Week 15 of the 2021-22 National Lacrosse League season brings with it a different look and feel for the Rochester Knighthawks, who earlier this week made a series of roster moves ahead of Saturday’s matchup against the New York Riptide.
The biggest, and perhaps most surprising of which, came Wednesday when Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey announced that the franchise had acquired a second-round selection in the 2023 NLL Entry Draft and a future first-round NLL Entry Draft compensatory pick from the Halifax Thunderbirds in exchange for veteran forward Shawn Evans.
“I’m immensely grateful for Shawn and his commitment to the Rochester Knighthawks organization,” said Carey. “Shawn is one of the most talented and competitive players the NLL has ever seen, and he will always be an important part of our history being the first player chosen in our expansion draft leading into our inaugural season in 2019-20.”
With the Knighthawks being in action every week for the remainder of the 2021-22 campaign, there’s no time to wonder where the franchise is headed without Evans on the offense. Carey knows that winning is extremely important, but this move helps to build a better future for the players that will be in Rochester long term.
A talented and legendary player.
Thank you, Shawn, for everything you have done for the team and for the city of Rochester. You will always be an important part of this teams history as the first player selected in our 2019-20 expansion draft. pic.twitter.com/NYkhwbNffB
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) March 9, 2022
“Our group knows that winning is really important to us, but to build to be a winner is really key,” said Carey. “Shawn has done a great job for us up until this point and, quite frankly, we have a younger group that we know a lot of these players are going to be with us long term. With Shawn’s situation of being a UFA this summer, it was getting to that point where we have the younger players to take over the role that he’s had.”
Looking at last week’s game against the Georgia Swarm, Knighthawks forward Holden Cattoni had himself a four-goal contest, while Cory Highfield also notched a multi-goal effort with two tallies, the first of which came just 15 seconds after the opening face-off. Curtis Knight, Charlie Bertrand, John Wagner, Thomas Hoggarth and Matt Gilray all tallied a marker. Additionally, goaltender Rylan Hartley made his eighth straight start and ninth appearance of the season, stopping 40 shots but was dealt the loss. In his last seven games, the second-year netminder has made 35 or more saves.
The overtime contest was Rochester’s second of the campaign after opening the 2021-22 season with a 13-12 win over the New York Riptide, this weekend’s opponent, back on Dec. 4. The Knighthawks’ 16 goals tied a season-high and the 33 combined goals established a new franchise record, surpassing the previous mark of 31 set back on Jan. 31, 2020 versus the Buffalo Bandits (16-15 OTL).
“I think it’s how we are built. We have a competitive team and unfortunately things didn’t go our way,” said Carey when describing what enabled the Knighthawks to stay in the overtime affair with Georgia. “It was just one of those games and that’s just the game of lacrosse. You see it across the league, not just with us. There’s a lot of games that you see significant runs with goals from one team and then the other finds a way to start to catch back up.”
Arguably the biggest storyline coming from last week’s matchup against the Swarm, though, was that of rookie Ryan Smith. The Knighthawks forward powered Rochester’s offense with a game-high nine-point effort, combining for four goals and five assists in a performance that garnered him NLL Rookie of the Week honors for the second time this season.
Ryan Smith has become a dominate force for this Knighthawks team: “We call him ‘The Beast’ for a reason because he’s almost impossible to stop.”
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) March 10, 2022
Smith has now registered a hat trick in his past three games and Carey feels that confidence and familiarity with his teammates play a large part as to why we’re seeing his offensive skillset start to flourish.
“I would say confidence and maybe some familiarity with the guys around them,” said Carey on Smith’s play as of late.
Carey then continued by saying, “To start to get used to how guys play around him and with him, I think, confidence is a big thing. Ryan is a really nice, polite kid that is respectful to his teammates and didn’t want to try too much early on. He’s really starting to see his potential and how he can help the team win.”
This week it’ll be the matchup of the rookies as Saturday’s contest against the New York Riptide features two of the league’s top three rookies in New York’s Jeff Teat and Rochester’s Smith. While Teat leads rookies across the league with his 55 points, his 18 goals rank second and Carey knows just how hard it’s going to be to try and defensively shut down a player of Teat’s caliber.
“It’s really hard, especially with someone like Jeff Teat. I know he’s a rookie, but the experience that guy has and the level that’s he’s playing at, he’s one of the best players in the league and it’s showing right now. He makes everyone around him better and he’s a guy that you have to stay focused on for a full 60 minutes,” said Carey when asked how Rochester can shut down Teat’s offensive output.
Teat won’t be the only powerhouse forward that the Knighthawks will have to look out for on Saturday as Callum Crawford ranks fifth in the league in overall scoring with 61 points, which leads the Riptide along with his 38 assists. Additionally, New York will more than likely have goaltender Steven Orleman in the crease who is another young netminder trying to find a groove in the league. Orleman currently sits with a 2-7 record and has appeared in all 10 games for the franchise this season while sporting a 13.01 goals-against average.
Despite New York’s record, this Saturday will be another face-off between two teams who are in the same position in terms of expansion and time in the league. Carey and his team know just how important the game against New York is and he expects them to bring a lot of energy to the matchup.
“They have a lot of energy. They’re offense is a lot better than year one and they’ve added some pretty significant players. Their defense works hard and runs the ball well and we know they’re going to be good. We’re both expansion teams and I think there’s a pride in that to compete against each other. We have to be ready for them because there isn’t one easy game in the National Lacrosse League.”
The Knighthawks are back in action this Saturday, March 12, as they wrap up their season series against Riptide at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for a 5:00 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.