TONIGHT’S GAME OVERVIEW
After opening the season with three straight wins, the Rochester Knighthawks (3-2) now look to avoid their third straight loss tonight as they open a two-game road swing north of the border against the Halifax Thunderbirds (2-3) at Scotiabank Centre. Game time is slated for a 6:00 p.m. ET start and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.
As the Knighthawks make their way north looking to halt a two-game skid, they do so in search of their first-ever win in Halifax. Coming into tonight, the Thunderbirds, who are also amid a three-game slide, have bested Rochester in four of the previous five meetings between the two teams, including all three get-togethers in the Canadian Maritimes. Tonight’s matchup, the first of two this season between the feathered foes, promises to be an offensive battle showcasing the NLL’s top two scoring teams. The Knighthawks, who won their first three games of the season for the second straight year, come into the weekend averaging a league-best 14.00 goals per game while their 70 goals scored ranks fifth in the NLL. Halifax sits at a close second, averaging 13.00 goals per game through its first five games of the season. Additionally, both teams are currently averaging 81 shots per game, nine more than the Albany FireWolves, who remain the only franchise to surpass the 500-shot mark. The Knighthawks and Thunderbirds split the season series in 2022-23 with both teams emerging victorious at home. After Halifax became the first team last season to end Rochester’s 6-0 start, the Knighthawks retaliated with a 16-14 win over their own just two weeks later, the first in franchise history over the Thunderbirds.
LAST TIME OUT
Despite four-goal outputs from both Ryan Smith (4+5) and Kyle Waters (4+1), the Knighthawks were unable to fend off a fourth-quarter rally by the defending NLL champion Buffalo Bandits, who escaped with a 15-13 win at Segar and Sciortino Field at the Blue Cross Arena on Jan. 13. In addition to Smith and Waters’ big nights, Connor Fields (2+5), and rookie Thomas McConvey (2+5) each had seven-point contributions. Ryan Lanchbury posted six assists on his evening, while Matt Gilray (1+1), Austin Hasen (0+1) and Mitch Ogilvie (0+1) also found the scoresheet. Riley Hutchcraft made a season-high 47 saves in goal for the ‘Hawks. Thomas Hoggarth made his long-awaited return to the lineup after missing the entire 2022-23 season recovering from an ankle injury. On the other side of the floor, Matt Vinc, who played eight seasons with the original Knighthawks, turned aside 51 shots to earn his 150th career NLL win, becoming the first goaltender in league history to reach the mark. Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith, the top scoring tandem in the NLL, combined for 12 points for the Bandits, who after being held off the scoreboard in the third quarter, went on five-goal to open the fourth before holding on for the win.
100 AND COUNTING FOR HASEN
The 13-11 home win over Vancouver back on Dec. 23 came with historical significance in the fact that not only did the Knighthawks jump out to a 3-0 start for the second straight year, but it also served as the 100th win for Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen, who became just the sixth coach in league history to reach 100 career wins. Hasen surpassed legendary head coach Les Bartley for sixth all-time following the win over Halifax on Feb. 11 of last season, making him one of three finalists for the 2023 NLL Coach of the Year. He also joined elite company back on March 25 in Las Vegas, when he was behind the bench for his 200th regular-season game, a feat only five others in league history have accomplished before him. He became just the sixth head coach – and third last season behind Georgia’s Ed Comeau and Vancouver’s Troy Cordingley – to have coached 200 National Lacrosse League games. Hasen also owns the distinction of being the only member of the prestigious group to reach the mark having spent his entire career in the same city. 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. 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. Hasen, who was named the NLL Coach of the Year in 2011, remains the only NLL bench boss to accomplish the feat.
THE PAST MEETS THE PRESENT
Tonight may be just the sixth meeting all-time between the Knighthawks and Thunderbirds, but it’s the historical significance that runs much deeper. While Rochester is currently in its fourth season as an expansion franchise, the Thunderbirds, led by fourth-year head coach Mike Accursi, relocated to Halifax during the summer of 2019 following 25 seasons in Rochester as the original Knighthawks franchise. The previous Knighthawks joined the NLL in 1998 following three seasons in the MILL, winning 10 division titles and five NLL championships, including three straight from 2012-14 under the ownership of Curt Styres, who also serves as the team’s general manager. The Styres-led Knighthawks also remains the only team in NLL history to win three consecutive championships, a team that was coached by current Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. Of the 21 players on Halifax’s current active roster, at least eight have ties to the previous Knighthawks organization. Even Accursi himself is also a former original Knighthawk, whom he led to a Champion’s Cup in 2007 before winning his second straight title the following year during his second stint with Buffalo.
Coming into this weekend, the Knighthawks currently rank eighth in the NLL with 409 total shots for, 287 of which have been on goal, and are tied with Halifax for first in average shots per game (81.00). Rochester has outshot the opposition in four of its first five games this season, including twice topping the 60-shot mark at home. The Knighthawks are 2-2 this season when outshooting the opponent and 2-2 when surpassing the 50-shot mark. Connor Fields set the new franchise record for the most shots in a game with 21 in the 17-14 loss at San Diego on Dec. 29, besting the 18 he had against Calgary on Dec. 2. Averaging nearly 16 shots per game, he’s currently tied for second in the NLL with 79 shots.
Second-year face-off specialist Joe Post has been nearly unbeatable at the center dot this season, winning 98 face-offs on 154 attempts for a 63.6% success rate. His 98 wins tie him with Halifax’s Jake Withers for third in the NLL while his 57 loose ball recoveries are fourth-most behind only Withers (86), Albany’s Joe Nardella (66) and Buffalo’s Ian MacKay (59). Post’s 24 face-off wins last month in Saskatchewan set the new single-game mark, far surpassing his own record of 19 he set in the 2022-23 regular-season finale against Philadelphia on April 29. Dating back to his rookie season, Post, who played his collegiate lacrosse at nearby St. John Fisher University, has won 161-of-285 career face-off attempts, good for a 57.0% efficiency rate.
McCONVEY MAKING HIS MARK
After being held scoreless in Rochester’s season-opening win over Calgary, rookie forward Thomas McConvey has settled in and found his scoring touch that made him worthy of being selected first overall by Rochester in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft. The rookie forward is coming off a season-high seven-point outing in the 15-13 loss to Buffalo, factoring in on five of Rochester’s 10 first-half tallies before scoring the final goal of the contest. Averaging four points per game through his first five games this season, McConvey enters Week 9 second amongst all NLL rookies in goals (9), third in assists (11) and third in points (20). He’s also tied for first in power-play points (6), including three goals on the man-advantage, and third in shots (32). The highly touted forward, one of eight to make Rochester’s season-opening roster, signed a multi-year deal with the Knighthawks after being named the nation’s top midfielder this past season as a fifth-year graduate student at the University of Virginia. He was also one of three Cavaliers players to be named a USILA First Team All-American in 2023. Prior to Virginia, McConvey was a three-time USILA and Inside Lacrosse All-American at the University of Vermont.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER
After emerging as one of the most dynamic and productive scoring duos in the NLL a season ago, Connor Smith and Ryan Smith have again burst on the scene with the Knighthawks in 2023-24. The forwards have combined for 31 goals and 66 points through Rochester’s first five games, making them the fifth-most point-producing twosome in the league. Only Buffalo’s Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith, Albany’s Alex Simmons and Ethan Walker (77), Georgia’s Shayne Jackson and Lyle Thompson (73), and San Diego’s Wesley Berg and Austin Staats (71) have collectively recorded more points this season. Even more impressively, Fields and Smith are the only teammates in the league to each have at least 15 goals and 15 assists. Coming into this weekend, Fields and Smith rank 11th and 12th in scoring among the NLL’s top point-getters, respectively, while Fields continue to pace all forwards with 44 loose ball recoveries. With another two-goal effort against Buffalo, the East Amherst native has now scored two or more goals in 22 straight games dating back to last season. Smith, who’s fresh off a career-high nine-point performance against Buffalo on Jan. 13, has scored a hat trick in each of his five appearances this season, never recording less than five points in each game over that span.