Officially at the halfway point of the season, the Rochester Knighthawks are back in action this weekend at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. On Saturday, it will be a battle of the expansion teams as the New York Riptide come to town with face-off slated for 7:00 p.m. during Military Appreciation Night presented by the Veterans Outreach Center.
“This is an exciting game for us as an organization to honor the military. It’s important to put things into perspective. The ups and downs we go through in sports, it’s nothing compared to the commitment and sacrifice that is made by those who serve,” said Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey about the club’s inaugural Military Appreciation Night.
Last time out, the Knighthawks were unable to generate much offensive firepower as the New England Black Wolves went on a seven-goal surge to open the fourth quarter and ran away with an 18-7 win over the Knighthawks at Mohegan Sun Arena this past Saturday night.
Holden Cattoni once again led the scoring with a three-goal night, all of which came on special teams, with two on the power-play and one shorthanded. Shawn Evans and Turner Evans each notched three assists, Cory Highfield finished with a goal and assist, and Mark Cockerton tallied two assists in his season debut for the Knighthawks. Rookie Rylan Hartley made his second straight in the crease for Rochester and stopped 41 of the 55 shots he faced while taking the loss. In the fourth quarter, Craig Wende replaced Hartley, making 11 saves in 14:17 of relief effort.
Despite the loss on the scoresheet, Carey took a lot of positives away from last Saturday’s matchup with one of those being the frustration that the team is feeling due to their competitive nature.
“I look at that as one of our positives this season. It’s frustration. We believe we are better than our results have shown, and the players that we have are competitors and hate losing. It’s not something we discuss or encourage, but the character in our room has the mentality that we don’t go down without a fight, and we are a tough team to play against.”
Looking ahead to this week, Rochester is back in action against the other team brand-new to the NLL this year in the Riptide. New York has started out 1-9 and remain five and a half games back in the East Division coming into their back-to-back weekend full of games. On Friday, the Riptide will take on the Black Wolves on their home turf down at Nassau Coliseum before their Saturday night tilt here in Rochester.
The parallels between the NLL’s two expansion teams should make for an exciting competition come Saturday. Much like the Knighthawks, New York has just one win on the season, a 13-12 victory over the Georgia Swarm back on Jan. 18. Rochester, too, has one win its inaugural campaign, a 13-12 win over the defending NLL champion Calgary Roughnecks, which also came on Jan. 18
With both teams’ lone win coming at home, they remain winless on the road this season with Rochester sporting an 0-5 record away from the Flower City and the Riptide showing an 0-6 mark away from the friendly confines of Nassau Coliseum.
Despite the vast similarities between the two teams, Carey also insists that the Knighthawks must not underestimate their opponent come Saturday.
“New York cannot be taken lightly. We understand what they have gone through thus far, as we are currently in a similar situation. We have to prepare as we do every game, we need to continue to improve, compete and get better,” said Carey when asked what Rochester’s biggest task would be when facing off against the Riptide.
The Riptide recently parted ways with their top point-getter Tyler Digby, who up until his trade to Colorado last week, led New York in all offensive categories, including goals (14), assists (22) and points (36) in 10 games. Digby, a seventh-year veteran who was selected by the Riptide in the ninth round of the 2019 NLL Expansion Draft, was dealt to the Mammoth in exchange for two second-round draft picks, one in 2020 and the other in 2021.
The Riptide own the top scoring rookie in the NLL in Tyson Gibson, who currently leads all first-year players with 29 points on 13 goals and 16 assists in nine games this season. He also leads all rookies in goals (13) and is tied for 10th among all rookies with 35 loose balls. Fellow rookie and face-off specialist Alex Woodall ranks third in the league with 131 face-off wins, trailing only Philadelphia’s Trevor Baptiste and Halifax’s Jake Withers.
In goal, New York has relied mostly on Alex Buque, whose seven losses are most among NLL goaltenders coming into tonight. Buque, who boasts a 1-7 record in 10 appearances this season, also owns a league-worst 14.01 goals-against average and a .740 save percentage.
The Riptide enter their inaugural season led by rookie head coach and general manager Regy Thorpe, who spent his entire 15-year playing career with the previous Knighthawks franchise. One of the most iconic players in NLL history, Thorpe appeared in 193 career games with Rochester from 1995-2009, recording 76 points on five goals and 71 assists. He also amassed 966 loose ball recoveries while helping the former Knighthawks to a pair of NLL championships in 1997 and 2007.
All in all, Carey seems to think that this weekend’s contest will be the truest test to date for the Knighthawks in order to continue to improve through the challenges that they will continue to face.
“Honestly, I think our true test is the process of improvement. Are we learning from our mistakes, and are we continuing to get better in all aspects? Sometimes in order to improve, you have to go through difficulties. We have had a difficult year up to this point regarding our results, but internally we know that these hardships can be useful in our growth and future.”
After Saturday’s battle between the expansion franchises, Rochester embarks on a two-game western road swing with back-to-back games next weekend. On Saturday, March 7, the Knighthawks take on the San Diego Seals with game time slated for 10 p.m. ET. Rochester concludes the two-game weekend the following day with a Sunday night matchup in Denver at 7:00 p.m. ET against the Colorado Mammoth.