Rochester Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc won’t be looking up any of his former classmates at Canisius College this weekend. His visit here is strictly business.
“I try to make it back” for some Canisius lacrosse games, “and I definitely try to visit during Alumni Weekend,” Vinc said. “But during the season, it’s all about routine. I’m thinking about the game. I try to stay away from everything.”
Vinc will lead the unbeaten Knighthawks into tonight’s game with the Buffalo Bandits at First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM).
Vinc’s connection to the area starts in St. Catharines, Ont., where he played goal in junior lacrosse. There he was recruited by Randy Mearns, the Canisius College coach who doubles as the Bandits’ radio commentator.
“I knew I wanted to be a high school teacher, and Canisius offers a fine education program,” Vinc said.
That part worked out well, as Vinc now teaches physical education and science in grade 10 at a St. Catharines high school. Vinc was a four-year starter as a defenseman at Canisius.
The pros came calling in 2005, when he was the first-round draft pick of the San Jose Stealth. Vinc returned to his roots as a goalie there. He jumped to the New York Titans in the expansion draft of 2006, and became their starting goalie in the 2007 season. Vinc led some powerful teams in 2008 and 2009.
“I was pretty fortunate. I played with some great teams and was on a great franchise in New York, but they didn’t have the fans there,” Vinc said.
The New York Titans became the Orlando Titans in 2010, but the economics didn’t work out there either despite having another good team. The franchise folded, and the National Lacrosse League staged a dispersal draft. Vinc was the first pick.
“I went to Colorado, but I had a full-time job in St. Catharines,” he said. “I knew it would be tough to be a ‘fly-in’ guy. It’s tough to have 100 percent dedication. Fortunately, Rochester was in need of a goalie.”
The Knighthawks shipped forward John Grant Jr. west as part of a multi-player deal that brought Vinc to Rochester. Now, the goalie’s traveling days seem to be over.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” Vinc said. “I hope I can spend the rest of my career there. It’s the perfect fit for me. My family really supports me. Playing for Rochester has been great.”
In the last two years, Vinc has been selected as the league’s best goaltender, running his personal total to three such awards. It’s probably not a coincidence that the Knighthawks were champions in both seasons.
“A good goalie gives confidence to the guys in front of him. That’s a big key,” Rochester coach Mike Hasen said. “If they do make a mistake he bails us out. … A goalie only is as good as the guys in front of them, and they’re playing well as a group – giving him good looks. But it doesn’t hurt him back there. He makes the saves.”
The Knighthawks have won their first three games this season. Winning a pair of championships, it seems, can do wonders for a team’s confidence.
“We didn’t really make that many changes,” Vinc said. “There weren’t a lot of new faces that came into the locker room. We know each other, we’ve played summer lacrosse together. Anytime there’s familiarity, it’s huge. When we came into training camp, it’s like a reunion. We’ve had the same coaching staff for a while, and the principles haven’t changed.”
Rochester’s latest challenge comes from a Buffalo team that has won three straight games after an opening loss. The winner of this game moves into first place in the NLL East, and Bandits General Manager Steve Dietrich calls this game a “litmus test” to see how good his team really is.
Vinc, who grew up as a fan of the Bandits, knows this will be a good early challenge for the Knighthawks as well.
“It’s the hardest arena to play in and there’s a lot of veteran guys in their locker room,” he said. “They’ve got guys who have won in this league, either championships or league awards. They have been playing well. They have a totally different team. … It will be a tough test for us with all the star power.”
John Tavares, who sat out last week’s Bandits’ win in Colorado with an unspecified minor injury, was at full strength at Tuesday’s practice. Still, a final decision on his playing status probably won’t be made until today. … Rochester knocked Buffalo out of the playoffs with a win in last year’s regular season finale here.