TONIGHT’S GAME OVERVIEW
The Rochester Knighthawks (6-0) seek their seventh straight win tonight as they make their way north of the border for the first of two meetings against the Halifax Thunderbirds (3-3) at Scotiabank Centre. Game time between the Eastern Conference rivals is slated for a 6:00 p.m. ET 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 THUNBERBIRDS STATS
|2022-23 KNIGHTHAWKS STATS
|WATCH ON ESPN+
|LISTEN LIVE ON BIG 107.3 FM
SEASON SERIES SNAPSHOT
Tonight’s contest promises to be an offensive showdown showcasing the league’s top two teams in terms offensive production. The Knighthawks, who remain the only unbeaten team through their first six games, enter the weekend leading the NLL with 84 goals scored and averaging exactly 14 goals per game. Halifax remains at a very close second with 83 goals while averaging 13.83 goals per game. Additionally, the top three point-getters for each team have either reached or surpassed the 30-point mark with Randy Staats, Clarke Petterson and Ryan Benesch leading the way for Halifax while the trio of Connor Fields, Holden Cattoni and Ryan Smith have paved the way for Rochester thus far. It will also be an individual battle between Staats and Fields, who enter the weekend ranked second in the NLL in assists (25) and tied for second in goals (19), respectively, with both players appearing in five of their team’s six games this season. Petterson and Smith, meanwhile, are tied for first in the league with five power-play goals each with Smith having accounted for a franchise-records 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 their 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 10 points (3+7), while Bowhunter, who’s the son of Thunderbirds general manager Curt Styres, sits seventh in scoring amongst all first-year players with six points (3+3). Despite the team’s early season success, Rochester is winless in three all-time meetings against the Thunderbirds dating back to its 2019-20 inaugural campaign. Tonight’s matchup also kicks off a stretch in which the two teams will face-off twice over a three-game span with one final get-together slated for Feb. 11 at Segar & Sciortino Field in Rochester when Halifax makes its only visit of the season.
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
Trailing 11-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Knighthawks scored five straight unanswered goals over a six-minute span on their way to closing out a massive 15-12 win over the Buffalo Bandits in a battle between the NLL’s top two teams last Friday at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. By winning their franchise-best sixth straight, the Knighthawks remain in first place in the National Lacrosse League’s Eastern Conference standings. Second-year pro Ryan Smith posted a game-high nine points on a career-high five goals, becoming the just the third player in franchise history to score five goals in a single game, and four assists while Holden Cattoni (3+4) and Connor Fields (3+5) both turned in a hat trick for Rochester. Thomas Hoggarth (2+3), Curtis Knight (1+3), Matt Gilray (1+1), and Brad Gillies (0+2) all had multi-point games. Turner Evans, Mitch Ogilvie, Austin Hasen, and Tyler Halls each notched one assist each. Goaltender Rylan Hartley maintained his perfect record to begin the season as he improved to 6-0. The netminder, who has started all six games this season, finished with 44 saves, while helping Rochester overcome a pair of three-goal deficits to come away with the win.
THE PAST MEETS THE PRESENT
Tonight may be just the fourth 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.
FIELDS TAKING FLIGHT
Following yet another impressive performance in Rochester’s statement win over Buffalo on Friday, Fields enters the weekend tied for second in the NLL in goals (19) and third in points (37) despite missing one game. He’s also tied for the league lead with two game-winning goals. By averaging more than seven points per game through his first five 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 35 of his 37 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 30 points in six 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. After setting the single-season franchise record for assists by a defenseman in 2021-22, veteran Dan Coates is off to another productive start this season with three points (1+2) in his first four games, including a goal in the win over Albany on Dec. 17. 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 58-for-148 at the center dot this season, good for a .391% 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 58 face-off wins rank seventh in the NLL while his four assists are tied for fourth-most amongst all defensive players. He’s also 10th amongst all NLL defensemen with 38 loose ball recoveries. Hartley has been a mainstay between the pipes for the Knighthawks and the catalyst to Rochester’s perfect start to the season. Through six starts, Hartley leads the NLL in wins (6) and minutes played (360) while ranking second in saves (242). He also ranks third and fifth among all netminders with a .800 save percentage and a 10.00 goals-against average, respectively.
SCOUTING THE THUNDERBIRDS
Halifax comes into the matchup having dropped two straight to fall to 3-3 on the season, good for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings. After coming up short in an 11-10 setback to Albany on Friday, the Thunderbirds suffered their most lopsided loss of the season the following night in a 17-8 defeat at the hands of the Toronto Rock. It was also the first time all season Halifax failed to score 10 or more goals in a game. The Thunderbirds are led offensively by forward Randy Staats, who paces the team with 25 goals and 35 points in addition to 64 shots. Chris Boushy, Halifax’s leading goal-scorer with 15 tallies this season, is tied for sixth in the NLL in goals, which includes three on the power-play.