We’re onto Week 9 of the 2022-23 National Lacrosse League campaign and the Rochester Knighthawks remain the only undefeated team in the league.
The Knighthawks are soaring following a massive 15-12 win over the Buffalo Bandits on Friday punctuated by a nine-point effort from forward Ryan Smith and are gearing for a trip north of the border. There’s a lot to cover from the Knighthawks past week of action.
We take a look at it all with Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey in this week’s edition of Hawk Talk.
SECOND-HALF SURGE SOLIDIFYING THE WIN
By winning their franchise-best sixth straight on Friday, the Knighthawks remain in first place in the NLL’s Eastern Conference standings, while the 15-12 win also marked the first in franchise history over the Bandits. However, this win didn’t come as an easy feat, in fact, the Knighthawks were trailing by three heading into the half and needed to get back to the basics to finish out the game with win.
“The message at half, and intermission, was to get back to the basics and get back to what has made us successful throughout the start of the year,” began Carey when asked how the Knighthawks really settled down in the second half of Friday’s game against the Bandits.
With a statement win on Friday, we didn’t only prove that we are a good team, but that we are a force to be reckoned with.
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) January 24, 2023
Trailing 11-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Knighthawks went on to score five straight unanswered goals over a six-minute span on their way to closing out a 15-12 win over the Bandits in a battle between the NLL’s top two teams.
Carey then finished discussing the second half comeback by saying, “Going into the second half, it was a mindset of…we had to come out and back with our game plan and I thought we executed very well. It was a back-and-forth game and to do that against Buffalo isn’t an easy task. So, overall, I thought to be able to come back against a team like that showed some resiliency.”
SMITH SHOWING UP AND SHOWING OFF
While the Knighthawks came out with a win on Friday, so too did Smith and the offensive effort he strung together. The Knighthawks forward went on to produce a nine-point night, his best of the season so far, along with five goals which is now a new career-high for the second-year pro.
“He (Smith) was making the most of his opportunities,” said Carey when asked about Smith’s offensive efforts on Friday. “He’s a very unselfish player and he tends to let his teammates kind of take the opportunities that sometimes should be his.”
In just his short time in Rochester, Smith has already made a massive impact.
RYAN SMITH HAD HIMSELF A KNIGHT! pic.twitter.com/8ZArqxX8rY
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) January 21, 2023
Last season with Rochester, Smith finished second among NLL rookies with 35 goals and third with 59 points. While Smith was named to the NLL All-Rookie Team for the 2021-22 season, he led all first-year players with a franchise record eight power-play goals and ranked third among rookies in overall power-play scoring with 15 points.
This year, Smith has continued that same offensive trajectory by already producing 14 goals and 16 assists for 30 points through the Knighthawks first six games.
“Ryan Smith is a talent and he’s a guy that, I think, is just still scratching the surface of this league, and on our team, so it great to see him finally take the bull by the horns and go out and do what he does best,” finished Carey when discussing Smith’s skillset.
HEADING TO HALIFAX
For the first time this season, the Knighthawks are taking on the Halifax Thunderbirds with a matchup slated for Friday north of the border.
“They’re going to be a hungry team and playing there (Halifax) is difficult. They got their crowd behind them,” said Carey when asked about the Knighthawks’ first of two matchups against the Thunderbirds this season.
The Thunderbirds have lost their last two games and currently sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-3 overall record.
Offensively, the Thunderbirds are led by three forwards who are all over the 30-point mark on the season in Randy Staats, Clarke Petterson and Ryan Benesch. At the face-off dot, Halifax will have defenseman Jake Withers, who has gone 142-for-176 on face-offs this season and leads the league with 84 loose ball recoveries. Between the pipes, goaltenders Warren Hill and Drew Hutchison have split time in all six games this season, while Hill has helped lift the team to two wins on the year in the 214 minutes he’s played.
No matter who they’re facing, though, the Knighthawks know they have to be as prepared as possible because any opponent, including the Thunderbirds, can get back on track on any given night.
“We have to be as prepared as we have been for the opponents that we’ve already played. So, this is going to be another tough task that we see. These guys are a very good team and well-rounded, and I know they’re going to have a lot to prove come this weekend,” finished Carey when discussing this week’s matchup.
The Knighthawks are in search of their seventh straight win this Friday, Jan. 27 when they take on the Thunderbirds at Scotiabank Centre. The 6 p.m. ET matchup will be the first of two scheduled meetings between the two teams this season and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.