Another bye week has passed, and the Rochester Knighthawks are headed down the I-90 to take on a North Division rival they’ve had yet to see this season. This Friday, Rochester closes out the first month of the calendar year by taking on the Buffalo Bandits at 7:30 p.m. at the KeyBank Center.
Last time Rochester hit the floor, they had back-to-back games, splitting its first of two multi-game weekends this year.
Back on Jan 18, the Knighthawks took down the Calgary Roughnecks for their first ever win in franchise history. Rochester battled back from a 12-11 deficit with two fourth-quarter goals and held on for the final seven minutes of regulation as they took down the defending NLL champions in thrilling fashion. The 13-12 victory also snapped Rochester’s four-game slide to begin the season.
Curtis Knight (3+3) and Holden Cattoni (1+5) each notched six points while Shawn Evans ended the night with five assists. Turner Evans also contributed four points (1+3) while Ryland Rees and Thomas Whitty also found the back of the net for their first NLL goals. Craig Wende, who got the start for the second straight week, was brilliant in net making 42 saves to pick up his first pro win.
“I think we are still improving, and the game against Calgary was a great step in the right direction, but I think our players and staff would all agree that we have more to give and improve on,” said Knighthawks General Manager Dan Carey when asked about his overall thoughts on the franchise’s historical first win.
Just 24 hours later, the Knighthawks were unable to duplicate the effort on Jan. 19 at the Wells Fargo Center, where the Philadelphia Wings scored seven power-play goals on their way to a 12-4 win in the weekend finale between the two teams.
As has been the case all season, Cattoni led the Knighthawks with a four-point night (1+3) and once again opened the scoring for Rochester with his seventh goal in just his last three contests. Shawn Evans also notched a multi-point effort with a goal and an assist that put him just three assists away from tying former teammate John Grant Jr. for fifth all-time in NLL history. Knight (1+0) continued his success from the night prior by adding another goal to his season total, while Phil Caputo (1+1) found the back of the net for the sixth consecutive game. Steve Fryer (0-2) made the start in the crease making 51 saves on the 63 shots he faced. In the fourth quarter, rookie Rylan Hartley made his season debut, totaling 4:53 on the floor while turning aside all three shots he faced.
Reflecting on the back-to-back weekend, Carey mentioned how the game against the Wings was one that just happened to get away from them after a tight game early on.
“The Philly game was just one of those games that got away from us. We were undisciplined and got away from what made us successful the night before. It was a lesson learned, knowing it was a very tight game early on and we need to be able to work through the tough stretches by trusting each other and trusting the process.”
Looking ahead to this weekend, Rochester is taking on a Divisional opponent for the first time in three games. Buffalo currently ranks second in the North Division with a 4-1 record and are riding a three-game win streak heading into this weekend. The only loss that the Bandits have suffered so far this year was against the North Division leaders, the undefeated Halifax Thunderbirds.
Two forwards lead the scoring charge for the Bandits, with both Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne combining for 51 of the teams 149-point total. Byrne has tallied 17 goals on the year already, with 10 of those coming in his last two games. Six-time NLL Goaltender of the Year, Matt Vinc, seems to be the primary backstop for Buffalo as he has appeared in all five games for the Bandits this year, totaling 273:51 in net while making 209 saves.
“Buffalo was in the Finals last season, and they have a lot of talent and big game experience on their team. It’s going to be a tough game going into Buffalo and a challenge that we’re prepared for,” noted Carey when talking about what his franchise needs to be prepared to see this weekend.
After this weekend, Rochester will kick off what seems to be the busiest time of the year, with each of the next three months totaling three or more games on the docket, leaving 11 more games for the brand-new franchise to find its consistency in its inaugural NLL season.
“We have a competitive group of players and staff that are putting in the work to get better. What we have seen to this point, there is no reason why we can’t continue to compete game in and game out. We had a stretch of four games that we continued to improve on, and we believe we will continue that trend moving forward,” expressed Carey when looking at the busy road ahead.
Following this weekend, Rochester returns home to Segar & Sciortino Field as The Blue Cross Arena. On Sunday, Feb. 9, the Knighthawks will be taking on the Vancouver Warriors for the first and only matchup between the two clubs this season. The brand-new franchise will be hosting their first ever Kids Day, kicking off at 2:00 p.m.