Returning from another bye week, the Rochester Knighthawks are coming off their third win of the 2021-22 season and are getting ready to hit the ground running for the remainder of the year. For the next 10 straight weeks, the Knighthawks will be in action every single weekend and they’re looking to roll into this heavy stretch of games with a purpose.
After a 15-13 win over the Albany FireWolves on Feb. 12, the Knighthawks snapped their previous four-game slide. Rochester general manager Dan Carey admitted that getting his lineup back to full capacity and healthy was the most important factor in their recent success.
“Getting guys back and healthy into the lineup was the most important thing,” said Carey, whose team picked up its first home win of the season to improve to 3-5 on the year. “Team chemistry and just trying to build those relationships on the floor and playing well together. You need the repetitions to kind of go through those stretches where you’re playing and reading off one another. Again, we had a difficult time there with injuries and COVID and it wasn’t an ideal situation, but we got through it.”
Against Albany two weeks ago, forwards Holden Cattoni, Turner Evans and Curtis Knight all turned in five-point efforts. Forwards Ryan Smith and Thomas Hoggarth also recorded hat tricks while transition players Matt Gilray and Ryland Rees each had a goal apiece. Additionally, goaltender Rylan Hartley made his sixth straight start in the crease for Rochester, getting his second win on the year to up his record to 2-4 while making 35 saves.
Arguably the biggest storyline from the Knighthawks’ last outing came from veteran forward Shawn Evans as he led the way with a team-high 10-point performance. With Evans’ nine assists on the night, he set the single-game franchise record and went on to tie the franchise’s single-game points record with his offensive performance.
Carey isn’t surprised by the veteran forward’s 10-point performance as he’s at the point in his career where he’s trusting his teammates to help further his success on the floor.
“He’s just so competitive in nature and that drive to want to win and hate to lose is contagious with our guys. When Shawn is trusting his teammates, playing well off of them and knowing that he’s been so successful throughout his career from a really young age, that success has kind of driven him. He knows he’s capable of helping his team win.”
Going into this Saturday night, the Knighthawks are taking on the first-place Buffalo Bandits for the third and final time of the 2021-22 campaign. Currently the Bandits sport a league-best 7-1 record, including a perfect 5-0 mark at home this season, and they’ve already handed Rochester two losses on the year.
When it comes to Buffalo’s high-powered and well-balanced offense, they have two forwards in the top 20 point-getters across the league in Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne. Smith powers his team with 53 points on 17 goals and 36 assists, which is tops in the league, while Byrne has 16 goals on the year and leads the league with his three shorthanded markers. Defensively, captain Steve Priolo leads the league with 13 blocked shots and is among the NLL’s top-scoring defensemen with his 10 points. In net, the Bandits have gone with veteran goaltender Matt Vinc all season. The seven-time NLL Goaltender of the Year is the only netminder with seven wins and is sporting a 9.73 goals-against average while also raking third in saves (339).
There’s more that makes Buffalo one of the most complete teams in the NLL, however, Carey feels the biggest thing that his team needs to bring on Saturday is its natural competitive instinct in order to pull off a win.
“There’s got to be that competitive instinct against any team. Buffalo is just one of those teams that, again, they’re in the top of the standings in the East Division and in our league. If you want to compare yourself to the best then you have to play well, you have to compete with them and eventually beat them.”
No matter what, Carey expects his team to do nothing less than come out and compete to continue to climb up the Eastern Conference standings and remain in playoff contention.
“We expect our guys to come out and compete. This is a game that means a lot to us in the standings.”
Carey then finished with, “I keep saying this, but a big part of what we’re wanting to accomplish this year is to play meaningful games and to continue to develop and get better. We have shown at times that we’re a really good team and can compete with anybody.”
The Knighthawks remain at home following a bye week this Saturday, Feb. 26 for one final go-around with the NLL-leading Bandits at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. Opening face-off is slated for an 8:00 p.m. start and will be carried live on The Bull 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+ and CW Rochester. Fans can stay up to date all season long with the latest news, stories and notes at www.rochesterknighthawks.com.