TONIGHT’S GAME OVERVIEW
The Rochester Knighthawks (8-2) fly north of the border in search of their third straight win while also looking to put a stop to the red-hot Toronto Rock (8-2) tonight in a battle for Eastern Conference supremacy at FirstOntario Centre. 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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SEASON SERIES SNAPSHOT
Both teams come into the matchup boasting an 8-2 record through their first 10 games of the season and currently sit in a three-way tie with Buffalo for the top spot in the NLL’s Eastern Conference standings. The Knighthawks, who opened the season with a franchise-best six straight victories, including the first in franchise history over Toronto back on Dec. 10, go up against arguably the hottest team in the league in the Rock, who have won seven straight entering tonight. After suffering back-to-back losses in December, including being held to a season-low seven goals in the 11-7 loss to Rochester, Toronto has been unbeatable since. In their last seven games dating back to the turn of the New Year, the Rock have outscored the opposition 106-61 while holding the opposition to fewer than 10 goals on four different occasions. Both teams are among the top six in terms of efficiency on both sides of the ball, but Toronto comes into the weekend with the NLL’s top ranked offense and defense. Through 10 games this season, the Rock lead the league with 140 goals scored and are currently averaging exactly 14 goals per game. Conversely, Toronto’s defense, anchored by veteran goaltender Nick Rose, has allowed a league-low 91 goals-against and remain one of only three teams that have given up fewer than 100 goals to this point of the season, joining Saskatchewan and Philadelphia in that regard. The matchup also features two of the league’s top six point-getters in Toronto’s Tom Schreiber and Rochester’s Connor Fields, both of whom are tied for second in the NLL with 31 goals each. The Knighthawks are a perfect 6-0 this season when leading after the third and outshooting the opponent.
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 95 career wins entering the weekend, including four last season, Hasen remains on pace to become just the sixth coach in NLL history to reach 100 career wins. Hasen recently surpassed legendary head coach Les Bartley for sixth all-time following the win over Halifax on Feb. 11. By season’s end, Hasen will also have coached more than 200 professional games, becoming the second this season behind Georgia’s Ed Comeau, who previously served as head coach of the original Knighthawks franchise, and only the fifth head coach in NLL history to do so. Hasen is 94-101 all-time over his 12 combined seasons in Rochester.
LAST TIME OUT
Brad Gillies completed his second career hat trick on a breakaway with 58 seconds remaining in overtime to cap a thrilling 11-10 win for the Knighthawks over the New York Riptide Saturday at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. With the win, the Knighthawks, who remain unbeaten inside The Blue Cross Arena this season (5-0), swept the two-game series with New York to move into a three-way tie for first place in the NLL’s Eastern Conference standings. Along with Gillies’ (3+0) multi-goal game, Connor Fields (3+2) and Ryan Smith (1+4) each totaled five points in the win. Curtis Knight (0+3) and Holden Cattoni (1+1) each registered multi-point efforts while Paul Dawson, Thomas Hoggarth and Ryland Rees all scored once. Thomas Vela, Matt Bennett, and Matt Gilray each recorded an assist. Goaltender Rylan Hartley (8-2) earned his eighth win of the season as he made his 10th consecutive appearance. The netminder finished with 44 saves, which included 11 in overtime.
WORKING OVERTIME…AND THEN SOME
Last Saturday’s overtime win over New York ended up being the second-longest game in NLL regular-season history with a duration of 74:02, falling 2:04 short of the league record just over 13 years ago to the day. The Boston Blazers and Orlando Titans played the longest game in league history on Feb. 20, 2010, finishing in 76:06. The game was also Rochester’s first this season that went beyond regulation. The Knighthawks are 2-3 all-time in overtime games dating back to the inaugural campaign in 2019-20.
DAWSON FAMILY REUNION
It’s a family reunion again tonight in Toronto for the Dawson brothers, but this time as opponents. The siblings have been somewhat of a packaged commodity over their combined 32 years in the NLL, having been teammates numerous times throughout their careers, including six seasons in Rochester with the previous Knighthawks franchise from 2013 to 2018. The duo won back-to-back NLL titles in 2013 and 2014 during the organization’s historic run of three straight league championships. Prior to playing alongside one another in Rochester, the Dawson brothers were also teammates in Boston (2009-10) and Philadelphia (2012) and were reunited against most recently during the 2018-19 season in San Diego. Since going their separate ways prior to the 2019-20 season, Dan and the Rock have maintained the upper-hand, going 4-1 against Paul and the Knighthawks in their five reunions since.
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 51 goals and 106 points so far this season, even connecting on four of Rochester’s 11 goals in the overtime win against the Riptide last week. Following his ninth straight multi-goal effort to begin the season, Fields enters the weekend tied for second in the NLL in goals (31), trailing only New York’s Jeff Teat in that category, and sixth in points (59) despite missing one game. By averaging nearly seven points per game through his first nine games of the season, highlighted by four straight weeks of four-goal efforts, Fields is already rapidly approaching the franchise marks for goals (35) and points (63) in a single season, currently held by Smith and Holden Cattoni, respectively. He’s also on pace to reach the 100-point mark for the first time in his pro career. 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 39 of his 41 career NLL games, including at least two points in all nine games so far this season. 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 in goals (20) and points (47) in 10 games. He’s also tied for fourth in the league with a team-best seven power-play tallies. Smith, who successfully reached the 100-point mark in only 27 career games, the fastest in franchise history to do so, 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. Rochester is 4-1 this season when both players score at least twice in the same game.
THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSE
Much of Rochester’s first-half 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 currently ranks sixth in scoring amongst all transition players with 16 points and continues to lead the league with three-game winning goals. Coming off his three-goal performance last week against New York, Brad Gillies remains at a close second with 12 points after recording at least one point in eight of his first 10 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 97-for-260 at the center dot this season, good for a .373% success rate. He also established the new single-game franchise record for most face-off wins following his 18-win performance in Rochester’s 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 97 face-off wins rank 10th in the NLL while his five assists are tied for 17th-most amongst all defensive players. The young Hartley has been a mainstay between the pipes for the Knighthawks and the catalyst to Rochester’s 8-2 start to the season. Through 10 starts, Hartley is tied for the league lead in wis (8) while ranking second amongst all netminders in minutes (601) and third in saves (409).
SCOUTING THE ROCK
Toronto pushed its season-long win streak to an NLL-best seven straight after completing a two-game sweep over the Georgia Swarm. Tom Schreiber, the Rock’s leading scorer on the season, combined for 14 points in the two games, moving up to 70 on the season through 10 games. Schreiber, who’s one of only three players to reach the 70-point mark this season, is also tied second in the league with 31 goals and sixth with 39 points. Toronto also owns the top scoring defenseman in the NLL in Challen Rogers, whose 15 assists and 27 points lead all defensive players. Veteran netminder Nick Rose, a midseason contender for NLL Goaltender of the Year, leads all goaltenders with an 8.94 goals-against average and ranks third with a .810 save percentage. He’s also tied for the league lead in wins (8) and is fifth in saves.