Trying to stop the Thunder man-to-man can prove rough at times. But give the Thunder an added advantage and prepare to take cover.
Scoring eight times on power plays, the Thunder made an excellent first impression this season, pounding the Rochester Knighthawks, 20-13, before 4,123 at the Baltimore Arena last night.
The Thunder (1-0), the National Lacrosse League runner-up last season, outshot Rochester, 65-43, and found its offensive niche late with eight fourth-quarter goals. The Knighthawks (0-2) continue to struggle, dropping their seventh straight game, dating to last season.
"If you're not successful on power plays, they'll foul you every time," Thunder coach John Tucker said. "That's what happened to us two years ago. Now, you can't focus on just one guy out there. And if they foul you, you have to make them pay. That's just what we did tonight."
The Thunder, the league's highest-scoring team last season at 15 goals per game, broke open a tight game in the first 4 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter, converting three extra-man chances to take a 15-10 advantage.
And Gary Gait, the game's MVP, only made matters worse for Rochester a minute later, when he scored on a Knighthawks' extra-man opportunity for his fifth goal of the game. Matt Shearer, a Loyola College product, also had five goals, notching four of them on power plays.
In its season opener last week, Rochester's defense excelled on man-down situations, as it killed off two of three power plays. But the Knighthawks never slowed down a revamped Thunder extra-man unit, which included newcomers John Fay, David Evans and Joe Hiltz, that converted eight of its 12 chances.
"There's no question we're better on power plays this year," Gait said. "We've got Shearer scoring and Hiltz setting guys up. The real difference is you got a bunch of guys scoring."
With neither team taking more than a three-goal lead through the first three quarters, the Thunder ran away with the victory in the fourth.
A wide-open Shearer pounded in a Hiltz crossing pass 1: 18 into the fourth for a 13-10 lead. Less than four minutes later, Evans scored twice on power plays for the Thunder's largest advantage at 15-10, as the Thunder powered in eight fourth-quarter goals on just 15 shots.
"The special teams made a big difference tonight," said Rochester coach Paul Day, whose team has yet to sign Casey Powell, the NLL's first overall pick. "I think they took control in the fourth quarter because of the power play. When you have Gary Gait out there on extra man, it just makes them that much better."
After halftime, the Thunder dominated play, doubling Rochester in shots in the third quarter, 18-9, but couldn't put the Knight- hawks away.
Teddy Dowling's score brought the Knighthawks within 10-9 with 5: 46 left in the third.
That's when the Thunder defense stepped up and held Rochester without a shot for almost three minutes. The key seemed to be keeping the Knighthawks on the perimeter and not letting them showcase their inside finishing moves.
With the Knighthawks silenced, the Thunder took its biggest lead at 12-9 with 3: 17 remaining behind a Shearer power-play goal and an unassisted score by Gait. However, Rochester made the most of its few chances, as Malawsky scored on just its fourth shot of the quarter for a 12-10 deficit.
Pub Date: 1/03/99