A NEW ERA
As the Rochester Knighthawks embark on their inaugural season, it seems as though they’re embarking on something much bigger than they could’ve ever imagined. Not only is this an exciting time for this brand-new franchise, but it’s just as exciting for the community here in Rochester as well.
Now, let’s start this off by not forgetting about the past while looking forward to the future of Knighthawks lacrosse.
The Knighthawks have been a staple in the Flower City going on 25 years, since the time that the Major Indoor Lacrosse League was here in the city from 1995-97. Joining the National Lacrosse League in its inaugural 1998 season, the Knighthawks went on to reach playoffs in each of their first 13 seasons. From 2012-14, Rochester then became the first NLL team to win three consecutive championships.
After over two decades of lacrosse in Rochester, in September of 2018, former owner Curt Styres announced that he would be launching a new team in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Upon the relocation of the former Knighthawks to a new city for this upcoming season, the intellectual property was sold to Terry and Kim Pegula along with an expansion franchise. The original name remained the same, but a new logo and color scheme was unveiled this past May to ensure Rochester’s uninterrupted presence in the league.
With lacrosse remaining in Rochester right where it belongs, we know that it can begin to get confusing when looking too far into the past. With all championships and records transferred to Halifax, it seems as though the city feels it has been stripped of the team that used to be, but luckily that’s not the case at all.
Yes, the Knighthawks will be daunting a new color scheme, logo, ownership and taking to a brand-new turf. But there will be so much familiarity when the new franchise hits the floor this upcoming Saturday that we can promise you won’t be able to be anything but excited for this brand-new era that we’re all getting ready to embark on together.
From head coach Mike Hasen to league veterans like Shawn Evans and Paul Dawson, to Rochester rookies like Ryland Rees and Rylan Hartley, it’s time to finally take a look at the team that you all can look forward to creating a brand-new history of Knighthawks lacrosse in their inaugural season.
(RE)MEET MIKE HASEN
“We needed the right person to lead this team and this organization. If it hadn’t been somebody that was a part of the previous Knighthawks and somebody that the fans and this community knew, then it would’ve been somebody that they had to get to know,” said Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey when asked why it was so important to keep a familiar face behind the bench this season.
Luckily for the fans here in Rochester, Mike Hasen is no stranger to the Flower City, having served as head coach of the former Knighthawks franchise since the 2011 season.
After being released from his contract with the Halifax Thunderbirds in June of this year, days later Hasen was named the first head coach in team history of the expansion-era Knighthawks. In nine seasons in Rochester, Hasen helped guide the Knighthawks to an 81-75 regular season record while leading the previous franchise to six playoff appearances. There were six different times that Rochester finished among the top two teams in the East Division of the NLL, including during Hasen’s first five seasons from 2011-15.
Hasen is also no stranger to seeing success here in Rochester, especially when it came to the 2012-14 seasons as he made NLL history by leading his squad to three straight Champion’s Cups. To this day, Hasen still remains the only NLL head coach to accomplish this amazing feat.
Leading up to the season’s home opener, the Knighthawks general manager made it clear as to why Hasen’s previous success as a head coach made him an obvious fit to remain behind the bench in Rochester.
“To have a guy that has the experience that he’s had and the success that he’s had – he’s a welcomed addition. Obviously, with our fans and with him being a part of the previous organization – the previous Rochester Knighthawks – he had a history here which is a bonus for us. Getting to know him and going through the process of interviews and now knowing him as a person, he couldn’t be a better fit.”
Carey couldn’t wait to discuss the difficulty that the Knighthawks offense was going to create for their opponents this season, immediately diving into the group that the staff has at hand.
“We have a group of forwards that’s going to make the opposing defense’s night difficult each and every game. Not only by the talent that we have but by their work ethic and what they bring as a group. We know that they’re going to continue to mesh together and become even more of a unit as the season goes on.”
The group of forwards on the Knighthawks active roster is the most veteran group that the team can put out on the floor at any given time. With eight experienced players like Phil Caputo, Holden Cattoni, Shawn Evans, Turner Evans, Curtis Knight, Dan Lintner, Dan Michel and Pat Saunders, there’s no question as to why the Knighthawks general manager is so eager to see this group of players in action.
Cattoni is entering his fourth season of NLL action, after setting career-highs in assists (53) and points (80) in just 18 games with the Swarm last year. Over three seasons in the league, Cattoni has registered 182 points, including 70 goals. Prior to his time in the NLL, Cattoni played at the collegiate level at John Hopkins University, where he was named a Big Ten All-Tournament Team selection (2015) and an Honorable Mention USILA All-American (2014).
“We’re going to have guys that are going to contribute every night, guys like Cattoni. He’s an incredible threat from the outside but he’s a dynamic player and not just an outside shot,” expressed Carey when talking about the former Swarm forward.
Caputo was originally a third-round selection by the New England Black Wolves in the 2015 NLL Entry Draft. Heading into his fifth season of NLL play, Caputo has seen time in 21 career games between Toronto and New England while accumulating 16 points. Last year, the 200-pound forward appeared in two games with the Toronto Rock, recording 22 penalty minutes.
A pair of players that the Rochester community and Knighthawks staff are really looking forward to combining their efforts here in the Flower City is the cousin connection between Shawn and Turner Evans.
Shawn was the first overall pick in the NLL Expansion Draft, so it’s no surprise that the former National Lacrosse League champion is being welcomed with open arms and high expectations when joining the new franchise. Shawn has spent the last 14 seasons in the NLL, including last year when he was with the Buffalo Bandits and racked up 94 points in just 17 games. The two-time NLL MVP has been a top producer in the league for the last several years, and Carey expects no different when headed into the new season.
Like his older cousin, Turner has years of experience in the league and a workhorse attitude that’s contagious around the locker room. Turner is entering his fourth season of NLL action after setting career-highs last season. Registering 45 points while appearing in all 18 games for the San Diego Seals, the forward tacked on a career-high 19 goals to his stat line last season while also appearing in one playoff contest for San Diego.
Then there’s Curtis Knight.
“A guy like Curtis Knight we’ve talked a lot about, as his work ethic and the little things that he does sometimes go unnoticed. He’s a very responsible player and he’s another one of those guys that makes his teammates better,” explained Carey when continuing the discussion on what each of his forwards can bring to the table this season.
Knight spent his first six seasons in the NLL with the Saskatchewan Rush, where he helped lead his former team to six consecutive first-place finishes in the regular season. In 99 games with the Rush, Knight record 307 points in 99 games while also leading the team to a pair of NLL titles over a three-year span.
Lintner is coming into his fifth year in the league after spending his first five seasons with the Rock. Originally the eighth overall pick by the Black Wolves in 2015, Lintner is joining the Knighthawks after posting career-highs in all offensive categories last season. The 26-year-old forward appeared in all 18 regular-season games with Toronto in 2018-19, while combining for 37 points (20+17), 60 loose balls and finishing the season with 114 shots.
This past summer Michel played in seven games with the Brooklin Lacrosse Club, posting six goals and four assists. According to Carey, Michel works as a guy to get his teammates open while out on offense. Originally a fourth-round selection by the Black Wolves in the 2016 NLL Entry Draft, Michel has appeared in 28 career NLL games, notching 76 points (36+40).
Saunders is the last of the veteran forwards heading into his 11th season and third in the Flower City. With the previous Knighthawks franchise, Saunders saw playing time in just five games and combined for 13 points while out on the floor. From 2009-19, Saunders has seen time with the Rochester, Toronto, Philadelphia, New England, Buffalo and Vancouver organizations.
Before heading into the preseason, when we originally sat down with the Knighthawks general manager, Carey mentioned how he envisioned the positional breakdown of box lacrosse, separating it into three main categories of offense, defense and goaltenders. Personally, Carey likes to simplify the style of his team by seeing that transitional players also act as “offensively smart defensemen”, or guys that can play both sides of the 30-second shot clock.
As we head into the final day before the opening night showdown, Carey took the time to talk about the clubs “offensively smart defensemen” and why we could look forward to these four athletes collecting a loose ball.
“Some players are faster and more skilled with the ball and they make better decisions when they have the ball, so technically we call those players our transition.”
Four players listed as transition on the Knighthawks roster go as follows: Cory Highfield, Ryland Rees, Thomas Whitty and Chris Willman.
Highfield was the Knighthawks second-round pick in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft this past summer. A former midfielder at the University of UMass-Lowell, Highfield became the third player in program history to be selected in the NLL draft. In his senior season at UMass-Lowell, Highfield posted a career-high and team-best 38 points in his 14 games played just last season.
“He’s very fast, athletic, strong and he’s got good size, so he’s tough to stop if you get him running with the ball,” stated Carey when discussing the Knighthawks second-round draft pick in the NLL Entry Draft.
Another NLL rookie to look forward to at the transition position is Rees, who showed off his speed and agility when it came to outrunning his opponents in each of the Knighthawks preseason matchups. Rees spent the past four seasons at Stony Brook University, where he appeared in 51 career games. As a two-time team captain, Rees was named the 2019 America East Defensive Player of the Year after recording four points (3+1) and causing 10 turnovers during his senior campaign. Internationally, Reese has represented Team Canada twice, including winning a silver medal at the 2018 World Field Lacrosse Championship.
Two more athletes on the transition just happen to be another pair of rookies between Whitty and Willman and both are heading into their first season of NLL action. According to Carey, Whitty seemed to be a “long shot” to stay here in Rochester, but throughout the preseason he continued to impress each weekend, ultimately earning him a spot on the final roster. Willman is seen as more of a defenseman to the club where we’ll be seeing him begin to take on the role as one of the clubs’ primary two face-off guys.
Between the Knighthawks transition players and defensemen, combining these two entities makes for a unit that the staff is extremely excited for. Out of 10 defensive athletes on Rochester’s active roster, four of them are league veterans, giving the club’s overall defense an experienced feel.
Matt Bennett, Paul Dawson, Dylan Evans and Jay Thorimbert are those defensive assets that will lead the way and begin to take on a teaching responsibility throughout the course of the season towards the first-year defensive players. Tyler Gaulton and Doug Utting are players that have seen time in the NLL on their former team’s practice squads.
Bennett is heading into his sixth season in the NLL, spending most of his career with the Buffalo Bandits organization. Prior to being drafted by the Knighthawks in the eighth round of the NLL Expansion Draft this summer, Bennett signed a two-year agreement with the Philadelphia Wings to finish out last season. In seven games played with the Wings, the defenseman combined for six points (2+4) while collecting 29 loose balls.
Dawson is a 13-year NLL veteran who has spent parts of the last seven seasons with the previous Knighthawks franchise. In 110 career games with his old club, Dawson recorded 36 points (13+23) while winning back-to-back championships along the way. Originally selected seventh overall by the San Jose Stealth in the 2006 NLL Entry Draft, Dawson has seen time with a number of clubs in the league, including San Jose, Boston, Philadelphia, the former Rochester franchise and San Diego.
Another defenseman that has seen time in the Flower City before is Dylan Evans. Entering his 10th NLL season, Evans spent the first eight years of his professional career with the previous Knighthawks franchise while being a part of their three straight NLL championships from 2012-14. The defenseman held the title for the previous franchise’s all-time faceoff wins leader (949) and was the only player in their history to reach 900 career face-off wins. Last season, Evans appeared in 16 games with the Wings, scoring one goal while setting career-highs in assists (8) and points (9).
Thorimbert is another player that we can look forward to seeing in the face-off situation for the Knighthawks this season. The 33-year-old enters his 12th NLL season after appearing in 16 games with the Toronto Rock last season while accumulating five points (1+4). Having made 174 appearances throughout his career, Thorimbert has seen stints with the Boston, Minnesota, Buffalo, New England and Toronto.
Although Gaulton and Utting have not seen time on an active roster for their previous clubs, there’s a lot to look forward to when heading into the 2019-20 season. Gaulton spent all of last season on the Saskatchewan practice squad, historically one of the best teams in the league. Prior to his time in the NLL, the young defenseman was honored as an All-American all four years at Limestone College, just one of three players in school history to obtain this feat.
Utting has been brought onto the Knighthawks active roster in a similar situation as that of Gaulton. Spending last season on Colorado’s practice squad, Utting is on the brink of really breaking into the league this year. According to Carey, Utting is a tenacious player who’s not afraid to get in your face and can be extremely tough for opponents to play against.
The goaltending position is one that may be more important than the rest when it comes to putting together a brand-new franchise, and the Knighthawks most certainly have a unique trio on their hands.
Between the combined efforts of Steve Fryer, Rylan Hartley and Craig Wende going into the preseason, it was a test of who could put up the best fight to ensure their spot on that final roster come earlier this month. The twist, all of them were fighting for a starting spot in which none of them have ever experienced when it comes to an NLL roster.
With all intentions of carrying only two netminders on the final roster heading into the regular season, Carey mentioned just how hard these three athletes made it on the staff, forcing them to keep all three.
“The goaltending situation – that’s a position that we all know is extremely important, so we decided to keep three goalies. Coming into the season we were expecting and thinking that we’d have two on the active roster, and I think it’s a testament to how well these three have played.”
Fryer has the most NLL experience of the three, spending the last two seasons with Colorado. Hartley is the youngest of the trio and was acquired in the third round of the 2019 NLL Expansion Draft from San Diego. Last but certainly not least, Wende is entering his second season in the NLL after making his professional debut with the Swarm just last season.
With no set starter in mind for the home opener tomorrow night, Carey reassured that no matter who we’ll see in the crease, they’ll be sure to impress us by their continual progression from week to week.
“I think that’s the thing with all of them, since the first weekend of preseason they all have continued to get better and it bodes well for us while getting ready to start the season.”
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
The Knighthawks open their inaugural season in the National Lacrosse League on Saturday, Nov. 30 when they host the Swarm at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. Game time is slated for 7:00 p.m.
The Opening Night festivities begin tomorrow with a special pregame red-carpet event from 4:30-5:00 p.m. on the outdoor terrace along the riverside of The Blue Cross Arena. Fans are invited to line up along the red carpet and welcome the Knighthawks players as they make their arrivals. The team will also unveil its new mascot during the event.
Following player arrivals, fans can make their way inside for the first of nine Knighthawks Happy Hour parties, featuring $2 draft specials at the four main concession stands for fans 21 and older and live music from DJ Naps from 5:15-7:00 p.m.
Fans in attendance will also receive a 2019-20 Knighthawks magnet schedule, courtesy of Nissan. Prior to the game, there will be special pre-game introductions of this year’s team on the newly unveiled turf. The Knighthawks will also pay tribute to the history of lacrosse in Rochester prior to the game.
As new era of Knighthawks lacrosse begins tomorrow, Nov. 30 when Rochester opens its inaugural NLL season against the at The Blue Cross Arena. Knighthawks single game tickets for the 2019-20 season are on sale now and start at just $17. New Season Ticket Memberships for the 2019-20 season start as low as just $16 per seat, with Loyalty Member pricing beginning at just $15 depending on seat location. For more information, visit www.rochesterknighthawks.com/season-tickets or call 585-454-5335 and speak with a Knighthawks sales representative.