It’s been three long weeks since the Rochester Knighthawks have been in action and their 16-7 win over the Albany Firewolves. However, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that this new Knighthawks squad has made serious strides early in the 2021-22 campaign and they’re ready to hit the ground running with the turn of the calendar year.
“The score reflected how we played,” commented Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey when asked how he thought his team performed in its last time out. “(Rylan) Hartley did a great job right from the beginning, our defense played solid in front of him and we stopped transition for the most part.”
The breakdown of the Knighthawks last time out goes a little like this: for the third straight week, forward Holden Cattoni paved the way for the Knighthawks offense with a team-high nine-point effort with four goals and five assists, while rookie forward Ryan Smith had his first multi-goal effort in the National Lacrosse League. Rookie forward Charlie Bertrand continued his torrid start to the 2021-22 campaign with three goals and an assist, while forwards Shawn Evans, Curtis Knight, Thomas Hoggarth, Turner Evans, defenseman Doug Utting and transition man Ryland Rees all produced a goal apiece.
Knighthawks goaltender Rylan Hartley got his first start of the 2021-22 campaign, making 27 saves on 31 shots. This marked Hartley’s first win of the season and first since Feb. 29, 2020 against the New York Riptide. Netminder Joel Watson made his first appearance of the year, getting 11:54 of action and making 10 saves on 13 shots.
After this all-star effort by the squad, notching the most goals they have in the new expansion era, play was halted for 21 days because of two bye weeks and the holiday break. However, despite the layoff, Carey feels there’s a positive to having some extra time off during a hectic start to the Knighthawks 2021-22 schedule.
“Coming off a win and playing as well as we did that game, I think there’s a positive there. With the time in between, obviously Christmas and New Year’s, with the schedule of the league it’s tough when we’re focused on primarily weekend games.”
Carey then went on to add, “I think having that time off is good because we had a long training camp, and then we had three straight weeks of games. For the guys that went through that, it may have been a good time to refresh.”
Being back in action the weekend after the holidays presents several challenges for a lot of teams across the league due to the current surge in COVID-19 cases in North America. As Carey admits there’s some players that are going to be day-of decisions for the Knighthawks on Saturday against the Calgary Roughnecks, he further discussed how the league is looking to play as many games as possible and navigate postponements as best as they can.
“The other professional sports leagues are dealing with it as well. Some games are being postponed and we’re going to try and avoid that as much as possible. Our goal is to play games and if we have enough of our players on our roster to fill the team, then we’re going to do that. I know the logistics sometimes with our league can create some difficulties but at this point we just have to deal with it. As those cases come in, we’ll adjust as necessary.”
With that being said, Carey has already made some adjustments to his roster headed into this weekend’s matchup against Calgary. We know that veteran forwards Shawn Evans, Turner Evans and Curtis Knight are good to go, while earlier in the week forward Mike Burke was signed to a one-year practice player contract for the 2021-22 NLL season. Depending on the number of cases still present on the Rochester roster, we may be seeing some new faces making their 2021-22 season debuts on Saturday night.
Calgary does find themselves in the same boat as Rochester as there’s been some positive cases floating around their roster, however, they’ll still have their key players taking the floor. Roughnecks forward Jesse King will be in action on Saturday, trailing just one point behind Knighthawks forward Holden Cattoni for the league lead in points with 19.
However, Carey feels that the Knighthawks will have more players to stop than just King during Saturday’s contest.
“Always Curtis Dickson, he’s a dynamic player and he’s proven himself time and time again that he’s one of the most elite players in our league. Zach Currier is one of the best players in our game. Among others, those are the two guys outside of Jesse King that really stand out.”
Additionally, it doesn’t go unnoticed that Calgary still holds the title of champion from the 2018-19 campaign. Although it’s been almost three years since the National Lacrosse League Cup crowned a new champion, Carey still wants his team to give Calgary the respect they deserve despite their 1-2 start to the season.
“They’ve been a team that has played very fast for many years now. They are the most recent champion in the National Lacrosse League, so we have to give them the respect even though their roster has changed from that time. They still have a quality group of players over there and are well coached and managed.”
As Carey feels his team will continue to roll into this weekend from their last win three weeks ago, he knows that there needs to be improvement and growth with each and every game. Carey wants his team to continue that growth and figuring each other out as the Knighthawks take on the defending NLL champions this weekend.
“Improving on the areas where we need to improve on and making sure that we’re continuing to develop and get better each game.”
Carey then finished with, “Again, wins and losses are important but that development and the growth that we need to see and need to continue to have is just as crucial. We’re going to have to go through the ups and dows this year and learn from the good and the bad.”
Game time for Saturday’s showdown with Calgary, the lone matchup between the two teams this season, is slated for a 7:00 p.m. start and will be carried live on 107.3 FM The Bull as well as ESPN+.