WEEK 22 RECAP
A second-half surge by the Rochester Knighthawks (10-8) nearly brought the team back from an eight-goal deficit, but a futile start ultimately proved to be too difficult to overcome as the Knighthawks’ comeback attempt came up short in a 14-11 loss to the Philadelphia Wings in the regular season finale Saturday at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena.
Thomas Hoggarth netted four goals to go with an assist for a five-point outing while Holden Cattoni (3+1) also recorded a hat trick and multi-point effort. Connor Fields, who led the team in scoring in 14 time of his 17 games this season, tallied two goals and two assists. Turner Evans (1+2) and Curtis Knight (1+1) each scored once while Austin Hasen, Parker Pipher, and Dan Coates all turned in two assists each.
Netminder Rylan Hartley (10-8) made his 18th consecutive start between the pipes, making 13 saves in 24 minutes. Riley Hutchcraft replaced Hartley for the final 36 minutes of regulation, stopping 17 of the 23 shots he faced.
With the defeat and Halifax’s 17-11 victory over Georgia, the Knighthawks finished fourth in the Eastern Conference and will face the intrastate rival Buffalo Bandits in the single-elimination Quarterfinals of the 2023 National Lacrosse League Playoffs. The opening round, winner-take-all matchup against the top-seeded Bandits, who repeated as Eastern Conference champions, is set for Saturday, May 6 at 7 p.m. at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
SEASON OF CHANGE
Entering the 2022-23 campaign, the Knighthawks posted a 2-10 record in their first campaign as an expansion franchise followed by a 4-14 mark last season. Fast forward to this season, the team opened the slate with a 6-0 mark before ending it with a 10-8 record and a berth in the postseason.
“There is a lot that we can be proud of,” said Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey when talking about the regular season. “It was a battle. From our standpoint, we’re proud of us just clinching a playoff spot as that was one of our first goals of the season.
Several Knighthawks established career-highs in multiple categories highlighted by Fields’ 52 goals and 112 points, Hartley’s 10-win season and 1,047 minutes played. Rookie Austin Hasen produced four goals and 21 assists for 25 points in his first season in the league while Thomas Hoggarth reached the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career.
Seven different players appeared in all 18 games while five only missed one contest. Hartley and Hutchcraft dressed for each matchup with Hartley earning the starting nod in every game.
“A lot of players contributed throughout the season to our success. All our players have contributed a lot in different times to get into in the position we are in.”
Over the course of the season, the Knighthawks had 17 players score at least one goal while 21 of the 23 to appear in at least one game had a point or more.
PREPARING FOR THE RAUCOUS THAT IS BANDITLAND
Rochester Knighthawks, Buffalo Bandits and Banditland in KeyBank Center.
Not much more needs to be said.
The two rivals split the season-series with each winning in its home building. Both games were decided by three goals and during each contest, the winning club had one quarter where they were held to just one goal. Rochester had the slight advantage in shots (118-113) while they each tallied 25 goals in the two games.
Knighthawks vs Bandits.
Let’s do it.
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) May 2, 2023
“They (the Bandits) have clinched first overall in our league for a reason,” said Carey. They are a well-rounded team; they’ve got a world class goaltender that has been at the top of our league for a long time. Their offense is very dynamic, and they have got a lot of weapons. Their defense is big, strong, imposing and they can run.”
But as much of a juggernaut Buffalo is perceived to be, the Knighthawks are excited for the challenge – and opportunity – that awaits them come Saturday as they make their franchise postseason debut.
“We have our hands full as they have a great team. They were close last year to winning a championship. They are going to be very hungry to get back to that championship. We are excited. We are excited for this opportunity to go against, what could be considered arguably the best team in the league.”
HITTING THE RESET BUTTON HEADING INTO THE POSTSEASON
The Knighthawks finished the regular season with 10 wins and eight losses while the Bandits went 14-4. Buffalo had a 7-2 home record compared to Rochester’s 4-5 mark on the road.
But everything that has transpired up until this point doesn’t mean anything. Carey and head coach Mike Hasen are viewing the start of the playoffs as a new season, one the players should embrace and be excited for.
— NLL (@NLL) April 30, 2023
“You are seeing it in playoffs across other sports,” said Carey. “Once you get in the playoffs, it is a different season. We do not want to dwell on the last game that we played, which was against Philadelphia. We want to focus on what is ahead. What is ahead for us this year is our playoffs. Right now. We have an opportunity ahead of us.
“It is exciting. We know that play a one game playoff game and is going to be something. We must be at our best to be able to have a chance to win.”
The playoff-bound Knighthawks open the postseason with a winner-take-all showdown against the first-place Bandits on Saturday, May 6 at KeyBank Center. The Quarterfinal matchup contest will be carried live on ESPNU, ESPN+ and TSN+. The contest can also be heard on Big 107.3 FM.