We all know that Rochester Knighthawks forward Ryan Smith had an outstanding first year in the National Lacrosse League last season.
Smith, the third overall pick in the 2020 NLL Entry Draft, finished second among NLL rookies with 35 goals and third with his 59 points while also leading all first-year players with a franchise record eight power-play goals. Additionally, Smith ranked third among rookies in power-play scoring with 15 points and was awarded the Knighthawks Offensive Player of the Year award at the conclusion of the 2021-22 campaign.
So, what’s better than having one young forward like Smith on the Knighthawks roster? Well, when you can add another young offensive player that shows just as much promise.
A player like forward Corson Kealey, maybe?
A native of Ottawa, Ontario, Kealey recently completed his fifth season at Robert Morris University with 43 goals and 61 points while starting in all 16 games as a graduate student. In five seasons with the Colonials, Kealey has amassed 178 points on 133 goals and 45 assists in 63 career games while also adding in 76 groundballs and 82 caused turnovers defensively. Kealey went on to finish third all-time in school history in goals-per-games (2.11) and eighth in total goals (133).
Who else had a prolific career at Robert Morris? That’s right, the Knighthawks reigning Offensive Player of the Year. If you were wondering, Smith and Kealey were teammates who fed off one another’s performances on the field, which makes it all the more exciting to see them back on the same team again in the NLL.
Kealey admits that extra year without Smith at Robert Morris forced him to mature and take more ownership of his game to help ready him for the next level.
“I think why I really matured with my fifth year was having Ryan my first three years and him being such a good leader, you know, I was able to lean on him a lot,” stated Kealey when asked about his fifth year of eligibility at Robert Morris without Smith on the roster. “Since last year, obviously he moved on to the pros, I really had to step into that role and kind of figure it out for myself because usually I relied a lot on him. Being able to mature and kind of fill his shoes a little bit, I think really helped me grow as a person.”
That role that Kealey had to fill at Robert Morris last season couldn’t have been easy.
Smith is the most decorated player in history to come out of Robert Morris. Over his illustrious five seasons with the Colonials, Smith, who was on the Tewaaraton Award Watch List for much of the 2021 season, scored 142 goals and totaled 217 points in 69 career games, all of which are most in program history. Smith ranks second all-time in career points-per-game with 3.14 and 59 games started and third with 2.06 goals-per-game and 75 assists. A native of Burlington, Ontario, the 23-year-old Smith is also a three-time All-Northeast Conference selection and remains the only player in RMU history to win NEC Rookie of the Year honors.
Not to forget, as a fifth-year graduate student in 2021, Smith set career-highs with 48 goals and 71 points, while also establishing single-season records with his 71 points, 5.46 points-per-game and 3.69 goals-per-game. More impressively, Smith recorded hat tricks in 11 of his 13 appearances in his fifth season at Robert Morris and registered multiple-assist outings on seven different occasions. Smith finished his final year with the Colonials ranked second nationally in goals-per-game and fourth in points-per-game en route to earning All-America Honorable Mention accolades from USILA, Inside Lacrosse, US Lacrosse Magazine and College Crosse.
“It’s another year to mature, get stronger, get more athletic,” Smith stated when he was asked of the importance of returning to college for a fifth year of eligibility. “When you’re at school, you’re playing five or six times a week with practices and games and scrimmages. When you get to the NLL, you get that one practice a week and then a game or two on the weekends with kind of a pre-game shootaround.”
Smith continued with, “It just allows you to grow that much more as a player because once you hit the pros, it’s a lot more on your own time, which makes it kind of harder to develop chemistry and whatnot once you get into games and practices. So, just another year to mature and another year of playing five or six times a week with your teammates definitely goes a long way.”
Hence why Smith, who, again, is the most decorated player ever to come out of Robert Morris University, recorded multi-goal efforts in 10 of his last 12 games as a rookie with the Knighthawks last season, including registering six hat tricks over that span.
Kealey admits that he’s hoping his transition to the pro ranks will be just as seamless as Smith’s had seemed.
“Yeah, I think so,” stated Kealey when asked if having Smith on the roster will be helpful going into his first year in the NLL. “We already have that chemistry built from playing together at school and, obviously, I think he knows my game a little bit. He (Smith) has confidence in feeding me the ball and I have confidence in him playing with the ball. So, I think that’ll make the transition a lot easier for me.”
Looking forward to the Knighthawks 2022-23 campaign, and Kealey’s first in the league, Smith was ecstatic when thinking of the possibility of being Kealey’s teammate again.
“I think going into my junior year is when Corson and I both started playing super well together and Corson is super easy to play with. You just feed him any time, no matter if he has three guys on him or there’s just a person on him, he always just managed to catch the ball and find a way to put it in the net,” explained Smith when asked about the chemistry he and Kealey strung together in college. “He (Corson) made it easy playing with him. A lot of my assists came from just dumping it to him in the middle or on the outside and he just put it in.”
Smith went on to finish with, “I know at school whenever I played with Corson, we always had fun – whether it be at practice, during games or off the field. So, I’m just excited to get back to that and have fun with him again. We’re great friends, so it’s just exciting.”
The Knighthawks set out on their third season in the NLL on Saturday, Dec. 3 on the road against the Georgia Swarm before returning home to host the Toronto Rock on Opening Knight on Saturday, Dec. 10.
The on-sale date for all Knighthawks single-game tickets on-sale will be announced in the coming weeks. Season Tickets for the Knighthawks for the 2022-23 season are on sale now and start as low as $18 per seat per game. More information on Knighthawks season tickets can be found at www.rochesterknighthawks.com/memberships.