That’s the number of years Rochester Knighthawks captain Paul Dawson has been playing in the National Lacrosse League. Nine of those seasons spent in the Flower City between both the previous Knighthawks franchise and the current expansion-era team.
While Rochester has always been a constant in Dawson’s prolific lacrosse career, there was something else that topped dawning a Knighthawks jersey. Paul’s dad, often referred to as “Smokin’ Joe,” never missing a game, whether that be in person or watching from afar.
That is, until this year. Unfortunately, last summer Joe lost his battle against cancer.
“It was tough,” stated Dawson when asked how different it was to compete without his father in the stands this past year. “I mean, it’s crazy because it never really gets easy. Obviously, when you’re playing, I’ve always prided myself on kind of shutting out the outside noise. Lacrosse should be a place that you can get away from whatever it is that’s your outside troubles.”
However, the outside noise is a little harder to silence when it’s so close to home.
“My dad coming to games, whether that’s on the road or in Rochester,” Dawson began to explain when talking about what he’d miss the most without his dad at games. “Seeing him after the game, celebrating wins, losses and him being in the mix with my teammates and having fun. It’s that stuff when I look back on my career and everything, I’ll definitely miss the most. Those good times and those memories I got to share with him; that all ended this season.”
As tough as it was, going into this year might’ve been a little easier for the Knighthawks captain to shut out those outside troubles for a little bit. Especially at the beginning of the season when it had been 21 months since the Knighthawks had played in a game. There was a lot of excitement from the team heading into a year that was actually going to happen after the team’s inaugural campaign in 2019-20 was cut short midway through and 2020-21 never happened.
This excitement making Dawson’s job as the captain that much easier after an extended period of time off.
“I want to say it wasn’t difficult because almost everyone was pretty fired up to get back to the rink,” explained Dawson when asked how he went into captaining a team that hadn’t played in almost two years. “You know, for the first little bit you’re just kind of nervous. It’s like, ‘Are we going to be rusty? Are guys are going to be out of shape?’ But kind of after the first two weeks of training camp you realize everyone’s excited and just ready to get back to playing the game. So, it honestly was not too hard.”
Dawson went on to be just one of six Knighthawks players to appear in all 18 games for the team during the 2021-22 campaign. The veteran defenseman racked up 72 penalty minutes, 65 loose ball recoveries and 16 caused turnovers. Both Dawson’s penalty minutes and loose ball recoveries were his second-best numbers in those categories over the course of his 15-year tenure in the NLL.
At this point though, we expect Dawson to be that constant on this Rochester roster. Dependable on the backend and a leader for the younger players to look up to. We could see just how impactful he was this past season when the defense single-handedly was keeping the Knighthawks in low-scoring affairs towards the end of the year.
“We kind of just like fine-tuned some things,” explained Dawson when asked how the defensive core came together throughout the year. “The message never really changed, or the systems never really changed. Obviously, we’re very young as a whole organization. So, you know, this league is tough for guys to come in and play right away. We have the luxury of having young guys that got to come in and play, which is great for them, but it still takes them a little while to kind of pick up.”
And then the light switch went off. For the final seven matchups of the year, the Knighthawks defense held their opponents to 12 or less goals during those games.
“I think it was just kind of almost like that light switch went off halfway through where everyone started getting the systems. We were trying to figure it out and it was just kind of going into what we wanted to do and, and those young guys kind of taking that next step of what we’re trying to accomplish back there.”
While the Knighthawks defense held the team in games on several occasions, the entirety of the season didn’t necessarily go as planned. Still being a new expansion team, Rochester’s season came with many ebbs and flows and left them with a final 4-14 record at the campaign’s end.
That wasn’t what Dawson got out of this year, though. Looking back, it was the first year the Knighthawks captain had to play without his father and he got through it by simply just playing the game he loves and blocking out the outside noise for the time being.
“It is tough. Again, any time you lose a loved one, especially someone who you’re so close with and has been so vital in my lacrosse career, it’s tough. You’ve got to just look back and he would’ve just wanted me to keep going.”