In their inaugural season, the Rochester Knighthawks have seen many highs and many lows, but nothing compares to a brand-new year to be able to bring something fresh to the Flower City. With 25 years of rich lacrosse history here in Rochester with the previous Knighthawks regime, the new expansion-era Knighthawks wanted to continue the everlasting tradition from the years prior as they embarked on the 2019-20 campaign, one that would ultimately be cut short due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite a shortened first season in the NLL, the abbreviated 20190-20 campaign brought about the franchise’s first win, five-goal performances, many professional firsts and so much more. With the remainder of the 2019-20 season officially canceled, let’s look back at the top 10 memorable moments and individual performances of Rochester’s inaugural season.
1. 2019 NLL ENTRY DRAFT
The Knighthawks selected 10 players at the 2019 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft back in September in Philadelphia, beginning with transition man Ryland Rees second overall.
Here’s a look back at Rochester’s top 10 picks in order of selection:
- Ryland Rees (transition)
- Cory Highfield (transition)
- Dustyn Pratt (defenseman)
- Thomas Whitty (defenseman)
- Matt Vangalen (forward)
- Sean Darroch (defenseman)
- Tyler Biles (defenseman)
- Bradley Voigt (forward)
- Carter Badour (forward)
- Alec Simmons (forward)
Of the 10 original picks in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft, five remain on the Knighthawks’ current active roster with three seeing time in all 12 games for Rochester this season.
2. LET THE GAMES BEGIN
The Knighthawks opened their inaugural season in the National Lacrosse League back on, Nov. 30 when they hosted the Georgia Swarm at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena.
The Opening Night festivities began with a special pregame red-carpet event on the outdoor terrace along the riverside of The Blue Cross Arena. Fans were invited to kick start the season and line up along the red carpet and welcome the Knighthawks players as they made their arrivals prior to game time. The team also unveiled its new mascot during the event, Chopper.
Fans in attendance also received a 2019-20 Knighthawks magnet schedule, courtesy of Nissan. Prior to the game, there were special pre-game introductions of this year’s team on the newly unveiled turf. The Knighthawks also paid tribute to the 25 years of lacrosse history in Rochester during the pregame ceremonies.
3. HEADING NORTH OF THE BORDER
Following a three-week layoff after the Opening Night contest, the Knighthawks returned to action on Dec. 21 against the Halifax Thunderbirds at Scotiabank Centre for their second game of the year.
The Knighthawks started off the contest strong, holding a one-goal advantage after the first 30 minutes of play before a second-half surge propelled Halifax to its second straight win at that point in the year. Going into the fourth quarter, Rochester was facing a 13-9 deficit before nearly closing the gap and scoring three of the game’s final four goals. The comeback, however, came up just short as the Knighthawks fell to 0-2 on the season to start off the year after their 14-12 loss.
It seemed as though the offense began to click and build the confidence that they were looking for back in game one as six players had multi-point efforts. Holden Cattoni paced the Knighthawks with a five-point night while Shawn Evans and Phil Caputo each contributed four points apiece. Curtis Knight, Dan Lintner and Cory Highfield each contributed to the scoresheet twice, and let’s not forget Steve Fryer, who made 30 saves in his Knighthawks debut while in the crease.
The highlight of that particular Saturday night setback to Halifax came in the third quarter when Knighthawks defenseman Jay Thorimbert recorded his eighth face-off win of the night to surpass Geoff Snider for first all-time in National Lacrosse League history. The 13-year veteran finished the matchup winning 11 of 29 face-offs.
That night in Halifax marked the first-ever face-off between to the two clubs, pitting the old Knighthawks organization against the new. With the Thunderbirds operating in Rochester for 25 years prior to their relocation to Halifax, 16 of the 18 athletes that played in the season-opener for the Thunderbirds had ties to the former Knighthawks franchise.
4. CATTONI’S FIVE-GOAL PERFORMANCE
During an intense one-goal decision back on Jan. 11 against the Toronto Rock came a feat that not many players have accomplished time and time again in their career. Arguably, Cattoni’s best performance on the year came on that Saturday night north of the border as he notched five of Rochester’s 12 goals during the contest, accomplishing a feat he’s only seen four times throughout his professional career.
The Knighthawks forward had averaged nearly five points per game through his first 12 games on the year while recording at least a point in every contest he’s appeared in, making him just one of two Knighthawks players to do so this season.
Following his explosive start to the season and his consistent play throughout the year, Cattoni finished sixth in the NLL in scoring while pacing the Knighthawks in all offensive categories, including goals (24), assists (38) and points (62). The fourth-year pro also tied for ninth in the league in goals and assists while placing fifth with a 12 team-high power-play assists, eight of which came over his last seven games. Additionally, Cattoni reached the 50-point mark in each of his last three seasons and was on pace to shatter his career-high 80-point campaign which he set last season as a member of the Georgia Swarm.
5. TAKING DOWN THE DEFENDING CHAMPS
Back on Jan. 18, the Knighthawks battled back from a 12-11 deficit with two fourth-quarter goals and held on for the final seven minutes of regulation as they took down the defending NLL champion Calgary Roughnecks in thrilling fashion at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena for their first win in franchise history. The 13-12 victory also snapped Rochester’s four-game slide to begin the year.
Curtis Knight and Holden Cattoni each notched six points while Shawn Evans ended the night with five assists. Turner Evans also contributed four points while Ryland Rees and Thomas Whitty also found the back of the net for their first NLL goals. Craig Wende, who got the start for the second straight week, was brilliant in net making 42 saves, including several big stops late in the fourth quarter, to pick up his first pro win.
6. WENDE WITH A WIN
The 2019-20 season was just the second in the NLL for goaltender Craig Wende, who finally found his way into a starting rotation as one of three netminders on the Knighthawks’ active roster.
Wende did make the first start in the crease to kick-off Rochester’s inaugural campaign, marking his first ever professional start back on Nov. 30 against his former team, the Georgia Swarm. Following that season debut, Wende went on to split time with Steve Fryer before making back-to-back starts in net prior to earning his first professional win against the defending champions on Jan. 18.
Wende originally signed a two-year deal as a free agent with Georgia heading into the 2018-19 season before agreeing to terms on a multi-year deal with Rochester back on Aug. 1, 2019.
7. A MULTI-GOAL GAME FOR REES
Rees’ best performance on the season arguably came back on Jan. 18 when Rochester took down Calgary at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. The Knighthawks would take their first lead of the night against the defending champions 10:11 into the first quarter thanks to a sensational individual effort from Rees. After causing a turnover near midfield, Rees corralled a loose ball and went the distance before wiring a last-second shot inside the right post for his first pro goal. Rees then went on to complete his two-goal performance in the fourth quarter of the contest to notch his first multi-goal effort of his professional career with the game-tying goal at that point in the contest.
Since Jan. 18, Rees has gone on to have three more multi-point efforts, all of which have come in his last three games. In 12 games, the first-year transition man has racked up 11 points with four goals and seven assists and ranked third among all NLL rookies with a team-high 74 loose ball recoveries.
8. BATTLE BETWEEN THE NEWBIES
What began as a relatively calm matchup between the NLL’s two expansion teams quickly escalated into one of the biggest back-and-forth offensive battles of the season as the Knighthawks survived a late push from the New York Riptide and held on for a thrilling 13-12 win on Feb. 29 at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena.
Knight led the Knighthawks with eight assists, including the 200th of his pro career early in the second quarter. Cattoni recorded six points on the night, while also earning his fourth hat trick on the year. Dan Michel and Mark Cockerton both recorded their first multi-goal efforts in a Rochester uniform, while Turner Evans also tallied two markers during the contest. Phil Caputo, Ryland Rees and Doug Utting all contributed to the scoresheet with a goal apiece. Goaltender Rylan Hartley made his third consecutive start in the crease, making 49 saves on the 61 shots he faced while recording his first professional win.
9. 49 SAVES FOR NUMBER 49
The team’s second win on Feb. 29 against the Riptide also brought about the first career win for rookie netminder Rylan Hartley.
Taking it back to Hartley’s first appearance in the crease, Hartley logged just 4:53 in net at the Wells Fargo Center when the Knighthawks took on the Philadelphia Wings on Jan. 19 during his professional debut. Following that first appearance, Hartley started in three consecutive tilts before notching his first professional win.
In that 13-12 win over the Riptide, the Knighthawks goaltender made 49 saves on the 61 shots he faced. Coincidental that in his first win he makes the same amount of saves as the jersey number he reps?
10. ONE-GOAL GAMES
Of the Knighthawks 12 games of the 2019-20 season so far, five of them have been one-goal contests.
Now this one-goal trend didn’t start until Rochester began to ramp up its amount of play come the month of January, but since Jan. 11, five of the last nine contests have been decided by just a one-goal margin.
Looking at the numbers, almost half of the Knighthawks games have been decided by one goal and two of those contests ending in their favor. On the other side of the spectrum, they had three losses that were decided by just one marker and two of those were sent into back-to-back overtime action in the final minute of regulation between the Buffalo Bandits and Vancouver Warriors, respectively.