While the Rochester Knighthawks have lost their last four contests, they still have six more games remaining in the 2021-22 season to clinch a playoff spot. Over this last weekend against the Saskatchewan Rush, it was Rochester’s lowest scoring affair of the season and Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey admitted that it’s hard not to get frustrated when the team has shown what they can do offensively.
“I think it’s taking pride in not only our team effort, but individually. We’re at a point where we’re not out of the mix of playoffs and we have to play for the pride of being able to wear a Knighthawks jersey. I think our shot selection wasn’t great offensively. It was just one of those games, and we’ve shown this year that we can put the ball in the net. It was just one of those games that we were off.”
In the Knighthawks 9-6 loss against the Rush, rookie forward Ryan Smith produced his eighth multi-goal game of the season with his fifth hat trick, while forwards Curtis Knight, Holden Cattoni and Turner Evans all turned in multi-point performances. Rookie forward Charlie Bertrand continued to add to his season goal total with a tally on the night.
“Part of it is mental and part of it is physical preparation; there’s a lot of things that we can improve on. The lessons that we keep going through; are we learning from them? We have to really challenge ourselves,” stated Carey when asked about how the team can generate more offense in its next matchup.
Additionally, netminder Joel Watson made his second straight start in the crease for Rochester, facing the loss and stopping 44 shots along the way. Carey has been genuinely impressed with the way that Watson has stepped up in the crease, despite getting thrown into the fire.
“For a younger guy to come in and play, there’s some excitement but I think that position is difficult. That’s why it actually takes some time for goalies to be able to have success at this level. You have to be head strong, you have to have confidence, you have to be able to move on quick when you get scored on because that happens every game and you have to kind of expect that,” discussed Carey when asked about the way Watson has stepped up. “I think in the first game there might’ve been a little bit of nerves and then he settled in. In this last game in the first five to seven minutes, they hadn’t scored, and he played well.”
This weekend, the Knighthawks are back at home to take on the Philadelphia Wings for the series finale between the clubs in 2021-22. The last time the two teams met was back on Jan. 22 when the Knighthawks were on the backend of a back-to-back weekend and fell to the Wings 18-10. While Rochester had a two-goal lead headed into the half, Philadelphia held the Knighthawks to just three goals over the final 30 minutes of play.
Since then, though, the Wings have struggled considerably, going 1-5 in their last six games and, much like the Knighthawks, have dropped four straight coming into the weekend. Philadelphia, which has been outscored 51-28 over its current four-game skid, is coming off its most lopsided loss of the season following a 17-5 setback to the first-place Buffalo Bandits on March 12. The Wings trailed 2-1 after the first quarter and were held to just a single goal in three straight quarters before being outscored 11-3 in the second half.
“From our side, we were up by two going into the half and I thought we played really well. I felt we outplayed them early on. We had a lot of shots before we scored our first goal, we were moving the ball well, moving our feet, our defense was great and so was our goaltending,” said Carey when discussing the previous matchup between the Knighthawks and Wings. “Then the momentum just shifted and I could tell that we lost some of that energy and they came out pretty hungry in the second half.”
Rochester will once again have to look out for the Philadelphia offense that comes firing on all cylinders between forwards Matt Rambo, Kevin Crowley and Cory Vitarelli, all of whom combined for 19 points in the Jan. 22 matchup. Additionally, goaltender Zach Higgins has climbed his way back up the leaderboard, ranking fourth amongst all league netminders with his 437 saves and seventh with a .793 save percentage.
“They got a lot of good players and, it’s pretty consistent around the league, with the type of talent that we all have. It’s not just one or two guys that they have. They’ve got a really good group there,” Carey said when discussing the Wings offense.
Saturday’s game will be a homecoming for Wings forward and Fairport native Blaze Riorden, who has made a name for himself in both field and box lacrosse. Considered one of the top goaltenders in the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL), Riorden led Team Chaos to back-to-back appearances in the PLL Championship Series, winning the title in 2021 after finishing second in 2020.
In 2020, he posted a league-high 119 saves on his way to earning the Oren Lyons Goalie of the Tournament Award. During the regular season, he led all netminders with a .558 save percentage and 153 saves to, earning him Goalie of the Year honors.
Prior to turning pro, Riorden played his college lacrosse at the University of Albany, where he was named an All-American and was the America East Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He graduated as the program’s Division I all-time leader in saves with 849 and was later drafted 51st overall by the former Rochester Rattlers in the Major League Lacrosse Entry Draft.
While the Knighthawks are looking to snap their four-game skid against the Wings this weekend, Carey wants his team to continue to stay up with the expectations that they can win games to put themselves in the position to take on the 2021-22 playoffs.
“I think staying up is what we have to do. We do have a pretty solid group and a group that is proud. The biggest thing for us is to take that pride and to have the expectation that we can win games. That’s what we have to see.”
Rochester returns home this Saturday, March 26 to close out their season series against the Wings at Segar and Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for a 7:30 p.m. start and will be carried live on The Bull 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+. Fans can stay up to date all season long with the latest news, stories and notes at www.rochesterknighthawks.com.