Mar 6, 2015

Casey Zaph induction.jpgBy Craig Rybczynski -- When Casey Zaph was introduced to accept his Hall of Fame plaque, he was greeted with a standing ovation from over 7,000 fans at The Blue Cross Arena. The former defenseman was reminded of the feelings he had as a player in Rochester nearly a decade ago.

“I stopped, looked around and the applause was thundering down,” said Zaph. “I thought, ‘This is why I love this game.”

It was a feeling that he experienced one other time in his six seasons in Rochester. It was during a home game on February 15, 2003 against the Columbus Landsharks that Zaph got the crowd into the game even before the opening faceoff.

“It felt like the game where I fought Tyler Francey from Columbus before the game started,” he said. “That was exactly the feeling I had today.”

Always a fan favorite, Zaph was a punishing, hard-hitting defenseman from 2000-05 with the Knighthawks. Once named the team’s Unsung Hero, he played in 79 games, and notched 66 points and 377 ground balls. He still ranks in the Top 10 in team history in penalty minutes. The Knighthawks Hall of Fame video was a perfect testament to the blue-collar Zaph, who never backed down from a challenge.

“The video was perfect. It summed up my career to a T,” said Zaph. “The odd fluky goal, a lot of aggressive defense and fights.”

On February 28th, Zaph became the 13th member of the Knighthawks’ Hall of Fame, joining many of his former teammates and his former Head Coach Paul Day, who still works on the Rochester bench. It was Day who helped Zaph transform his game from a goal-scoring role to the transition/defensive position. It allowed the former first-round pick to thrive in the National Lacrosse League of the early 2000s.

“I had to adjust my approach to the game to find a role with this team,” he said. “I respect Paul Day for seeing I was changing my job and giving me that shot.”

Zaph rewarded the Knighthawks with every ounce of effort he could muster each and every game. His enthusiasm for the game instantly earned him the respect and admiration of the fans. Zaph was surprised with the reception he received when he signed with Rochester on January 19, 1999.

“When I came to Rochester I wasn’t ready for that. I had never been to a place where people knew my stats, offered to buy my lunch and loved their team,” said Zaph. “I wasn’t even on the active roster. I was just a practice guy.

“As I got to know the fans, I really saw the passion. They love their team and travel with their team. Everything about their lives is lacrosse and I respect that. It’s one big family. I am here with my family, my wife, and we are hugging and the respect is going back and forth.”

With his wife, Sandy, and children, Maggie and Charlie, by his side, Casey stepped to the podium Saturday and thanked the fans and his family for their support and inspiration. He also recognized his parents, Neil and Patti, and even cited the garage game of lacrosse he played against his dad as a 17-year-old which served as a lesson in toughness and perseverance. Zaph’s No. 1 passion has always been his family and he made sure to convey that message one more time to the crowd at The Blue Cross Arena.

“My kids are my life now,” said Zaph. “Both of my kids are amazing. They are succeeding in school, at life and in athletics.”

Maggie is exceling in gymnastics and has an upcoming competition in Finland, while Charlie is a hockey goalie and a baseball player. However after the Hall of Fame ceremony, his son hinted he might want to give lacrosse a shot.

“He had zero interest in lacrosse, but after he saw what I did here he actually said, ‘Maybe I’ll try lacrosse,” said Zaph.

Later that night, he received another surprise at the Stock Exchange Restaurant. With several dozen fans and his family at the downtown postgame destination, Stock Exchange Owner John Terrigino brought out a birthday cake for Casey. To singing and more applause, he blew out the candles to cap off his incredible night.

“I turned 40 years old yesterday,” said Zaph. “This is the greatest birthday ever.”

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