THROWBACK THURSDAY WITH MATT RITERJun 1, 2017
By Craig Rybczynski -- It has been nearly 20 years since Matt Riter played for the Rochester Knighthawks, but he still makes weekly trips to Rochester. These days, however, the 46-year-old department manager for Graph-Tex is not traveling west for lacrosse anymore. Instead, he is bringing his son, Mitch, to play hockey.
“It's ironic that I'm now traveling to Rochester several times a week for my 12-year-old hockey player on the Rochester Monarchs ‘05 team,” said Matt. “His coaches just happen to be former Rochester Americans Francois Methot and Chris Palmer. What a small world it is!”
When Matt was first making that commute from Homer, NY, he was right out of college and joining a brand new franchise in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. Riter was a third-round pick of the Knighthawks during the 1995 Entry Draft. At the time, he didn’t even realize that playing pro lacrosse was an option.
“To be honest, I didn't even know I was in the draft until I got the phone call,” he said. “Like all kids, it was always a dream to play in the pros.”
That dream began at Homer Senior High School where he was a four-year standout on the varsity lacrosse team. During his senior year, when he switched from attack to midfield, he was named a high school All-American. Having success just 30 minutes outside of Syracuse garnered interest from his favorite university. In the fall of 1989, he became a member of the back-to-back champion Syracuse lacrosse program.
“My lacrosse dreams as a kid were always to play for Syracuse,” said Riter. “From my first visit, Coach (Roy) Simmons (Jr.) took me under his wing and made me feel like family.”
When Riter walked onto campus, he was welcomed by lacrosse legends Paul and Gary Gait, Tom Marechek, Pat McCabe, Matt Palumb and Charlie Lockwood. The righty attackman flourished on “The Hill,” earning All-American honors in 1992 and 1993. In 1993, he led Syracuse with 49 goals and 64 points, and was named the Division I Attackman of the Year.
He also book-ended his career with national titles. In his first season, he raised the national championship trophy with the Orange, then called the Orangemen, to complete the school’s only lacrosse three-peat. Then in 1993, Riter capped off his senior campaign with his second national title. In fact, he scored the game-winning goal with eight seconds left to defeat North Carolina 13-12. It was redemption for Riter and Syracuse who had suffered a heart-breaking 10-9 double-overtime loss to Princeton in the 1992 Finals.
“After losing the year before in double overtime, it was the ultimate high,” he said. “I can honestly say, though, that that play would have never even happened without the rest of my team. It was (Ric) Beardsley to (Regy) Thorpe to (Hans) Schmid to Lockwood and then to me in a transition goal. (It was) totally a team effort on that one.”
Two years later, Riter and Thorpe were teammates on Rochester’s newest pro team, the Knighthawks. Riter was one of a trio of former Syracuse standouts who helped fill out the fledging franchise’s first roster. The headliner for the Knighthawks was former Orange great Paul Gait, who had already established himself as one of the league’s top players.
Having Gait, and especially Thorpe, on the team made it an easier transition to the pro indoor box league.
“It definitely made my conversion more comfortable,” said Riter. “Knowing that Regy Thorpe had my back, as both a teammate and roommate, was always a good position to be in.”
Playing box lacrosse again meant that Riter had to harness the skills he acquired during his one-year stint with the Toronto Beaches. In the summer of 1991, he posted 17 points in 10 games and played with future Knighthawks Pat O’Toole, Mat Giles, Shawn Williams and Lockwood.
“Trying to relearn the box game after not having played since my Jr. ‘A’ box lacrosse days with the Toronto Beaches was a challenge,” he said.
But Riter persevered, playing in four games as a rookie and registering three points. He followed that up with seasons of 19, 20 and 17 points. What made the experience in Rochester more enjoyable were the rides with Thorpe to practices at Salmon Creek Country Club and to games at the Rochester War Memorial.
“We turned out to be really good friends,” said Thorpe, who played against Riter in high school and played with him at SU for two seasons. “He is just a great guy and a great competitor. He loves to win. We had a lot of fun traveling to Rochester and back together on those late, snowy nights.
“To win an NCAA championship, and then to win a pro championship with him, was awesome. I will never forget that.”
The former SU stars captured their first professional championship in 1997, as the Knighthawks upset the defending champion Buffalo Bandits, 15-13, in front of a sold-out crowd at Marine Midland Arena. Riter scored two goals and added one assist that night, while Thorpe collected nine loose balls and played his brand of physical defense. The Finals appearance was the team’s second in three seasons.
“After losing to the (Philadelphia) Wings in 1995 in overtime, the 1997 win against the Bandits was worth all of the hard work,” said Riter. “My body still reminds me every day of the sacrifice of that hard work.”
Riter would finish his Knighthawks career one year later. In four seasons, he advanced to four postseasons, won one championship, and notched 59 points in 35 games. To this day, he still misses the fans, which is why you will often see No. 5 back on the turf during Hall of Fame nights and championship reunions.
He and his wife, Jenna, still stay close to the game as their son and 15-year-old daughter, Mattie, play lacrosse. He also finds time every so often to lace up the cleats and get a run in with some of his old teammates.
“Both of my kids are avid lacrosse players which makes my competitive personality not always a good thing–I've been known to yell at an official or two,” he said. “My family’s annual Lake Placid trip to reunite with the guys is always a great time.”