The Rochester Knighthawks managed to pull within a pair early in the third quarter, but a second-half surge by the Buffalo Bandits saw the home team score 12 of the game’s last 13 goals on their way to a 20-8 win in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Saturday at KeyBank Center.
With the defeat, the Knighthawks, who made their franchise playoff debut, saw their historic season come to an end. The club finished the season with a 10-8 mark and fourth in the Eastern Conference after combining for just six wins through their first two seasons.
This wasn’t the ending we wanted, but we’ll take this learning experience and come back stronger next year.
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) May 7, 2023
Holden Cattoni (4+2), who posted a natural hat trick in the second quarter, paced the Knighthawks offense with six points while Connor Fields (1+4) and Ryan Smith (1+3) each turned in a multi-point effort. Curtis Knight and Thomas Hoggarth both scored a goal while Turner Evans, Austin Hasen and Matt Gilray all notched an assist.
Netminder Rylan Hartley made his 19th consecutive start between the pipes, which included all 18 games in the regular season, making 32 saves in 51 minutes. Riley Hutchcraft replaced Hartley twice during the contest, stopping six of the 11 shots he faced in nine minutes of relief.
PROUD OF REGULAR SEASON
The team opened the season with an unprecedented six straight wins before ending it with a 10-8 record and a spot in the postseason. 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.
“We took a big step this year,” said Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey when talking about the season. “There is a lot to be proud of throughout the season. We had one of those seasons that we had a lot of ups and downs. We had a great start to the regular season. It is a difficult league to win in and we saw that.”
Following the regular season, the Knighthawks traveled down the I-90 thruway to take on the top-seeded Bandits, who repeated as Eastern Conference champions with a 14-4 record for the second straight year and third time in the last five years.
“Then we also saw how difficult it is in the playoffs,” Carey continued.
“We ran into a team against the Buffalo Bandits who are battle tested. They have had success in the regular season, and they have made it to the championship the last couple of years. That’s a tough team we went up against, but I do think it was a good learning experience for our team.”
In last Saturday’s matchup with the Bandits, nine of the 18 players to dress for Rochester made their NLL postseason debuts.
“Overall, really proud of our players, proud of our staff and the work that everybody put into this season is something that is going to bode well for us in the future.”
“Taking a step back and looking at big picture,” Carey said when asked what’s next for the organization. “We need to improve. We need to get better. And that’s part of my job this summer is to address our needs and make our team better in the ways that I can. But it’s also on each individual player and our staff as well.”
Rochester will have a core nucleus back for the 2023-24 season, including Fields, Hoggarth, Evans, Knight, Ryland Rees Brad Gillies, Matt Gilray and several other key pieces. This season’s rookie class of Hasen, Thomas Vela, Parker Pipher and Carter Schott, all of whom were taken in last summer’s NLL Draft, will look to take another step in their second year with the organization.
“If all our players are continuing their training and preparation for next year and doing what they can do to get better, it is going to help us overall as a team. There’s a lot to do right now. Part of it is just understanding where we are at, where we want to be, and continuing to push to build a championship.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2023-24
Joining next year’s squad is Rochester’s first overall selection from the 2022 NLL Entry Draft in forward Thomas McConvey, who is utilizing his fifth year of eligibility at the University of Virginia, recording 26 goals and 20 assists for 46 points in 14 games.
“Thomas is going to be a great addition,” mentioned Carey. “We know that he is a tremendous player. We are really looking forward to seeing him in a Knighthawks uniform next year and excited to watch him. Hopefully they will make a run at it with his team in Virginia at the NCAA tournament.”
Prior to joining the Cavaliers, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound forward spent four years at the University of Vermont, compiling one of the most dominant offensive performances in program history in 2022, setting a program-record with 60 goals and adding 14 assists for a career-high 74 points while appearing in all 19 games with Vermont. In his senior season, McConvey earned the America East Offensive Player of the Year and ECAC Offensive Player of the Year honors.
In 52 career games with Vermont, he totaled 174 points on 127 goals and 47 assists, finishing seventh all-time in scoring in program history. McConvey went on to record at least one point in every game over his four-year career, including a hat trick in eight straight games during his final season in 2022.
“We also have some players like Thomas Witty and Corey Highfield that were not able to play throughout the season and we’re excited to get them back in the fold.”
Between the returning players and the upcoming 2023 NLL Entry Draft, and the significant season of change the Knighthawks had this season, the future certainly looks bright for the organization.”
— Rochester Knighthawks (@RocKnighthawks) May 10, 2023
“It’s not going to come easy for us next year. We are going to have to continue to take another step to be better for next year.”