TONIGHT’S GAME OVERVIEW
The two hottest teams in the National Lacrosse League battle it out tonight as the undefeated Rochester Knighthawks (5-0) put their franchise-best five-game win streak on the line against the defending Eastern Conference champion Buffalo Bandits (4-1) in what promises to be an epic showdown at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:30 p.m. matchup will be the first of two meetings between the intrastate rivals and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.
|TEAM ROSTERS||GAME NOTES|
|2022-23 NLL STATS PACK||2022-23 NLL STANDINGS|
|2022-23 BANDITS STATS||2022-23 KNIGHTHAWKS STATS|
|WATCH ON ESPN+||LISTEN LIVE ON BIG 107.3 FM|
SEASON SERIES SNAPSHOT
Tonight’s contest features the top two teams in the Eastern Conference as the first-place Knighthawks, the only perfect team through their first five games of the season, go up against a heavy Bandits team that has won four straight and has yet to lose on the road where they have outscored the opposition 29-17. Conversely, Rochester has dominated at home this season and are currently one of only three teams to remain unbeaten on home turf. The Knighthawks have outscored their opponents by a 28-16 margin through their first two home contests while limiting the visitors to fewer than 10 goals each time. Additionally, both Rochester and Buffalo rank among the top five teams on both sides of the ball, showing nearly identical numbers in terms of goals for and goals-against. The Knighthawks come into the weekend with the third-best offense with 69 goals while averaging 13.80 goals-per-game. The Bandits, meanwhile, have scored 68 goals through their first five games, good for 13.60 goals-per-game. Defensively, Rochester is averaging a league-low 9.60 goals-against while the Bandits have allowed 10 per game thus far. Despite the team’s success this season, Rochester is winless in four all-time meetings against the Bandits dating back to its 2019-20 inaugural campaign. Tonight’s matchup also kicks off a stretch in which the cross-town foes will face-off twice over a three-game span with one final get-together slated for Saturday, Feb. 4 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
HASEN CHASING HISTORY
Leading the Knighthawks into their third season of the expansion-era is an all-too-familiar face in head coach Mike Hasen. One of the most decorated coaches in league history, Hasen is certainly no stranger to Rochester, having previously served as head coach of the former Knighthawks franchise from 2011 to 2019. In nine seasons behind the bench with the original Knighthawks, Hasen guided Rochester to an 81-75 regular season record while leading the team to six playoff appearances. The Knighthawks also finished among the top two teams in the East Division six different times under Hasen, including each of the first five seasons (2011-2015). Hasen’s most successful run at the helm of the Knighthawks came from 2012-14 when he made National Lacrosse League history by leading Rochester to an unprecedented three straight Champion’s Cups. He remains the only NLL bench boss to accomplish the feat. With 92 career wins, including four last season, Hasen remains on pace to become just the sixth coach in NLL history to reach 100 career wins. With a win tonight, Hasen will tie legendary head coach Les Bartley for sixth all-time with 93 career coaching victories. A seven-time NLL champion, Bartley led the Buffalo Bandits to three of their four championships in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (MILL), including a 22-game win streak and a perfect 8-0 season with Buffalo in 1993 – marking the only undefeated season in league history – before going on to win four more league titles with the Toronto Rock. By season’s end, Hasen will also have coached more than 200 professional games, becoming the second this season behind Georgia’s Ed Comeau and only the fifth head coach in NLL history to do so.
LAST TIME OUT
On the strength of four-point efforts from Connor Fields (4+0), Holden Cattoni (2+2), and Ryan Smith (2+2), combined with a 33-save performance by goaltender Rylan Hartley, the surging Knighthawks soared to an 11-8 victory over the New York Riptide this past Sunday at Nassau Veterans Coliseum. By winning their fifth straight and third road game of the campaign, the Knighthawks are the only team in the National Lacrosse League to remain unbeaten following San Diego’s 14-10 loss to Calgary. Along with Fields, who notched his fourth straight four-goal outing to begin the season, Cattoni and Smith each turned in a multi-point performance, while Turner Evans (0+3), Ryland Rees (1+2), Curtis Knight (0+2), and Matt Gilray (1+2) also finished with multiple points. Ethan Schott (1+0), Brad Gillies (0+1), Thomas Hoggarth (0+1) and rookie Austin Hasen (0+1) all notched one point each to round out the scoring. Goaltender Rylan Hartley (5+0) was again brilliant in between the pipes, making 33 saves in his fifth straight start of the campaign. The netminder, who stopped 14 of the 16 shots he faced in the third quarter, paces the league with five wins after holding the opposition to fewer than 10 goals in three of his last four appearances. After missing Rochester’s previous game, Fields made an immediate impact in his return to the lineup, scoring four of Rochester’s first six goals, including three straight in the second quarter, and opening the scoring just 1:13 into the contest to give the Knighthawks an early 1-0 lead. Cattoni picked up his 200th career assist on his second of the night in the win.
FIELDS TAKING FLIGHT
Following yet another impressive performance in Rochester’s win over New York on Sunday, Fields enters the weekend 11th in the NLL in scoring with 29 points and third in goals (16) despite missing one game. He’s also tied for the league lead with two game-winning goals. By averaging more than seven points per game through his first four games of the season, including four goals in each, Fields is on pace to shatter his career-high mark of 67 points he set last season with the Buffalo Bandits. Dating back to his rookie season in 2019-20, Fields, who was originally a first-round pick (10th overall) of the San Diego Seals in 2018, has recorded at least one point in 34 of his 36 career NLL games.
SPECIAL TEAMS SPECIALIST
After taking his first season in the NLL by storm, second-year forward Ryan Smith has picked up where he left from a year ago. Smith, who last season was one of only four rookies to reach the 50-point mark, ranks fourth on the team with nine goals and 21 points in five games. He’s also tied for third in the NLL with a team-best four power-play goals, trailing only Clarke Petterson of Halifax and Dane Dobbie of San Diego in that regard. Smith led all NLL rookies and set the single-season franchise record with eight power-play goals last season. He also ranked fourth with seven power-play assists on his way to earning All-Rookie Team honors.
THE BEST OFFENSE IS GOOD DEFENSE
Much of Rochester’s early season success can be attributed to the increase in offensive production from its defensemen and transition players combined with the steady and consistent goaltending of Rylan Hartley. After setting the single-season franchise record for assists by a defenseman in 2021-22, veteran Dan Coates is off to another productive start this season with three points (1+2) in his first four games, including a goal in the win over Albany on Dec. 17. Tyler Halls, meanwhile, is assembling what could be a career-year for the second-year defenseman. After securing a full-time roster spot last season, Halls has emerged as one of the Knighthawks’ most reliable and versatile assets among the team’s defensive core. In addition to his offensive contributions, Halls recently cemented his status as the team’s primary face-off specialist having gone 51-for-120 at the center dot this season, good for a .425% success rate. He also recently established the new single-game franchise record for most face-off wins following his 18-win performance in Rochester’s road win at Albany on Dec. 17, besting the 17 originally set by Jay Thorimbert and later matched by Chris Willman during the team’s inaugural campaign in 2019-20. His 51 face-off wins rank seventh in the NLL while his four assists are tied for sixth-most amongst all defensive players. He’s also 15th amongst all NLL defensemen with 34 loose ball recoveries. Hartley has been a mainstay between the pipes for the Knighthawks and the catalyst to Rochester’s perfect start to the season. Through five starts, Hartley leads the NLL in wins (5), is tied for second in minutes played (300) and ranks third in saves (198). He also ranks third and fourth among all netminders with a 9.60 goals-against average and a .800 save percentage, respectively.
SCOUTING THE BANDITS
Buffalo, kicking off a three-game road swing tonight, comes into the matchup on Rochester’s heels after stretching its current win streak to four games following an 11-9 victory over the Georgia Swarm this past Saturday at KeyBank Center. The Bandits scored four of the game’s first five goals, including a 3-0 run to open the contest, and duplicated the effort later in the game before pulling away in the final frame to win their fourth straight. Josh Byrne had his best game of the season with a nine-point effort, including six goals, to take over the NLL’s scoring lead. The Bandits make their only trip to Rochester with the league’s top two point-getters in Byrne and reigning NLL MVP Dhane Smith, who rank first and second in the league in scoring, respectively. Byrne paces all players with 20 goals and 37 points while Smith remains at a close second with 36 points and an NLL-best 31 assists. Smith last season shattered the single-season assist record with 94, previously held by Mark Matthews with 84 in 2018-19. He also led the league in points at 135 and was only three points away from breaking his own single-season points record which he set in his 2016 MVP season. Smith led an explosive Bandits club which had five players surpass the 30-goal mark to a league-best 14-4 regular season record, culminating with their second trip to the NLL Finals in three years. Buffalo’s biggest asset, however, is between the pipes in veteran goaltender Matt Vinc, who’s played every second this season with the Bandits. Arguably one of the best netminders in NLL history, Vinc currently leads the league in saves (199) and ranks second in wins (4) behind only Hartley. An eight-time NLL Goaltender of the Year, which includes last season, Vinc spent eight seasons with the previous Knighthawks franchise from 2011 to 2018, backstopping the team to three straight NLL championships in 2012, 2013 and again in 2014. Vinc, who’s also an eight-time NLL All-Pro Fist-Team selection, is the all-time leader in minutes played (13,988), saves (9,245) and wins (137), and tonight will become the first goaltender in league history to play 14,000 minutes in goal.