The Rochester Knighthawks were halfway there to reaching the heights of last season’s start where the team pushed to 6-0 to begin the season. This time around, it wasn’t meant to be.
After a 17-14 loss in San Diego, the now 3-1 ‘Hawks will sit idle on their second bye week of the season before hosting the defending NLL champion Buffalo Bandits on Jan. 13.
Nobody likes to lose, but defenseman Brad Gillies believes this team is braced for this kind of adversity and sees a different team than the one from a season ago.
“I think even just the feel this year of being 3-0 this year versus when we were 3-0 last year is a lot different,” said Gillies. “It’s a more confident group. We have the expectations of being a great group, whereas last year it was all new. We had never really been there before. We were always near the bottom of the standings. We had kind of surprised people. Now people aren’t really surprised when they see us win games.”
The Knighthawks burst onto the scene last year finishing with a 10-8 record to earn the first playoff berth in modern franchise history. Mike Hasen’s group surprised everyone. This time around, the league is ready for them, and Gillies believes they thrive off that.
“I think so,” said Gillies when asked if Rochester thrives off expectations. “Confidence is a huge thing in this league. Knowing when you’re going out there you can beat anybody is huge. You’re not just blowing smoke. You can compete with any team in this league. Getting the confidence that you can play with everybody is really important in dealing with the ups and downs of a game as they come.”
Nobody is expected to go 18-0 in an NLL season. The parity throughout the league makes the thought of such a feat impractical, but losing and learning from losses are two different things and they are things Gillies believes this team is better equipped for than last year’s squad.
“You can take something from these losses. It’s the NLL. You know it’s going to happen. There are losses every week and upsets every week. Those losses are going to happen, it’s just how you deal with them and how you learn from them.”
“I think we feel different about how we can handle things this year. We won a lot last year and made the playoffs. We kind of got over that milestone that hadn’t happened before, so now we want to take that next step forward,” added Gillies. “We want to be a top team. I hope that now we understand how to respond to losses and take the peaks and valleys of the season as they go. We need to keep doing what we’re doing so we don’t turn losses into a domino effect. We just got to trust what we’ve been doing and get back on track.”
Learning from losses isn’t just done from a team perspective. From an individual standpoint, it carries a great deal of importance. It’s something Gillies believes is learned over time. The eighth-year pro is in his sixth season with Rochester and his second with the current franchise after being a member of the original Knighthawks from 2016-2019.
“This league is so tough to win in. I’ve just learned to understand the ups and downs that come with an NLL season a lot more than I probably did at the start of my career. I would feel like the world was coming to an end, but now you learn to just deal with it and come back and get after it again. My mentality is still the same in terms of how I prepare and expectations that come for myself, but there’s probably a bit more maturity now in what to expect and how to handle situations.”
There are 14 games to go in the 2023-24 National Lacrosse League season. Next up for the Knighthawks is a rematch against the Bandits, the very team that ended Rochester’s season last year. Perhaps Gillies and the rest of his teammates learned from that loss, too.
We’ll see come Jan. 13 at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena.