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O’TOOLE REMINISCES ABOUT 2007 CHAMPIONSHIP

Mar 21, 2017

2007 NLL champs.jpgBy Craig Rybczynski -- When Pat O’Toole raised the Champion’s Cup over his head for the second time, it was as much of an accomplishment as it was a relief. Three previous times – including one with one second left – O’Toole and his teammates were that close to hoisting the National Lacrosse League’s most coveted prize. On this day, however, all those memories of past near misses were overpowered by the joy of winning the 2007 Champion’s Cup.

After Rochester knocked off the Arizona Sting 13-11 the afternoon of May 12, 2007, the Knighthawks finally experienced the postgame ceremony from the winning side of the floor.

“For me, it was an unbelievable feeling because of those three losses,” said O’Toole, who finished the title game with 42 saves. “Just to look around the room and see everyone else who was in that same boat (celebrating) was a pretty special moment.”

O’Toole, who had previously won a Cup in Buffalo in 1996, used his playoff experience to post eye-popping numbers, finishing the postseason with a 10.06 goals-against average and a .814 save percentage.

The win in Glendale, Arizona at Jobing.com Arena capped off one of the most incredible single-season runs in NLL history. Rochester finished the regular season 14-2, riding a then league-record 12-game winning streak into the postseason. Three more wins in the Champion’s Cup playoffs extended that streak to 15 consecutive victories, which is a mark that still stands today.

The big difference between the 2007 version of the Knighthawks and the runner-up teams of 1999, 2000 and 2003 was simple.

“It was our will to win that year,” said O’Toole. “We had a really good team. It was a team that had lost a few championships before and we learned from our mistakes. It seemed like games we shouldn’t have won, we found a way to squeak them out. The talent just took over once we got into the playoffs. Even the Buffalo game went down to the wire, but we just had guys who stepped up at every moment. Eventually it was 15 straight and the Champion’s Cup.”

The game against Buffalo in the East Division Finals was a huge test for the Knighthawks. Not only was it Buffalo, but it was a game in which Rochester fell behind 12-9 early in the fourth quarter. The resilient Knighthawks, however, mounted one of their patented late-game comebacks to take a 13-12 lead. After Buffalo forced overtime, John Grant Jr. scored 26 seconds into OT to send Rochester to the NLL Finals. Two weeks later, the Knighthawks won their second Champion’s Cup.

On Saturday, the team will reunite in Rochester to celebrate their accomplishment. In all, 16 players, four coaches and nearly a dozen members of the lacrosse staff will be in attendance. O’Toole, who will also coach that night, said he is anxious to see some of his teammates from that historic season.

“When you win a championship you have that common ground that everyone can look back on,” he said. “To be able to do it 10 years later, with most of the guys coming, is going to be unbelievable. Usually when this stuff happens in life, you have only half the guys there and half the coaches. But to have this many coming back is going to be huge. It will be a lot of fun to catch up with everybody.”

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