For the first time in 210 days, the Rochester Knighthawks take the floor to start the 2023-24 NLL season against the Calgary Roughnecks at Segar and Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena Saturday night.
“We’re ready,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen following Saturday morning’s shootaround session. “It’s felt like it’s been a long camp at some points, but right now the guys are really laser-focused and they’re ready to get going here.”
EARNING YOUR SPOT
Training camp officially came to a close for the Knighthawks on Friday evening when the team named Dan Coates its captain, along with giving letters to Ryland Rees, Curtis Knight, Turner Evans and Matt Gilray. While addressing the team, coach Hasen handed players their jerseys one-by-one for them to pick the locker stall of their choosing ahead of the season.
“You’re not allowed in that room until you earn your spot. Veterans may want to change their mojo. I like consistency, but some people may not, so we have them come in, earn their spot, pick their spot, and away we go.”
As per tradition, the squad earned their jerseys tonight.
And up first, we have a Captain to announce! pic.twitter.com/WoqW3LLQaL
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) December 2, 2023
This comes following Rochester’s perfect 3-0 training camp that featured scrimmage victories over defending NLL champion Buffalo, Georgia, and New York.
“It’s a really different group from the last couple of years,” said Evans. “There’s been a lot of changes in our lineup, but we’ve got some young bodies and a lot of youth on our team and a lot of veterans as well. I think we have a good mix. Our preseason was great, but that’s just the preseason. We’re trying to hit the ground running with the regular season and get going.”
Thomas Hoggarth and Thomas Vela will step on Segar and Sciortino Field again Saturday, but this time as opponents. Hoggarth spent two seasons with Rochester, while Vela appeared in four games last season.
“We kind of know his tendencies to a certain degree,” smiled Hasen when asked about Hoggarth. “But at the same time, I know he’s going to be fired up and so will Thomas Vela if he gets into the lineup. Those are two guys who will come in here wanting to prove a point at the end of the day and we just got to make sure we’re expecting what they can do and be physical to deny what they do best.”
On the other side of the floor, former Calgary forward Kyle Waters will face his former team after spending his first two professional seasons with the Roughnecks. The Orangeville, Ontario, native logged 15 goals and 42 points in his 28 regular season games with Calgary.
“I was actually at a wedding,” said Waters when finding out about the trade. “I played for ‘Haser’ (Mike Hasen) in junior and he was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. It was exciting. I felt welcomed right away and it was exciting to feel wanted here.”
“It’s going to be a little weird for sure. I have a lot of buddies on that team, but come game time, it’s all business.
KING OF THE CREASE
Knighthawks goaltender Rylan Hartley will oppose Christian Del Bianco in goal tonight. The Calgary netminder enters this season as the reigning NLL MVP, becoming just the second goaltender in league history to receive the award. Del Bianco posted a league best save percentage of .810 while leading the NLL in minutes played with a personal best 1,080-plus minutes.
“Del Bianco…what can’t you say about him,” said Hasen. “He’s one of the best to say the least.”
“You have a little bit of an edge,” said Hartley when asked about facing Del Bianco. “Realistically, you need to play it like it’s just another game. It’s definitely fun to play against guys like that, but we just got to worry about ourselves.”
FAMILIAR FACE ON THE BENCH
Roughnecks head coach Josh Sanderson returns to where it all began. The first-year head coach in the NLL will make his debut in the city he began his playing career in. Sanderson played for the original Rochester Knighthawks from 1998-99, spending his final season in the Flower City as a teammate of Hasen’s.
“I have nothing but respect for him,” said Evans, who played with Sanderson in Toronto (2016) and played for him when he was the offensive coordinator in San Diego. “He’s knowledgeable and competitive. His resume speaks for itself. It’s going to be exciting playing against him. Should be a good match.”
Sanderson scored 449 goals and amassed an incredible 1,357 points during his 19-season tenure in the NLL.
“They’re going to be fiery, ready to go, and they’re going to be very prepared because that’s the way Josh was as a player,” said Hasen. “He was focused and he was prepared to do what he wanted to do and get everybody involved. They’re going to be hungry. We just have to be ready to match it and push back.”