It’s a story that is decades old. Rochester Knighthawks. Buffalo Bandits. A New York State rivalry that can be viewed as arguably the best in National Lacrosse League history.
“The atmosphere when these teams get together isn’t something you see on an everyday basis,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen.
“It’s no secret that these two teams don’t like each other,” said Ryan Smith.
The most recent installment of the war between Rochester and Buffalo featured almost everything you’d want to see in a game: fights, hits, battles, blood, and plenty of goals. The only ingredient missing from the perfect recipe for a great game at Segar and Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena was a Knighthawks win.
After earning two of its three wins via fourth quarter rallies, Rochester found itself on the opposite side of that outcome as a 12-10 lead through 45 minutes vanished in the final 15, with Buffalo scoring five of the last six goals in what turned out to be a 15-13 final in favor of the defending NLL champions.
“Going into the fourth quarter with a lead are games you expect to win,” said Smith. “That’s what great teams do in this league. It’s what separates the middle of the pack from the top teams. We’re still young and we’re still learning how to do that, but that’s not an excuse. We got to go out and do it.”
“I thought we battled out there,” said Connor Fields, who leads Rochester in scoring with 34 points (15+19) through the first five games of the season. “We didn’t get the result we were hoping for, but we have to take some positives out of this. We made some big plays offensively, but there’s a lot to work on and fix up and hopefully we can win these types of tight games.”
The physicality began right from the opening face-off and quickly escalated into a fight just 4:25 in when Tyler Biles dropped the gloves to exchange pleasantries with Emerson Clark, a former professional hockey player whose had fights on the ice and now off the ice and on an NLL floor.
“Good for him for stepping up,” said rookie forward Thomas McConvey when talking about Biles. “I loved seeing that first fight of the year.”
McConvey didn’t leave Saturday’s game unscathed, chipping his front tooth during a scrum in the corner following a whistle.
“I grew up watching some of these games on TV. I’m definitely not a fighter, but I’m not afraid to get physical. I like to take a hit sometimes. It gets you into the game and gets you going.”
So now, the Knighthawks run into (another) bye week, before returning to play Week 9 in Halifax. After beginning the season 3-0, Rochester is in danger of dropping to .500 on the year if they don’t come out victorious against the Thunderbirds.
The focus will shift to the team in the Great White North, but following that, it’s chapter two on the season between the Bandits and Knighthawks with the scene shifting just over an hour down the road at KeyBank Center. It’s the same venue that Hasen and company saw their collective championship dream end last season in the opening round of the playoffs, and after Saturday’s game, there’s even more fuel to the fire for the ‘Hawks to fly in, and fly out, with a victory over their nemesis.
“I think we’re gonna look at some stuff on film and we’re gonna look at what we can do better against Buffalo,” said Fields.
“We’ll see them again in a few weeks and we’ll be ready to turn the page on them,” said Hasen.
“That’s a team we know we can beat,” said Smith.