. Once again, the Jr. Knighthawks captured the U13, U15, and U17 titles.
“It was a fun-filled day with a sweep for the Knighthawks at the second I-90 Cup,” said U15 coach Cory Holbrough. “Buffalo was very strong, and we had great battles on the floor.”
At the U13 level, goalies Ethan Cole and James Newton backstopped the Rochester club to 9-3 and 11-5 wins. Liam West led the offense with seven points (3+4), while Samuel Marciano (2+1), Taylor Wilkins (2+1), and Owen Muisus (1+2) each chipped in three points apiece.
The second game was the most exciting matchup as the Jr. Knighthawks rallied from a 4-2 first-half deficit to capture the victory. Rochester opened the second with five straight goals as Paddy Cougevan scored once and assisted on another during the comeback. The Jr. Knighthawks outscored the Jr. Bandits 9-1 over the final 20 minutes to sweep the series.
The Bandits started the contest with back-to-back tallies by Payton Perry and Coltyn LeRoy. The Knighthawks got within one twice, with the last coming off a goal from Michael Tobin. But Buffalo regained the two-goal edge on Blake Kosicki’s marker with 2:20 left in the first.
All hopes of forcing a deciding mini-game ended in the second half as the Jr. Knighthawks stormed back with goals from nine different goal scorers.
Rochester showcased its offensive prowess in the opening game, as the Jr. Knighthawks raced out to a 6-0 first-half lead. West was the lone multiple-goal scorer as he netted the first and fourth goals of the half.
The Jr. Knighthawks did not yield a goal in the first 20 minutes behind the goaltending of Newton and a stingy defense. In the second, the teams traded three goals each as the Jr. Knighthawks opened the tourney with the organization’s first of six straight victories.
“For the small amount of time we had together, they really grasped the concepts we set forth at practice, little things like finishing in front of the goal, finding the defenders backs on picks, talking out picks on defense and transitioning the ball on the correct side of the floor,” said U13 coach Jordan Jarvis. “They also did a wonderful job of pressuring the ball on defense and the ride which ended up in a handful of fast-break goals our way. Overall, we were very proud of these young men and excited for the upcoming Jr. NLL tournament.”
The U15 Division featured one and two-goal games, with the Jr. Knighthawks prevailing 8-6 and 10-9 in overtime. The finale was the highlight of the entire tournament, with the Jr. Knighthawks earning the win in the extra session.
Colin Wheeler scored on a bounce shot from the right side just 25 seconds into OT to give his team the win and a championship. Wheeler finished the contest with six points (3+3) and led the tournament with eight points. James Holbrough was close behind with seven (2+5). Holbrough assisted Wheeler’s game winner to give him four points (2+2) in Game Two.
The Jr. Knighthawks and Jr. Bandits battled back and forth in the first 13 minutes, with Rochester taking a 3-2 lead. However, the Jr. Knighthawks would regroup and score the game’s next six goals to take, what looked to be, an insurmountable 9-2 lead.
But, facing elimination, the Jr. Bandits mounted an incredible comeback, which started with Terrell Garlow’s second of the contact seven minutes into the second. Cole Losi scored a minute later to make it 9-4.
The Jr. Bandits would continue their onslaught, scoring four goals in the next five minutes to get within one. With their goalie pulled, the Jr. Bandits lost the ball twice in the final 30 seconds, but Owen Pawlowski fed the ball across the top to Losi, who ripped a shot in with just 16 seconds to play to tie the contest at nine.
With the prospect of playing a 10-minute mini-game to decide the best-of-two series, Wheeler put an end to the game and the series with his hat trick tally.
The Jr. Knighthawks edged their rivals 8-6 in the opening U15 contest.
Rochester was powered by three power-play goals. Wheeler and Darris Jones led the way with a pair of markers, while Ayden Szymanski-Koontz and Nicholas Marciano split time in goal.
“We had some highlight-reel goals, and the boys played super fast. You could see the improvement by every player in green,” said U15 coach Cory Holbrough. “I am so proud of the boys and retaining the championship. They earned it by their play on the floor and got better with every single shift on Saturday.”
The U17 Jr. Knighthawks repeated as champions by earning wins of 7-2 and 7-3. It was the second straight I-90 Cup title for coach Ron Cogan, who last coached the U13 team in 2019. For Cogan, it was great seeing both teams compete against each other for the first time in three years.
“The I-90 Cup was a great preparation for both teams,” he said. “I feel that our group came together as the day went on and made big strides as a team. Having the opportunity to run an offense and learning what our strengths and weaknesses are on defense before a huge tournament was very important.”
Zachariah Abu-Ali led Rochester with six points (3+3), while Chace Cogan (3+1) and Braydan Stearns (1+3) added four-point efforts. Blaine Powless backstopped the Jr. Knighthawks to a Game One win, while Xavier Delormier got the win in Game Two. In the final contest, Delormier and the Rochester defense blanked the Jr. Bandits in the first 20 minutes to take a 5-0 lead in the second half.
The Jr. Knighthawks used goals from five different players to surge ahead in the opening frame. The Jr. Bandits finally got on the board on tallies from Taydan Williams and Landon Jaeckle to get Buffalo within three at 5-2.
The Jr. Knighthawks, however, would ice the game with goals by Holbrough and Liam Moreland over the final four minutes. Williams added a late goal for the Jr. Bandits.
In the first game, Abu-Ali established himself as one of the team’s most dangerous goal-scorers and playmakers, finishing the contest with two goals and two assists.
Abu-Ali opened Game One by weaving his way to the cage and burying a shot five minutes into the contest. After a transition goal by Chace Cogan, Abu-Ali fed Yaw^tati George for a 3-0 lead.
He would then assist on Vincenzo Giangreco’s power-play tally at 4:25 of the second half to give the Jr. Knighthawks a 5-2 advantage. He scored his second, a power-play marker, two minutes later to give Rochester a 6-2 lead. Cogan notched his second of the game with under nine to play, which would be the final goal of the contest.
This weekend was a precursor to the event of the summer, the Jr. NLL Tournament in Oakville, Ontario, from Aug. 26-28. The Rochester teams enter the tourney with some momentum after winning the I-90 Cup.
“Getting the opportunity to compete against another opponent at the I-90 Cup this past weekend was very important for us,” said Knighthawks defenseman and Jr. Knighthawks U17 coach Dan Coates. “We are still trying to familiarize our guys with one another, and this was a good first step leading up to the Jr. NLL tournament. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are looking forward to seeing how we will match up against other Jr. NLL squads.”