Opening Weekend for the 2021-22 National Lacrosse League season is finally here and the Rochester Knighthawks are more than ready to finally get the chance to embark on their second season in the league.
It’s been nearly 21 months since the NLL has been back in action. More than that, the last time the Knighthawks hit the floor for a regular season matchup was on Mar. 10, 2020, when they fell to the Colorado Mammoth in their lone trip out west during their inaugural campaign in 2019-20.
So, it’s not entirely shocking that Knighthawks general manager Dan Carey shared just how ready his team is to get the ball rolling, literally and figuratively.
“There’s definitely some excitement but you can tell that the guys are ready to go, and it’s been a long time coming. You go through training camp, and it’s nice to get everybody back together, but now it’s the real thing.”
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This Saturday, the Knighthawks open up the 2021-22 campaign, hitting the road to take on the New York Riptide at 7:30 p.m. Just like the Knighthawks in 2019-20, the Riptide were a new expansion franchise and found themselves searching for wins with a new roster fully made from scratch.
With almost two years between matchups between the two teams, their rosters look quite different than the last time they met. As that first season gave them both a taste of what they needed to do to be successful, both teams made major offseason moves during two periods of free agency and two drafts.
Arguably, New York’s largest additions over the prolonged offseason are that of veteran forward Callum Crawford and rookie forward Jeff Teat.
“They have a veteran player in Callum Crawford that’s new to their organization that has had a lot of success,” said Carey. “He’s a very talented player that can go off for a handful of goals every night. They’ve got arguably one of the best young players in our game in Jeff Teat.”
Carey then went on to add, “There’s a couple of new faces and there’s a lot of others that are around them that I think are going to be tough matchups. It’s a different team, just as we are.”
Now looking at the Knighthawks roster, there’s still a core group of players from the team’s first season in the league, however, the offseason moves they made heavily impact the players that have been here. One of those moves being that of veteran netminder Evan Kirk and the influence he can have on goaltender Rylan Hartley and practice roster goaltender Joel Watson.
“Evan Kirk has been fantastic with our two young goalies and Rylan Hartley is going to start some games this year and he’s going to get some experience. We think he’s getting really close to being a successful goalie in this league, but he’s still young and I think it’s good for him to have a goalie like Evan to lean on, learn from and watch.”
Additionally, transition player Ryland Rees seems much more comfortable heading into his second season in the league and Carey mentioned how the strides that he’s made on and off the floor are in large part because of getting a taste of the NLL back in 2019-20.
“He’s (Rees) definitely more comfortable. You see a maturity in his game but also in his demeanor and I think part of that is because he’s had experience in the NLL, knows what it’s about, knows Rochester, had another successful season in the PLL this year and he’s more comfortable around the guys.”
The last time these two teams met was on Feb. 29, 2020, when the Riptide made their lone trip to Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. The Knighthawks topped New York, 13-12, for their second win of their inaugural campaign in the league.
Now, though, it’s a different story with two very different teams facing off to open the 2021-22 season. Carey knows that every week is a difficult week in the NLL and Opening Weekend is no exception, if the Knighthawks want to win, they’ll have to earn it.
“Both teams have had a lot of changes over the last year and a half, it’s going to be a difficult game and will be every week in the National Lacrosse League. Every win is earned and that won’t be an exception this weekend. If we want to win, we’re going to have to earn it.”
One year. Eight months. 26 days. Let the games begin.