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12/10/2012 - 5:09pm

By Travis Larner,— Joel McCready’s last game in the National Lacrosse League was on April 16, 2011. He helped the Rochester Knighthawks earn an 18-10 victory over the Washington Stealth at the Comcast Arena in the second-to-last regular season game of the year. (Photos by Larry Palumbo)

Rochester’s preseason game against the Minnesota Swarm was his first game back with the Knighthawks in over 19 months, but was one of the finest of his career. Unfortunately for the St. Catharines, Ontario native, preseason statistics do not count toward a player’s career stats, or else McCready would have recorded his first official career hat trick.

In the first 23 games in his NLL career, McCready notched six points (2+4) while playing transition for the Knighthawks. His three-goal performance on Saturday night showed no signs of rust as he began his comeback with the reigning World Champions. The nephew of 2012 team captain Pat McCready never expected to score a hat trick, especially because, like his uncle, he spends most of time on defense.

“No, I probably didn’t expect it. I just wanted to go out there and work hard and earn a spot on this team. There’s a ton of talent, probably one of the best teams I’ve ever seen,” said the former second round draft pick.

With the Knighthawks leading 3-2 in the first quarter, goaltender Matt Vinc lofted a blocked shot to McCready at midfield. Minnesota defenseman Jeff Gilbert hustled off the bench to cut him off as he raced to the goal, but wasn’t quick enough. McCready fired a shot from the right-wing side and beat goaltender Even Kirk over his left shoulder.

In the third quarter, the Knighthawks found themselves trailing 7-6. Chris Courtney scooped a loose ball and fired it across the midline to Johnny Powless, who found McCready alone in front of the net. After a few stick fakes knocked goaltender Zach Higgins off balance, the 24-year-old buried the ball past him to tie the contest.

His third goal again tied the game, this time at 10-10 with 2:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. Stephen Keogh passed McCready the ball on the left-wing side, then picked two Swarm defenders with a pick, giving McCready a clear shooting lane.

“I don’t think (I expected a hat trick), but it kind of looked like the No. 10 we had last year is here again. It’s good for Joel. He had a great summer playing out west and he’s just carrying it forward here. It’s great to see,” Rochester head coach Mike Hasen said.

One would never guess McCready had taken a year off to start his firefighting career in Burnaby, BC. He had great chemistry with his teammates both on and off the floor, sharing jokes with Ian Llord in the locker room after the game.

“I’m having a lot of fun with these guys. They’re a great group of guys. It’s been fun,” he said.

With a lot of players fighting for the defense/transition positions, Saturday’s performance should go a long way toward helping McCready make the final roster.

“We just need to keep going hard and keep pushing each other. Everyone’s out here battling. Everyone wants to be a part of this great organization. You got to earn your spot,” he said.

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