After a month-long layoff, the Rochester Knighthawks were back in action last weekend with back-to-back games against the Georgia Swarm and Philadelphia Wings. On Friday, the Knighthawks fell 12-8 to the Swarm before a second-half surge by the Wings on Saturday would hand them their second straight loss of the weekend by an 18-10 final.
This is the first time all season Rochester has been handed back-to-back losses and Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey discussed how a pair of contests over the course of two days is a very difficult task to take on in the National Lacrosse League.
“It’s just hard to win in general in our league, but the back-to-backs just make it very difficult.”
Carey then added, “You’re trying to prepare, right? You don’t want to look past the first game, but whether it’s consciously or subconsciously, you know you have to play the next night and you know you have two opponents to think about in a matter of two days.”
In the first contest of the weekend against Georgia, Knighthawks forward Charlie Bertrand scored Rochester’s first goal of the night, giving the rookie forward at least one goal in each of the Knighthawks’ first four games of the season. Forwards Curtis Knight, Ryan Smith and transition player Matt Gilray each scored twice, while forwards Holden Cattoni, Turner Evans and Shawn Evans and defenseman Dan Coates all had multi-assist outings. Goaltender Rylan Hartley made his second straight start of the season in net for Rochester, and first of the weekend, getting his first loss of the 2021-22 campaign despite making 45 saves.
Carey admitted that his team had a slower than usual start to Friday’s game.
“We had a slow start in the first quarter of the first game. Which again, was it because of the layoff?”
Despite the loss, however, Carey went on to talk about how Gilray was one of the bright spots over the course of the weekend.
“He just looked a little more comfortable this weekend. It’s still a new team for him, right? So, as he gets more reps with the guys around him, that’s what we can kind of expect from him. He’s not going to be scoring two goals every game but that’s who he is – a big, strong defender who can run the ball and bury it in transition.”
Fast forward to Saturday against Philly and forward Thomas Hoggarth paved the way for the team’s offense with his three goals and two assists on the night, while Cattoni and Turner Evans both had two-goal efforts. Additionally, Rees, Gilray and Knight all added a goal apiece, while Hartley made his third start of the season, logging 39:05 in the crease and getting the loss while stopping 35 shots. Rookie goaltender Joel Watson came into the game during the third quarter for his second relief appearance of the season, logging 20:55 in the net and making 11 saves. The duo collectively faced a season-high 64 shots-against throughout the contest.
Shawn Evans collected a team-high six assists to add to his overall stat line for the 2021-22 campaign, becoming just the fifth player in league history to reach 800 career assists with the primary helper on Cattoni’s first-quarter buzzer-beater. He and Cattoni remain the only two Knighthawks players to have recorded at least one point in each of the team’s first 17 games in franchise history after Saturday’s efforts against Philadelphia.
“I thought we played a great first half against Philly and then we just seemed to run out of steam. Then they scored a few quick ones on us and jumped on us early in the second half.”
Carey then went on to finish by saying, “It was a difficult weekend but we’re a positive group and we’re looking at last weekend as a learning experience and an opportunity for growth. There’s really no other way to look at, we got to move on and look to this weekend against Toronto.”
Looking ahead to the Knighthawks matchup against the Toronto Rock this weekend, it’ll be another tough contest against an Eastern Conference opponent. The Rock currently sit in the same boat as the Knighthawks with a 2-3 record and have also lost their last two matchups.
As you go down the Toronto roster, they still have several players that we saw on their roster during the 2019-20 season like veteran Paul Dawson and goaltender Nick Rose. However, they have a number of new faces on their defensive core and Toronto’s stats seem to be distributed evenly amongst the team with COVID-19 cases hitting them hard and the constant struggle to avoid postponing games.
Carey knows that despite a couple of new faces and several different point-getters, Toronto is going to be yet another tough battle for the Knighthawks this Saturday.
“They’re a tough team and will be a very tough opponent. I think, for us, these are games we have to really compete in and be able to win. Games against teams like Toronto and Georgia, you look at the standings and you want to compete for a playoff spot. This is a big game for us.”
After last weekend’s pair of back-to-back losses, the Knighthawks head into the final stretch of the 2021-22 campaign with a game almost every weekend until the season’s end. Carey feels that this weekend is a good opportunity to get back on track for the latter part of the season.
“For me, part of the process is that we have to be better than we were. This is a good opportunity for us to get back on track. Our goal and plan is that we’re going to be competing for a playoff spot and these are important games that will keep us in the mix come the end of the year.”
Rochester continues its three-game road swing this Saturday, Jan. 29 as the Knighthawks venture north of the border to take on the Rock at FirstOntario Centre. The 7 p.m. matchup will be the first of two scheduled meetings between the two teams this season and will be carried live on 107.3 FM The Bull and ESPN+. The contest will also be broadcast nationally across Canada as the NLL’s featured game of the week.