After making the playoffs for the first time in modern franchise history, the Rochester Knighthawks enter training camp with greater expectations.
“We’ve taken a small step by getting into the playoffs,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “Now we want to take a bigger step and the expectation here is that the guys coming in are going to help us take that next step.”
The Knighthawks return 22 players from last season as training camp got underway in late October. Last year’s squad managed a 10-8 finish, earning a berth into the NLL Playoffs. Getting to the postseason is always a goal, but it’s not the goal, and it doesn’t guarantee success moving forward.
“It depends on how you look at it,” said general manager Dan Carey. “The experience definitely helps. Getting to the point where we made the playoffs could be looked at as an accomplishment, but I think after that game (in Buffalo), there was a lot of disappointment. We didn’t reach our ultimate goal and we have a lot of work to do. We can’t look at last year. Our goal is to get back to the playoffs, but it’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be given to us. We have to earn it.”
Last year’s Knighthawks earned it by scoring 218 goals, tied for fifth-most in the NLL. Their 10 wins trumped the six victories the team got over the previous two seasons combined. Connor Fields served as a massive contributor, recording 52 of his team’s goals, becoming the third American-born National Lacrosse League player to post a 50-goal season.
“Internally, as a team, your goal is always to win a championship,” said Fields. “To win the championship, you have to have belief and be bought in as a team. I think the bar is set higher for this year’s team. If you ask any of those guys in the locker room what their goals are, nobody will say any individual goal. It’s a collective, team goal, and that is to win a championship.”
While much of Rochester’s core remains intact, the team did add a few new faces, including rookie forward Thomas McConvey, who could be the most intriguing player to watch this season. McConvey was selected with the first overall pick in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft and enters professional lacrosse as one of the game’s highest touted collegiate players.
“I’m used to being one of the bigger guys out there in junior,” said McConvey, who was named the nation’s top midfielder following his fifth collegiate season at the University of Virginia. “Going out there and being equally sized with most of the guys in this league will be an adjustment, so it may take a couple of games, but at the end of the day it’s lacrosse. I just go out there and have fun.”
McConvey certainly appeared to have fun during his collegiate run. The Toronto, Ontario, native received over a dozen honors throughout his four-year tenure at University of Vermont, posting 127 goals and 174 points in 52 games. He recorded at least a point in every game for UVM, carrying the longest point streak in the nation into his graduate season at Virginia. There, the now-23-year-old converted 28 goals in 17 games.
It’s been over five months since the Knighthawks saw their season end, but the team is just weeks away from beginning anew. The Calgary Roughnecks come to Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena Dec. 2 for Rochester’s home opener.
There’s still some time between now and then, but for the players and staff in that locker room, the works starts now in training camp.
“We’re focusing on making sure we have the right guys in that locker room,” said Carey. “Culture is something we’re preaching. We think we owe that to everybody in the locker room to make sure they have the right guys sitting beside them and knowing they’re going to put the work in. There are different ways to win, but culturally, having the right guys and knowing we can trust and lean on them in the end will give us people who are all in on everything we do and completely buy into our team.”
“There’s a lot of excitement in the air,” said Hasen. We want to step on the floor competing today. We have our own locker room, but those guys have to earn the opportunity to step into that room. We want to come in here and work hard and be a part of the Knighthawks organization. It’s a special place to be.”