For the second time in franchise history, the Rochester Knighthawks took on the Calgary Roughnecks at Segar & Sciortino Field this past Friday night. On the strength of a second-quarter surge, and a season-high 43 save effort by goaltender Joel Watson, the Knighthawks notched a 15-7 win over the reigning NLL champions.
Rochester’s win over the Roughnecks snapped an eight-game losing skid for Rochester and also ended Calgary’s five-game win streak, which was the longest in the NLL.
“Guys were prepared,” said Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey when asked about the win over Calgary. “The game on Friday really showed the quality of players that we have on the floor, especially when it comes to our skill and our talent.”
Rochester’s offensive charge was led by rookie forward Ryan Smith, who recorded his sixth hat trick over his last 11 games, while veteran forward Curtis Knight capped off the night with a four-point effort. Thomas Hoggarth and Mike Burke had two-goal efforts, while Mitch Ogilvie and Holden Cattoni tallied a goal apiece. Additionally, defensemen Tyler Biles and Matthew Bennett had their first goals of the season.
“There are some games where you get the bounces and some games where you don’t. I think, more often than not this year, we didn’t get the bounces we maybe feel like we deserved,” mentioned Carey when asked if it seemed like everything just clicked for the Knighthawks this past weekend. “Our guys were really prepared knowing that Calgary was going to be a very difficult team to play against. Especially with their transition game, I thought we responded really well to our coach’s preparation.”
Watson, who made his ninth straight start in the crease for Rochester, finished the 15-7 win with a career-high 43 saves, earning the young goaltender his first pro win.
“He’s such a great teammate and guys just want to see him have success. He’s played well for us, and in a situation where we didn’t see him in at the start of the year and I don’t think he would have seen himself here either. So, I’m just happy for him and our guys to finally get back into the win column,” said Carey on Watson finally getting that elusive first professional win under his belt.
Now that the eight-game skid is behind them, the Knighthawks look to add one more win on Saturday when they host the playoff-bound Halifax Thunderbirds at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. The Thunderbirds are 10-7 in the Eastern Conference, which is good for the third-place spot, and are coming off a 16-13 win over the New York Riptide.
Despite where Halifax may fall in the standings, Carey wants to continue to build off last weekend’s success and end the season on a high note.
“At some point it has to be about the results. This game is about being better than we were last time. We need to continue to prepare, have the confidence and the knowledge that we can compete. If we can feel this one more time to kind of prove to ourselves and to believe, then I believe we can end this season on a positive note.”
While Saturday’s showdown in Rochester may be just the third all-time between the Knighthawks and Thunderbirds, but it’s the historical significance that runs much deeper. While Rochester is currently in its second season as an expansion franchise, the Thunderbirds, led by second-year head coach Mike Accursi, relocated to Halifax during the summer of 2019 following 25 seasons in Rochester as the original Knighthawks franchise.
The previous Knighthawks joined the NLL in 1998 following three seasons in the MILL, winning 10 division titles and five NLL championships, including three straight from 2012-14 under the ownership of Curt Styres, who also serves as general manager.
The Styres-led Knighthawks also remains the only team in NLL history to win three consecutive championships, a team that was coached by current Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen, who also holds the distinction of being the only head coach in league history to guide his team to three consecutive championships.
Of the 21 players on Halifax’s current active roster, at least nine have ties to the previous Knighthawks organization. Thunderbirds forward Shawn Evans, acquired by Halifax in a trade with Rochester back on March 9, also played his first six NLL seasons for the original Knighthawks franchise, with whom he was named the NLL Rookie of the Year in 2006 and won his only NLL championship with. Even Accursi himself is also a former original Knighthawk, whom he led to a Champion’s Cup in 2007 before winning his second straight title the following year during his second stint with Buffalo.
Offensively, the Knighthawks will see the return of Evans on the opposite side of the floor for the first time since the trade in March. Evans is tied for 11th in the league with his 52 assists and his 65 points rank second on the Thunderbirds roster. Additionally, forwards Clarke Petterson, Cody Jamieson and Austin Shanks have combined for 183 points on the season, while defensemen Jake Withers ranks second in the league with 203 loose ball recoveries and has a 69.4 face-off wins percentage. More than likely Rochester will face goaltender Warren Hill in the crease who has an 8-6 record in his 15 games and a 10.23 goals-against average.
While it will be the final game for the Knighthawks this season, Carey believes this weekend will be a good opportunity for his team to experience a playoff type of atmosphere, especially with it being the Thunderbirds’ first trip back Rochester since the arrival new-era Knighthawks in 2019.
“They’re going to be playing playoff lacrosse, which is a good thing for us to experience. If we aren’t in the playoffs, or fighting for a playoff position, then I think the next best thing for us is to play with that kind of mindset and in that kind of atmosphere that this weekend is going to bring.”
Carey then finished with, “It will be good for us for the future.”
The Knighthawks close out the 2021-22 campaign on Saturday, April 30 when they host the first-ever visit from the Thunderbirds in the regular-season finale at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. The Eastern Conference matchup gets underway at 7:00 p.m. and will be carried live on 107.3 FM The Bull as well as ESPN+. Fans can stay up to date all season long with the latest news, stories and notes at www.rochesterknighthawks.com.