Rochester Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen summed up his team’s inaugural season in the National Lacrosse League in one simple word: crazy.
“Thinking when we left from our Denver trip, we said ‘We’ll see you guys next Friday.’ That obviously got postponed and then it turned into ‘maybe we’ll see you in a couple of weeks’. It’s been a long time to say the least. To have it canceled like that is the best thing for everybody, but it’s definitely weird and different to say the least.”
But let’s forget the ending of the year and take a look back all the way to last October when there was a group of 25 guys getting together at The Blue Cross Arena ready to rock a brand-new identity for the fans here in the Flower City. This particular group was made up of a number of NLL veterans that had maybe played together a time or two before and an even greater number of rookies joined the scene ready to dive into their first professional season.
WATCH: YEAR IN REVIEW WITH MIKE HASEN
So, what’s there to expect from a team that had less than a month to band together and get things rolling? Like any other team, though, when the season finally arrived, all they wanted to do was win.
“To say the least, we wanted to step on the floor and win every single game. That was our expectation and I think as competitors that’s what we’ll always expect. At the same time, though, we knew we were a part of the process,” stated Hasen when asked what his expectations were heading into the inaugural campaign.
Now Hasen is no stranger to Rochester as he served as head coach of the former Knighthawks franchise from 2011 to the 2018-19 season. In those nine years behind the bench, Hasen guided the former Knighthawks 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).
This season proved to be a new challenge for Hasen, who was tasked with essentially creating a team from scratch and hope that it would all work out come Opening Night back on Nov. 30. And honestly, we can’t forget that first game against the Georgia Swarm with the Knighthawks coming up on the losing side, triggering an immediate wakeup call that maybe this process would last a little longer than they had hoped.
No matter how the start of the season went, though, Hasen was happiest with the overall dynamic of the team and how quickly a group of individuals became a unit despite not very much to do so.
“As a team aspect, I think we had a great group of guys and they all bought into what we were trying to get together as a group. At the end of the day, though, they all believed in each other and that was the biggest benefit for me and what I was happiest about.”
Fast forward just two months down the road from Opening Night and the new Knighthawks seemed to be coming together right before our very eyes. Of the Knighthawks 12 games during the 2019-20 season, five of them were decided by a one-goal margin as the guys continued to stick with one another and grew with each and every rep out on the floor.
Now this one-goal trend didn’t start until Rochester began to ramp up its amount of play come the month of January, but from Jan. 11 until their final matchup on Mar. 8, five of their last nine contests were decided by just one goal. And if you look at the numbers more closely, that means that almost half of Rochester’s games during its inaugural season were decided by one goal and two of those contests ended in their favor.
WATCH: YEAR IN REVIEW WITH KNIGHTHAWKS COACHING STAFF
With the season being cut short the Knighthawks ended their inaugural year going 2-10, but Hasen is assured that his squad was right on the cusp of finally coming together.
“We still had six games in our season to come together, learn from each other and to become more of a team. We were all still trying to learn how each other performs and thinks and I think we were right on the cusp.”
Being that those remaining six games were dropped from the Knighthawks’ first year in the NLL, it should come as no surprise that with such an abrupt end the one thing that the Knighthawks head coach is most excited for come next season is simply to bring his team back together.
“I think the biggest thing when we do get back together again is simply that – just being able to get back together.”
When the 2020-21 season finally does get underway, what’s the message that Hasen has for all of you here in Rochester?
“For the fans in Rochester, stick with us. We want to win every single game and I know this past season didn’t quite show up on the scoreboard or in the standings, but we’re getting there. I’m proud to be a Knighthawk and I know the guys when they put on that jersey are proud to wear that jersey and represent Rochester.”