Ethan O’Connor could not remember the last time he scored a goal, let alone a game-winning goal.
On Saturday, the Rochester Knighthawks defenseman scored a goal he won’t soon forget, burying the eventual game winner in a 10-9 win over the Georgia Swarm at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre.
“It’s nice to put one in the back of the net finally,” said O’Connor. “My role with other teams has not been to push transition, but there is a different mentality here. When you get across center, anyone can push it. It’s nice to throw some balls at the net, and if they go in, they go in.”
O’Connor was one of eight different goal scorers for the Knighthawks, joining Austin Hasen, Kyle Waters, and Turner Evans. Rochester was led by a three-goal effort from Ryan Smith and three-point games from Connor Fields (1+2), Thomas McConvey (1+2) and Dan Lomas. Rylan Hartley of the Knighthawks started the contest and made 17 stops in 30 minutes of action, while Riley Hutchcraft made 23 saves on 25 shots.
“‘Hutchy’ was a rock for us in the second half,” said O’Connor. “Same with Hartley (in the first). We are teaching them the shots we are going to give them, and they are telling us the shots they want to see. We are in a transition period where we are figuring out the defensive side of things and our goaltender’s expectations. We are making strides, and we’re better.”
In the second half, Hutchcraft was the big story, turning aside the first 14 shots he faced, including all 13 in the third quarter. Meanwhile, on offense, Rochester rallied in the third by outscoring Georgia 3-0. Smith got on the board at 6:10, and Waters followed with a power-play goal almost four minutes later. McConvey tied the contest at seven when he connected on an outside shot with 1:24 to go in the third.
“‘Hutchy’ came in and played unbelievable,” said Smith. “He sparked us with a couple of big saves in the third quarter.”
The teams traded goals to open the fourth, then Rochester scored the game’s next three goals in a 7:10 span. Lomas and Smith notched back-to-back goals and O’Connor’s marker at 9:44 of the fourth propelled Rochester into a 10-8 lead. He buried a pass from Jordan Stouros to finish off the two-on-one break. The Swarm got a late goal, but Hutchcraft and the Rochester defense earned the win by limiting Georgia to two fourth-quarter goals.
“It’s easy when the defense takes a step up in the second half and lets me see the ball,” said Hutchcraft. “It’s easy when you come in cold, and you see the first couple of shots; it lets me settle into the game. We ended up getting the win, which is always a bonus.”
The game marked the preseason debuts of Fields, Curtis Knight, Ryland Rees and Brad Gillies for the Knighthawks. The quartet played during the first half.
“It felt really good (to be back),” said Fields. “Watching is always nice because you can get an outside perspective. It makes you think a little bit differently, but you want to be out there playing and making an impact.”
Fields posted three points in the first quarter to help Rochester erase an early 3-0 deficit. Georgia had opened the contest by scoring three straight goals as Lyle Thompson found the net twice for the Swarm. Andrew Kew also scored as part of a three-goal effort. The Knighthawks responded with a goal by Smith at 9:25. Fields then picked up his own rebound and scored 1:26 later to get within one. Hasen later connected after a stick fake to tie the game at three.
The second quarter belonged to the Swarm as they netted three straight goals to break a 4-4 tie. Turner Evans had evened the game as he caught a cross-crease pass and one-timed a shot past Brett Dobson, who made 23 saves on 27 shots. Georgia regained the lead as Kew connected for two goals, and Liam Byrnes added one to give the Swarm a 7-4 halftime lead.
Georgia fell to 1-1 in preseason action, while Rochester improved to 2-0. The Knighthawks are back in action on Saturday, Nov. 25, when they host the New York Riptide at 7:00 p.m. at The Blue Cross Arena.