TONIGHT’S GAME OVERVIEW
The Rochester Knighthawks (6-1) and defending Eastern Conference champion Buffalo Bandits (6-2) close out their season series tonight at KeyBank Center, where the intrastate rivals clash for the second and final time this season. Game time between the cross-town foes is slated for a 7:30 p.m. start and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.
|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, who look to get back on the winning track despite after suffering their first loss of the season last week, go up against a heavy Bandits team that has won five of its last six and boast a near-perfect 2-1 record where they have outscored the opposition 39-33. The Knighthawks claimed the previous get-together between the two teams back on Jan. 20 for the franchise’s first-ever win in five all-time meetings with the Bandits. Rochester trailed 11-10 entering the fourth quarter before erupting for five straight unanswered goals over six-minute span to close out a 15-12 win at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. Second-year pro Ryan Smith had his best game of the season with a team-high nine points, including a career-best five goals, while Holden Cattoni (3+4) and former Bandit Connor Fields (3+5) but turned in hat tricks for Rochester. Smith became just the third player in team history to record a five-goal game while his nine points matched a career-high from last season. 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 91 goals while averaging exactly 13.00 goals-per-game. The Bandits, meanwhile, have scored a league-leading 109 goals this season, twice scoring 18 in a game, good for 13.63 goals-per-game. Defensively, Rochester is averaging 11.00 goals-against while the Bandits have allowed 10.50 per game thus far.
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 93 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 surpass legendary head coach Les Bartley for sixth all-time with 94 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
A series of multi-goal runs proved to be the difference last Friday night at Scotiabank Centre, where the Knighthawks suffered their first setback of the season in the form of a 17-7 loss to the Halifax Thunderbirds. Holden Cattoni (3+1) led all Knighthawks with team-high four points, including his fourth hat trick in seven games, while Ryan Smith (0+3) posted three assists. Connor Fields (2+0) turned in his sixth multi-goal outing of the campaign with a pair of goals while Turner Evans (1+0) and Brad Gillies (1+0) both scored in the defeat. Goaltender Rylan Hartley (6-1) suffered his first loss of the season as he made his seventh straight appearance. The netminder stopped 37 shots in 50 minutes before goaltender Riley Hutchcraft finished the game by making four saves in his Knighthawks debut.
Coming into this weekend, the Knighthawks have outshot the opposition in all but two games this season. The Knighthawks have topped the 50-shot mark in six of their first seven games, which includes each of the last five games dating back to Dec. 17 against Albany. Additionally, Rochester surpassed the 60-shot mark twice, the most being 64 in the 14-13 triumph over the FireWolves prior to the Christmas break. Averaging more than 70 shots-per-game, Rochester boasts an unblemished 5-0 record this season when outshooting the opponent and are 1-1 when being outshot. Cattoni tied the single-game franchise record for most shots in a game with 16 against Albany earlier this season.
FIELDS TAKING FLIGHT
Following his sixth straight multi-goal effort to begin the season Saturday in Halifax, Knighthawks forward Connor Fields enters the weekend tied for third in the NLL in goals (21) and seventh in points (39) despite missing one game. He’s also tied for the league lead with two game-winning goals. By averaging nearly seven points per game through his first six games of the season, highlighted by four straight weeks of four-goal efforts, Fields is well on his way of shattering 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 36 of his 38 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 third on the team with 14 goals and 33 points in seven games. He’s also tied for the league lead with a team-best five power-play goals. 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 A 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. Matt Gilray is tied for fourth in scoring amongst all transition players with 13 points, while his six goals are third-most. Brad Gillies remains at a close second with eight points after recording at least one point in six of his first seven appearances. 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 62-for-173 at the center dot this season, good for a .358% 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 62 face-off wins rank eighth in the NLL while his four assists are tied for 12th-most amongst all defensive players. He’s also 11th amongst all NLL defensemen with 43 loose ball recoveries. Hartley has been a mainstay between the pipes for the Knighthawks and the catalyst to Rochester’s 6-1 start to the season. Through seven starts, Hartley is tied for the league lead in wins (6) while ranking second in saves (281) and third in minutes played (410).
SCOUTING THE BANDITS
Buffalo returns home following a season-long three-game road swing tonight, during which it went to 2-1. After coming up short to Rochester on Jan. 20, the Bandits responded with back-to-back wins over Philadelphia and New York in the same weekend to keep pace with the Knighthawks in the NLL’s Eastern Conference standings. Trailing or tied after the first half in each game, Buffalo relied on second-half surges to spark a comeback, first outscoring the Wings 10-3 over the second half on Friday before nearly duplicating the effort Saturday against the Riptide. With six wins in their last seven games, the Bandits return home with the league’s top two point-getters in reigning NLL MVP Dhane Smith and perennial goal-scorer Josh Byrne, who rank first and second in the league in scoring, respectively. Smith paces all players with 48 assists and 63 points while Byrne remains at a close second with 51 assists and an NLL-best 25 goals. 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 virtually every second this season with the Bandits. Arguably one of the best netminders in NLL history, Vinc currently leads the league in saves (333) and shares the league lead with Hartley for most wins (6). 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 (14,168), saves (9,379) and wins (139). He recently became the first goaltender and only player in league history to play 14,000 minutes in goal.