Overcoming an injury is never easy for any professional athlete. The physical recovery is obviously the biggest challenge, but the mental toll can be as equally as agonizing.
“When I’m not playing like last year, I needed those guys probably more than they needed me to be able to come back and mentally get through it,” stated Rochester Knighthawks goaltender Rylan Hartley when asked about facing adversity during the 2021-22 campaign with the team.
Acquired by Rochester in the third round of the 2019 NLL Expansion Draft, Hartley completed his second season with the Knighthawks in 2021-22, showing a 2-6 record and 312 saves with a .770 save percentage in 10 games. That’s before Hartley was plagued with an upper-body injury that had him sidelined for the back half of last season.
However, instead of letting the injury get him down, the goaltender let it add fuel to his fire.
“It’s not anything new to me, I’ve faced adversity before and that’s all it is. It’s just coming back stronger and mean,” continued Hartley when talking about his injury last year. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and it builds your character, and that’s as a good reminder of how bad things can go, so it kind of helps remind you and give you that fire.”
In his rookie season with the Knighthawks in 2019-20, the 24-year-old netminder posted a 1-3 record and 171 saves with a 14.70 goals-against average and a .767 save percentage in five appearances. Hartley made his professional debut on Jan. 19 against the Philadelphia Wings before earning his first win in a 47-save effort in Rochester’s 13-12 victory over the New York Riptide on Feb. 29 that season.
In 15 career NLL games, all with Rochester, Hartley has compiled a 3-9 record and 483 saves since the start of the 2019-20 campaign.
“Honestly, the past couple of years, I’ve maybe overthought it a little bit,” admitted Hartley when asked how he tackled the offseason this past summer. “I’m kind of going back to the ways that got me here. Winning is the most fun thing but it’s the joy of it and that’s what I’ve been focusing on this offseason is myself is and just to play with heart and soul.”
Going into the 2022-23 campaign, there’s just two goaltenders currently on Rochester’s active roster – Hartley and fellow netminder Riley Hutchcraft. Meaning that both will probably get ample time in the crease and there’s plenty to learn off one another.
“With Riley Hutchcraft, it’s exciting we get to push each other, and we get to become closer. We’re not competing for a job,” explained Hartley when asked how he and Hutchcraft can feed off one another this season. “We’re working together to do the same job, and that’s what many people are mistaking. Many people immediately think, ‘Your job is in jeopardy.’ No, it should be, ‘Is the team in the right hands?’”
A mature perspective coming from a young netminder aiming for a full-time starting spot in the NLL at some point in his career.
Hartley was originally a second-round selection (15th overall) of the San Diego Seals in 2018. He also spent five summers with the Junior “A” Orangeville Northmen. In 43 games with the team, the Orangeville, Ontario, native posted a 22-15-2 record to go along with a 7.09 goals-against average and a .795 save percentage. In 2019, Hartley backstopped the Northmen to a Minto Cup title after leading all netminders with 16 wins and 550 saves while ranking third with a 6.15 goals-against average.
In 2018, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound netminder led the league with his 12 wins, a 6.63 goals-against average, 585 saves and a .817 save percentage en route to earning the Dennis McIntosh Award as the League’s MVP.
“Well, the ultimate goal, always and forever, will be to win no matter what,” said Hartley when asked what his three main goals were heading into the new season healthy. “It’s always to win and whatever it takes to win. So, the main goal is to raise the bar and be a champion, and that’s the ultimate dream. I can’t have two other goals in mind. It’s just one, one big dream, one big goal.”
Rochester has one final preseason tune-up on Saturday, Nov. 26. against Panther City with face-off set for 7:00 p.m. at Brampton Memorial Arena.
The Knighthawks will officially embark on their third NLL season on Saturday, Dec. 3 on the road against the Georgia Swarm as part of the league’s Face-Off Weekend before returning home to host the Toronto Rock on Opening Knight on Saturday, Dec. 10 at Segar & Sciortino Field.