Last Saturday against the Toronto Rock, the Rochester Knighthawks went into the half with a two-goal lead. However, a two-goal second half saw the Knighthawks face an eventual 11-9 loss against the Rock in the final matchup between the clubs in the 2021-22 campaign.
The biggest difference in this game compared to weeks prior, the explosive start that Rochester had against an opponent that ranks second in the Eastern Conference. In the first quarter alone, the Knighthawks have been blanked four times this season, inevitably making it difficult to come back in games where Rochester finds itself in a hole from the get-go.
Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey feels that the team has had two solid starts in a row and it’s in large part because of how the defense is starting to really work together.
“I think the last two games we have started well,” stated Carey when asked about the start against Toronto in comparison to the weeks before. “Our defense has played very well in the last few games and they’re just clicking. They’re playing well together, they play with a ton of energy there and they’re making it tough on offenses that we’re playing against. It’s great to see.”
Against the Rock, forward Ryan Smith led the Knighthawks with a four-point night, including his sixth hat trick of the season, while Ryland Rees, John Wagner, Jeff Wittig and Charlie Bertrand all finished with two-point efforts as Rochester saw its winless streak reach seven games. Goaltender Joel Watson made his fifth straight start, recording 42 saves in the losing effort.
Rees’ two-goal effort was the first of the season for the Knighthawks alternate captain and Carey feels that Rees has been one of the team’s most consistent players on the year.
“He’s (Rees) one of the most consistent players that we’ve had. I can’t think of a bad game that Ryland has even had. We’re lucky to have him as a Knighthawk.”
Carey then continued with, “He’s definitely playing well, and he has all year. He’s contributing in a lot of ways and it’s been great for us.”
Rounding out the positives form Saturday, Rochester native Jared Conners made his professional debut while also recording an assist for his first pro point. Additionally, Penn Yan product Bradley Voigt, who signed with Rochester last week for the remainder of the season, also made his Knighthawks debut after beginning the season with the Georgia Swarm.
Despite all the good that came from Saturday’s matchup against the Rock, Carey knows that the consistency on offense is what is needed in order to get a win in the final three games of the 2021-22 season.
“I think with some of our injuries that we’ve had, and the situation that we’re in, it’s been difficult to play against some of the top teams with the depth that we have.”
Carey then finished on the loss against Toronto by saying, “I think the consistency on our offense is something that we want to, and need to, improve on. We have some great players up there and I think the effort is there, we just need to start putting it together consistently.”
Consistency is what the Knighthawks will look for as they take on the New York Riptide this Saturday night. After opening the season with a 13-12 overtime win against New York, the Knighthawks then fell 15-12 in the second matchup between the clubs this year.
“There was a lot of optimism at the start of the year, there was positive energy that we had and there was confidence,” commented Carey when asked about the first win the Knighthawks pulled off this year. “I’d like to see that come back.”
This week’s game marks another battle between the two of the league’s top-scoring rookies in the Riptide’s Jeff Teat and Rochester’s Smith. While Teat leads rookies across the league with his 84 points and 31 goals, Smith doesn’t fall far behind with 28 goals, including eight on the power-play which leads all rookies.
However, Teat won’t be the only powerhouse forward that the Knighthawks will have to look out for on Saturday as Callum Crawford ranks 10th in the league in overall scoring with 77 points, along with his 44 assists. Additionally, New York will more than likely have goaltender Steven Orleman in the crease who is another young netminder trying to get settled in. Orleman currently sits with a 5-9 record and has appeared in all 15 games for the franchise this season while sporting an 11.90 goals-against average.
Making things even more exciting for the home team is that they’re coming off a strong, and somewhat surprising, 15-12 victory over the first place Buffalo Bandits this past weekend.
Carey says that the Knighthawks will have to control what they can control against New York this weekend.
“We have to control what we can control and worry about the Knighthawks.”
Carey then continued with, “New York is another very good, young team. We see them as a team that we have to compete with, and stay with, to eventually get into the playoffs and compete for a championship.”
The Knighthawks head out on the road one final time this season on Saturday, April 16 to close out their season series with the Riptide at Nassau Veterans Coliseum. The Eastern Conference matchup gets underway at 7:30 p.m. and will be carried live on The Bull 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.