The Rochester Knighthawks are still riding the high of a three-win start to kick off the 2022-23 campaign, however, the team will put that on the line this weekend when they return from an extended three-week break.
We caught up with Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen to discuss the message sent to the team prior to the annual holiday break, how to not repeat history and taking on the Panther City Lacrosse Club for the only time this season.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Hasen in this week’s edition Hawk Talk.
MESSAGE SENT LOUD AND CLEAR
The Knighthawks have had three weeks off from game action, however, Hasen made sure the group gathered during the holiday break to stay ready for battle.
“Pretty much that we’ve had a first great three weeks of the season, but it means nothing,” started Hasen when asked what the message was before the Knighthawks embarked on their Christmas break. “It just means we had three good weeks, but we got a long season ahead of us and, yeah, enjoy the time off but let’s not take the time off.”
For the first time in expansion-era history, the Rochester Knighthawks are 3-0 to begin the 2022-23 season.
Between the immense offensive impact that additions like forward Connor Fields have made, the steady and consistent performance of Rylan Hartley between the pipes and contributions from players like transition man Tyler Halls stepping up for the team defensively, there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to this year’s Knighthawks roster.
However, Hasen doesn’t want the excitement that surrounds Rochester’s hot start to overshadow the work that lies ahead. Meaning there was plenty of practice during break that helped knock the rust off earlier than when the Knighthawks faced this same kind of hiatus last season.
“Last year we kind of took the two weeks and then COVID would make the break like five weeks that we had off and it killed us,” said Hasen. “It’s different times, different circumstances, but this year we had the ability to practice. As a group, we wanted to get as many guys together as we could and as I said, ‘Knock the rust off, get rid of some of the turkey and get a good sweat.’”
NOT LIKE LAST YEAR
Again, the 2021-22 campaign was a different scenario for the Knighthawks. Rochester began the season with a 2-1 start through its first three games, but the holiday break proved to be their Achilles heel when COVID wreaked havoc and turned a three-week break into five weeks without the ability to practice.
“I think, number one, the core of our group has gone through it last year, right? They saw what happened to our season in a couple of weeks and then we kind of nosedived. So having that in our memory banks is, I think, key for the guys,” Hasen said.
This year, the Knighthawks have had at least one practice a week since their last win on Dec. 17 over the Albany FireWolves and this helps add some comfortability for Hasen.
Hasen then finished with, “They got to love it. They got to believe in it and, if they can commit to it, then, hopefully there’s few more weeks of success.”
FIRST TIME TAKING ON PANTHER CITY
For the first time in franchise history, the Knighthawks take on the Panther City Lacrosse Club this Saturday night at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. It’ll mark Panther City’s inaugural visit to the Flower City.
“They are kind of similar to us,” started Hasen when asked what he knows about the second-year team. “They’re younger, fast, have great goaltending and an offensive group similar to us. They work real, real hard and defensively they’re high paced, they’re high tempo and they want to get up the floor.”
Currently, Panther City is sitting in fifth place in the Western Division with a 2-2 overall record after dropping their last two outings. Prior to this two-game skid, Panther City kicked off the 2022-23 campaign with a two-game win streak and a victory that saw the team hold the Las Vegas Desert Dogs to just three goals over a 60-minute span.
We are going into January 7th at home UNDEFEATED!
Don’t miss our next game ⬇️
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) December 18, 2022
So yeah, defense and goaltending looks to be the strong point of second-year team.
“They’re high pace on offense, can cut guys hands really quick and real early and they pressure the ball getting up the floor,” continued Hasen when discussing the defensive efforts of Panther City.
Panther City’s defense is led by defenseman Matt Hossak, who’s racked up a team-high 27 loose ball recoveries, while Tyler Burton leads his team at a 36% success in the face-off circle. In the crease, Panther City has been heavily relying on third-year pro Nick Damude who’s posted 139 saves and a 9.06 save percentage through the team’s first four games of the 2022-23 campaign.
It’s FINALLY game week again! pic.twitter.com/pGVAYdFjbb
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) January 1, 2023
“Nicky (Nick) Damude is a good goaltender in this league and he’s starting to come into his own and, like the say about goalies, it takes a couple of years. I think he’s having a lot of success with the group in front of him and he’s making the saves he’s got to make,” said Hasen.
Hasen then finished with, “They’re (Panther City) kind of similar to all the teams we have played so far. We got to be prepared for the pressure and we’ve got to be prepared and to hopefully put them on their heels a little bit.”
The 7 p.m. matchup between the Knighthawks and Panther City will be the lone meeting of the season between the two teams and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.