May 16, 2018

By Craig Rybczynski
41385869074_f0cf77afe0_o.jpgAfter the final shot whistled through the crease, Matt Vinc leaned over in exhaustion. Finally, he had a chance to catch his breath after weathering a last-second barrage of shots. 

It was a wild end to the East Division Finals, with the Rochester Knighthawks standing tall in the closing minute to defeat the Georgia Swarm 9-8.

Vinc finished the game with 46 saves, with three of those coming in the final three minutes that would have certainly been goals against lesser goalies. But Rochester has an extraordinary player in Vinc. His coaches, teammates, and even his opponents know what he brings to pressure-packed games after 13 brilliant seasons.

“‘Vno’ stood on top of his head and bailed us out,” said defenseman Luc Magnan, who was out there for the final chaotic minutes. “He has been there for us all year.”

“I wasn’t nervous or worried at all,” added forward Austin Shanks. “The way that Vno and the defense were playing, I knew they were going to shut them down, and they did exactly that. (After the final horn) we went out and hugged our goalie because he was incredible tonight.”

During the 2017-18 season, Vinc was voted the Team MVP for a record sixth time after he finished second in the NLL in save percentage (.782) and third in saves (651). The five-time NLL Goalie of the Year also moved into second place in NLL history in saves (7,118) and minutes played (10,960).

More importantly, Vinc owns a playoff record of 18-8 and has backstopped five teams now to the NLL Finals. During his last trip, Rochester won a league-record third straight championship. After missing the postseason the last two years and starting this season 2-6, the Knighthawks are back in the Finals for the first time since 2014.

It’s a resilient bunch, with a core of guys still in the locker room from the last championship run and a handful of rising stars. Vinc, however, is still the focal point of the Knighthawks’ defense and has been there time and time again to make that critical final save. The 2013 and 2014 title games both ended with clutch saves to secure one-goal victories. Saturday night was no different.

Knighthawks forward Cody Jameson heaped a considerable amount of praise on the broad shoulders of the veteran goalie.

“We have said it before in interviews, he is the backbone of this team,” said Jamieson. “You are just praying as an offensive player that one of your shots goes in to give him a little bit of a cushion because you know he is doing everything he can. When he’s on, like tonight, he is definitely the best.”

The St. Catharines, Ontario native out-dueled his counterpart on Saturday, Georgia’s Mike Poulin. After two quarters the game was tied at two, and it appeared headed to the lowest-scoring playoff game in league history. Coincidently, Vinc won that game back in 2009 with the NY Titans, 9-3.

Rochester took a 4-3 lead into the fourth. That’s when the offenses went to work with each team scoring five times. 

With the Knighthawks leading 9-8 late, Georgia had its chances. Lyle Thompson, last year’s MVP, was stopped on a breakaway with just over 90 seconds to play. Vinc would then deny the prolific scorer again in the final seconds to preserve the victory.

It all added up to another classic playoff performance by Vinc, who reached two milestones in the East Division Finals. Not only did he become the franchise’s all-time postseason saves leader but the NLL’s as well, passing former Knighthawks great Pat O’Toole in both cases. 

Just two more records to add to a resume that rivalries any man who has ever strapped on the pads in professional lacrosse.

“When you look at his resume it ranks him as the best, and he still has more to give,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “He’s not done this year and, in my opinion, for a few more years. He is going to keep adding to his totals and cementing himself as the best goalie ever."

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