TONIGHT’S GAME OVERVIEW
The Rochester Knighthawks make their franchise postseason debut tonight when they take on the first-place Buffalo Bandits in the National Lacrosse League Quarterfinals at KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo. The winner-take-all showdown gets underway at 7:00 p.m. and will be carried live on ESPNU, ESPN+ and TSN+. The matchup can also be heard locally on Big 107.3 FM. Should the Knighthawks prevail, they will move on to meet the winner of the Toronto Rock and Halifax Thunderbirds in the best-of-three Eastern Conference Finals.
|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|
CLOSING THE SEASON
Despite dropping five of their last six games, including their regular season finale to Philadelphia, the Knighthawks capped the year with a fourth-place finish in the Eastern Conference and tied for fifth overall in the National Lacrosse League with a 10-8 record. Only four teams finished with more wins than Rochester, including Buffalo, which tied for the league lead with 14 wins. Rochester’s 10 wins were the most in franchise history, marking the first 10-win season by a Mike Hasen-led Knighthawks team since the 2017-18 campaign. Rochester officially punched its ticket into the 2023 National Lacrosse League Playoffs, marking the first time in franchise history the Knighthawks advanced to the postseason. The Knighthawks clinched by way of a 12-10 home win over the Georgia Swarm on April 22. The win snapped a season-long four-game skid for Rochester and put an end to Georgia’s six-game win streak.
KNIGHTHAWKS DRAW BANDITS TO OPEN POSTSEASON
The opening round matchup against the intrastate rival Bandits marks the first-ever meeting in the NLL Playoffs between Buffalo and the expansion-era Knighthawks. The original Knighthawks franchise, which operated through the 2018-19 campaign, met Buffalo a dozen times in the postseason. The Bandits, who repeated as Eastern Conference champions with a 14-4 record for the second straight year and third time in the last four years, are certainly no stranger to postseason play having advanced to the NLL Finals three times in the last five years dating back to 2016, including twice under head coach John Tavares. The four-time NLL champions have now qualified for the postseason in 23 of their 31 seasons in team history, highlighted by a franchise-best 10 straight appearances between 2003 and 2012. Buffalo, whose 14 wins tied for most in a single season in team history, wrapped up the regular season winning four of its final five contests to clinch the top seed. Excluding the COVID-19 shortened 2019-20 campaign, the Bandits have finished atop the NLL’s Eastern Conference standings four times in the last six years, earning at last 13 wins during the regular season over that span before losing in the NLL Finals each time (2016, 2019 and 2022).
A SEASON TO REMEMBER FOR CONNOR FIELDS
As has been the case all season long, Knighthawks forward Connor Fields has consistently – and quite impressively – evolved into one of the NLL’s most elite offensive players in 2022-23. Following his 17th straight multi-goal effort last week against Philadelphia to wrap up the regular season, Fields closed out his record-setting campaign second in the NLL with 52 goals behind only New York’s Jeff Teat and finished fifth with 112 points despite one missing one game. Fields, who set the Knighthawks single-season franchise records for goals, assists and points, led the team in scoring in 14 of his 17 outings this season and scored at least two goals or more in all 17 games, including four straight weeks of four-goal efforts. By posting his third 10-point performance of the year against Albany last month, Fields became just the fifth player this season and only the third American-born player in NLL history to record 100 points in a season, a feat previously accomplished twice by Philadelphia’s Joe Resetarits, a former Knighthawks in the previous organization, in 2018 and 2022 as well as Toronto’s Tom Schreiber this season. Fields, who averaged nearly seven points per game this season, added yet another milestone to his already distinguished list of accolades when he scored twice in the win over Georgia on April 22 to become just the second American-born player to score 50 goals in a season, joining Roy Colsey who reached the mark in 2001 with the New York Saints. 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 47 of his 49 career NLL games. Additionally, Fields, who paced all NLL forwards with 142 loose ball recoveries, became the first NLL player since Athan Iannucci in 2008 to record more than 100 points and 130 loose balls in the same season. The only other player in league history to reach both of those marks in a single season was NLL legend and Buffalo head coach John Tavares. Fields closed out the season as one of only three players, joining Jeff Teat of the New York Riptide and Robert Church of the Saskatchewan Rush, to record 50 goals and 50 assists, marking the first time since 2002 three different players reached the marks in the same season. The last trio to do so were NLL legends Paul and Gary Gait and John Grant, Jr., all of whom have ties to the previous Knighthawks organization.
SEASON SERIES SNAPSHOT
The intrastate rivals split the regular season series with a win each and the home team emerged victorious both times. Rochester earned its first win in franchise history over the Bandits back on Jan. 20, the final of a franchise-best season-opening six-game win streak for the Knighthawks, before Buffalo prevailed in the rematch just a few weeks later at KeyBank Center, a building where the Knighthawks remain winless. Both matchups between the two teams were decided by three goals and each team combined for 25 goals against the other while Rochester maintained a slight advantage in shots, 118-113. The Knighthawks and Bandits finished among the NLL’s top offensive teams during the regular season with Rochester (218) scoring just three more goals than Buffalo (215) and averaging 12.11 goals per game compared to Buffalo’s 11.94. Buffalo, however, had third-best defense in the league largely in part due to goaltender Matt Vinc. The veteran netminder anchored a Bandits team that allowed only 191 goals-against (10.61 per game), the third-fewest in team history since the league expanded to an 18-game regular season prior to the 2014-15 campaign. From a special teams’ standpoint, Buffalo’s power-play unit converted on 32-of-60 man-up opportunities for a 53.3% conversion rate that ranked third-best in the league. Conversely, the Knighthawks finished with the NLL’s top penalty kill, allowing only 20 goals-against on 52 shorthanded situations.
KNIGHTHAWKS REGULAR SEASON IN REVIEW
The 2022-23 season was one of significant change and remarkable growth for the Knighthawks, who after combining for just six wins through their first two years of the expansion-era, far exceeded all expectations and became this year’s Cinderella story in the National Lacrosse League. Rochester opened the season with an unprecedented six consecutive wins, including the first in team history over both Buffalo and Toronto, and won their first five straight at home. It marked the longest win streak in team history and tied for the second-longest in the NLL this season with both Buffalo and Georgia. Rochester’s five-game home win streak was also the second-best with only the Toronto Rock having a better run. The Knighthawks also produced their first 100-point getter in Fields while goaltender Rylan Hartley blossomed into one of the top goaltenders in the NLL. Hartley, who started all 18 games, finished third in the NLL in saves (713) and tied for fourth in wins (10) while being one of only four netminders to play more than 1,000 minutes between the pipes. The Knighthawks also had several players capture career-highs, including forwards Holden Cattoni and Thomas Hoggarth, who combined for 70 goals and 138 points this season. Cattoni finished the campaign second on the team with 40 goals and 84 points while being one of seven players to appear in all 18 games. He also led the team with two shorthanded goals while reaching the 80-point mark for the second time since 2018-19. Hoggarth, meanwhile, capped a career-high 30-goal season with a four-goal effort in the season-ending loss to Philadelphia last week, surpassing his previous mark on his fourth goal of the game. After setting the franchise’s single-season scoring records by a rookie last year, second-year forward Ryan Smith had an equally productive year in 2022-23. Smith finished two goals shy of matching last year’s total but ended with career-highs in assists (42) and points (75) while also tying for seventh in the league with a team-best 11 power-play goals. Smith, who scored eight power-play goals last season as a rookie, holds the franchise record with 19 career power-play tallies.
BANDITS REGULAR SEASON IN REVIEW
As expected, the 2022-23 season was another one of dominance for the Bandits, who closed out the year winning four of their last five games to finish as Eastern Conference champions for the second straight year. Reigning NLL MVP Dhane Smith turned in yet another record-setting season, leading the NLL with 96 assists and finishing just four points back of the NLL’s overall scoring lead. Smith, who broke his own NLL single-season record of 94 assists which he set last season, also finished five points shy of tying his all-time record of 137 points, which he set during his 2016 MVP season. A two-time NLL MVP and First Team All-Pro selection, Smith has now topped the 100-point mark five times since 2015 while also scoring 30 or more goals on six occasions over that span. Buffalo’s biggest asset, however, is between the pipes in 17-year veteran Matt Vinc, who’s played virtually every second this season with the Bandits. Arguably one of the best netminders in NLL history, Vinc led all goaltenders in wins (14) and saves (742) and finished third in minutes played (1,048). He also finished fifth with a 10.42 goals-against average and was one of only four goaltenders to play more than 1,000 minutes. 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 from 2012 to 2014. Vinc, who’s also an eight-time NLL All-Pro Fist-Team selection, is the all-time leader in minutes played (14,739), saves (9,788) and career wins (147). Earlier this season against Rochester, he became the first goaltender and only player in league history to play 14,000 minutes in goal.