The Rochester Knighthawks (3-1) host the defending NLL Champions and intrastate rival Buffalo Bandits (2-2) at Segar and Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena Saturday evening.
“They’re the best for a reason,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “Buffalo coming into town is enough motivation. The building is loud and we got to make sure we play a full 60 minutes from the get-go or they’re gonna take it to us.”
After beginning the season 3-0, Rochester walks into a game looking to bounce back for the first time after dropping a 17-14 decision in San Diego two weeks ago.
“I think a lot of it was our energy. We just didn’t have a lot of ‘get up and go’ for whatever reason. We lost a lot of battles all over the floor. It was just little things that add up to being on the wrong side of the score column.”
Despite the outcome, several key contributors put up points for the ‘Hawks, including transition player Matt Gilray, who recorded three points (1+2) on the night.
“I’m just focused on what we’re doing as a defense and what we’re doing as a team,” said Gilray. “We’re definitely a young, hard-working team. We have that never-give-up mentality. We never think that we’re out of a game.”
FIELDS THE FATHER
Connor Fields was once again a force on offense in San Diego, recording a hat trick and four points to continue leading the ‘Hawks in scoring with 27 points (13+14) through the opening four games of the season. Fields hopes to celebrate a win for the first time as a dad as he and his wife, Laura, welcomed their first child into the world Wednesday.
“It’s been awesome,” said Fields. “My wife was a superhero in the delivery and I’m just happy mom and the baby are both healthy. I’ve never been happier in my life. Going into it, you think it’s going to be awesome but then the baby gets here and it’s better than you could’ve ever thought.”
Fields, like several in this rivalry, know both sides of the floor. The fifth-year pro spent a season with his hometown Bandits in 2021-22, before exploding onto the scene with Rochester as one of the top forwards in the league. He posted 32 goals and 67 points with the Bandits, then exceeded those numbers by 20 goals and 45 points in his first year as a Knighthawk.
“I think it’s a mix of my confidence and opportunity,” said Fields when asked what changed between coming from Buffalo to Rochester. “In Buffalo, I had one set role, but when I came to Rochester, the coaching staff instilled a lot of confidence in me. When you start playing with confidence and gaining it, better things start to happen.”
“It’s a rivalry game so that’s kind of the chip we play with as a team. I grew up in Buffalo going to Bandits games, so it’s a humbling experience playing against a team you watched your whole life.”
BATTLE IN GOAL
Riley Hutchcraft has stepped up in goal in the absence of Rylan Hartley due to injury, acting as a centerpiece surrounded by other goaltenders the organization has recently acquired.
“He had a dynamite summer,” said Hasen. “He came into camp and carried that momentum forward. He’s playing very well and giving us an opportunity to win every time. It’s a big test for him tonight and for us, but we should be ready to go.”
Hutchcraft’s test won’t be limited to the offense he’s facing. In goal down the floor is Matt Vinc, who won three NLL Cups with the original Knighthawks and added a fourth to his resume with Buffalo last Spring. Vinc is an eight-time NLL Goaltender of the Year and arguably the best to have played the game.
“You need to try and get to spots he doesn’t want to see the ball coming from,” said Hasen. “That’s going to be by committee. It’s going to require a lot of ball movement and a lot of hard picks to get their defense on their heels a bit and keep them guessing.”
“He’s had a great career,” said Fields. “These are the games you love to play in. These are the big games. That’s one of the tricks to this level. You play against a lot of guys you grew up watching. I think before the game you think about how it’s a pretty cool moment, but once you’re out there you don’t think about that. You think about doing whatever it takes to win.”