TONIGHT’S GAME OVERVIEW
After suffering back-to-back losses for the first time all season, the Rochester Knighthawks (6-2) return home looking to get back in the win column tonight as they host the Halifax Thunderbirds (4-4) in an Eastern Conference showdown at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. The 7:00 p.m. matchup will be the second and final meeting between the two teams this season and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.
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|2022-23 NLL STATS PACK||2022-23 NLL STANDINGS|
|2022-23 THUNDERBIRDS STATS||2022-23 KNIGHTHAWKS STATS|
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SEASON SERIES SNAPSHOT
The Knighthawks look to avoid the season sweep at the hands of the Thunderbirds, whose 17-7 win in the previous get-together between the two teams just two weeks prior ended Rochester’s perfect start to the season. Tonight’s contest promises to be an offensive showdown showcasing two of the league’s top six teams in terms offensive production. The Knighthawks, who opened the season with a franchise-best six straight wins, enter the weekend fourth in the NLL with 101 goals scored and averaging 12.63 goals per game. Rochester is also one of only four teams to surpass the century mark in goals scored this season, joining only Buffalo, Toronto and Halifax in that regard. The Thunderbirds, who were the first team this season to hand Rochester a loss, are averaging the second-most goals per game with 13.88. Additionally, the top four point-getters for each team have either reached or surpassed the 30-point mark with Randy Staats, Clarke Petterson, Ryan Benesch and Cody Jamieson leading the way for Halifax while the foursome of Connor Fields, Holden Cattoni, Ryan Smith and Curtis Knight have paved the way for Rochester thus far. It will also be an individual battle between Fields and Staats, who enter the weekend tied for second in the NLL in goals (24) and sixth in assists (31), respectively, with both players appearing in seven of their team’s eight games this season. Petterson (6) and Smith (5), meanwhile, are tied for first and second in the league in power-play goals each with Smith having accounted for a franchise-record 13 goals over the past two seasons. The matchup also features two of the top scoring NLL rookies in Austin Hasen of Rochester and Wake:Riat Bowhunter of Halifax, both of whom were selected in the first round by their respective teams in this past year’s NLL Entry Draft. Hasen, the son of Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen, ranks sixth among all NLL rookies with 11 points (3+8), while Bowhunter, who’s the son of Thunderbirds general manager Curt Styres, is tied for seventh in scoring amongst all first-year players with nine points (6+3), including a hat trick in the last meeting between the two teams back on Jan. 27. Despite the team’s early season success, Rochester is winless in four all-time meetings against the Thunderbirds dating back to its 2019-20 inaugural campaign.
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. 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
The Knighthawks carried a 5-4 lead into halftime only to see it slip away on the heels of a second-half surge by the Buffalo Bandits, who erupted for seven third-quarter goals on their way to handing the Knighthawks a 13-10 loss last Saturday at KeyBank Center. With the loss, Rochester’s second straight after opening the season with six straight wins, the intrastate rivals split the season series with a win each. Rochester forwards Connor Fields (3+4) and Ryan Smith (3+3) both led the offense with three goals each, while Curtis Knight (2+1) had himself a two-goal effort. Veteran forwards Thomas Hoggarth (1+0) and Holden Cattoni (1+3) added the other Knighthawks tallies on the night. Knighthawks netminder Rylan Hartley (6-2) made his eighth straight start of the year, stopping 42 of the 55 shots he faced in his second loss of the 2022-23 campaign. Reigning NLL MVP Dhane Smith (4+6) pieced together a nine-point night on four goals and five assists, while Dalton Sulver (2+0) and Brad McCulley (2+3) each scored twice in the win, which moved Buffalo into sole possession of first place in the East.
Coming into this weekend, the Knighthawks have outshot the opposition in all but three games this season. The Knighthawks have topped the 50-shot mark in seven of their first eight games, which includes each of the last six 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. They’re also 0-1 when shots are tied. Holden Cattoni tied the single-game franchise record for most shots in a game with 16 against Albany earlier this season.
THE PAST MEETS THE PRESENT
Tonight may be just the fifth meeting all-time between the Knighthawks and Thunderbirds, but it’s the historical significance that runs much deeper. While Rochester is currently in its third season as an expansion franchise, the Thunderbirds, led by third-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, who also holds the distinction of being the only head coach in league history to guide his team to three consecutive championships. Of the 21 players on Halifax’s current active roster, at least six 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.
DYNAMIC DUO TAKING FLIGHT
It should come as no surprise by now that the Knighthawks have one of the elite offensive tandems in the NLL in forwards Connor Fields and Ryan Smith. Rivaling that of Buffalo’s Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne, the duo has combined for 41 goals and 85 points so far this season, even connecting on five of Rochester’s 10 goals in the 13-10 loss to the Bandits last week. Following his seventh straight multi-goal effort to begin the season Saturday in Buffalo, Fields enters the weekend tied for second in the NLL in goals (24) and sixth in points (46) 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 seven 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 37 of his 39 career NLL games. After taking his first season in the NLL by storm, 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 17 goals and second with 39 points in eight games. He also ranks second in 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 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 fifth in scoring amongst all transition players with 13 points, while his six goals are fourth-most. Brad Gillies remains at a close second with eight points after recording at least one point in six of his first eight 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 74-for-199 at the center dot this season, good for a .372% success rate. He also 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 74 face-off wins rank 10th in the NLL while his five assists are tied for seventh-most amongst all defensive players. Hartley has been a mainstay between the pipes for the Knighthawks and the catalyst to Rochester’s 6-2 start to the season. Through eight starts, Hartley ranks second among all NLL netminders in wins (6) and saves (323) while placing third in minutes played (467).