Knighthawks Week 2
Coming into the game
The Rochester Knighthawks came into week two of the NLL season 1-0 after beating the Georgia Swarm 16-11. Their week two opponents, the Toronto Rock, also went 1-0 to start, with an emphatic 19 goal win over Vancouver. Rochester had a couple things to specifically watch out for against Toronto coming into this one.
The first was at the base of everything in lacrosse, the face-off X. TD Ierlan is as dominant as they come, he went 25-32 against The Warriors in week one and, being a Victor native, over 100 fans were in attendance for him in Blue Cross Arena. The Knighthawks are still without a true face-off specialist, Chris Willman was cut during the preseason, he was their specialist in the 21-22 season. Tyler Biles took most of the face-off attempts for the Knighthawks.
The next question was of the defensive unit, they proved to hold strong for three quarters against Georgia, only allowing two second half goals. Toronto was the true test in Coach Mike Hasen’s eyes though. They are a Championship or bust squad and the tier of their transition offense is one of the best in the NLL.
The Third and final major question heading into this one was if the offensive play in game one was a fluke or if Connor Fields and The Coach Gavin Prout led offense were in the league to stay. Fields totaled 10 points against the Swarm in week one to earn NLL player of the week. When asked about his play against Georgia, Fields had a good answer on whether or not he exceeded his own expectations.
“I think personally I had that in me but I think it’s a testament to this team and the management, the coaching staff, the players.” - Fields
Game Breakdown – ROC ROCK THE ROCK
The game started out exactly as both teams anticipated, Ierlan won the face-off, his first of 17 on the night, and Toronto’s transition offense appeared like it was about to start humming. That’s When Rylan Hartley made his first save of the night, that would be a common theme throughout this match. The next possession was similar, the defense did well to put the Rock in awkward places on the floor, creating good shot for Hartley to save.
“Honestly, our defense is really clicking right now… Those guys are giving me the shots from exactly where I wanna see them.” – Rylan Hartley
The first goal came in emphatic fashion for Rochester, on only their second offensive possession. Connor Fields was double teamed behind the midfield line, in a scenario that would’ve inevitably been a turnover last year, somehow Fields, face dodged and maneuvered his way along the boards until he was lined up square in front of net in the offensive zone to score his first home Knighthawks goal. It was an emphatic reaction from the fans in Rochester as their hopes from this summer’s trade came to fruition right before their eyes.
A couple minutes later, Rock Captain Challen Rogers got one back and tied it up at one, that would be the last time Toronto would be so close. The next three goals all came off the stick of Thomas Hoggarth who may have scored the fastest Hat-Trick in new era Knighthawks history, notching three goals from in close in just 3:12.
Each came off an assist from one. Of three leading scorers in Rochester’s last game, Holden Cattoni got the first, feeding Hoggarth nicely on net. The second assist came from Fields, gave it to Hoggarth just to the left of Nick Rose and dropped it over his back. The third came from alternate captain Curtis Knight who dumped it off while crashing the net and allowed for open space in the cage for Hoggarth to take advantage of.
Rochester continued to roll as Fields notched another to extend Rocester’s lead to five but before the end of the quarter Toronto snapped back, notching one even strength goal with around two minutes to go and one power play goal with 40 seconds to go.
Rochester came out in the second quarter and continued both their offensive and defensive domination. Connor Fields sealed his hat trick with a beautiful outside shot that came in on the feed from Ryan Smith who appears to continue to become more of a feed for this team, that was his sixth assist on the season.
The next goal by Rochester was the one that had fans out of their seats though. As Fields scooped up a rebound on the crease, he tossed it behind his back across the face of the goalie and into the stick of Hoggarth who slammed it in the back of the net to give Rochester a four-goal lead. That was followed by Ryan Smith’s first goal of the new season, coming on the power play.
The Defense was not to be counted out though, they played dominantly through the second quarter
“Part of our scout was just getting into that stick lane and keep going, not stopping.” – Captain Paul Dawson on second quarter break ups on defense.
They held the Rock to only two more goals in the period, including a last second goal from Tom Schreiber. Jordan Stouros was able to score his first career NLL goal in the quarter, getting a great transition break away and finding a route over Rose’s back to score.
In the second half Rochester came out and attempted to continue their domination on both ends but the offensive proficiency started to waiver. Fields came away with the first goal of the half after Cattoni had one that was challenged and called back just a possession before. Fields got himself one-on-one with Billy Hostrawser and broke his ankle to get on net and score an easy goal for his fourth of the night.
After that Toronto’s defense appeared to pick up the energy and Rochester’s unit was not responding. On the other end of the floor, it was a never-ending battle. Between The Toronto Offense and Ryland Hartley and the Rochester unit. Toronto only scored two more in the game, both coming in the third quarter from Steven Keogh 25 seconds apart from the exact same spot with the right hand.
Rylan Hartley registered 50 saves on the night in a breakout performance with his new bright green helmet, designed by his 10-year-old brother. He earned NLL player of the week honors for his performance, well deserved as the scoreline would’ve been much different if it weren’t for the cat they call Ralphie.
The Offense was fluid and proficient throughout the first half, dominantly led by Connor Fields and Thomas Hoggarth. That was something to note, Curtis Knight, Holden Cattoni, Austin Hasen, and Turner Evans, all could not find the back of the net, despite that they all had assists, totaling 9 between the four forwards. Ryan Smith finally got in the goal tally after a five assist game against Georgia in week one, he will look to continue to play important minutes as many of these players know it is more important to play the gritty minutes and make plays than just score goals.
The Defense proved exactly what they were looking to, their young players in Ogilvie, Biles, and Stouros stood tall and the unit was able to stop the Rock in their tracks, keeping a team that scored 13 first half goals in week one to only five in week two. Dan Coates, Brad Gillies, and Paul Dawson are the clear leaders of the defensive units, Coates leads the first and Gillies the second. Dawson shifts around where he is needed as Coach Hasen continues to change up his defensive lines.
Ryland Rees is still injured, along with Cory Highfield and Thomas Whitty, that means Matt Gilray is still the only devoted transition man on the roster, Jordan Stouros has been moved to the transition as well for the time being and Connor Fields is the first man out of the door on offense for Rochester, often receiving the ball before entering the offensive zone. Gilray went down in the second half and they will hope to have him back next week against Albany.
Question Marks surround the face-off specialist position for this Rochester unit, they only won four against The Rock and Tyler Biles was no match for TD Ierlan. Ierlan is an interesting prospect being from Rochester. Maybe one day he will be in the green and black, for now, It’s Biles and Coates at the X.
Between The Sticks
If one thing is for sure, Rylan Hartley earned his starting spot this week. 50 saves was only one short of tying the franchise record and he was the biggest reason the Knighthawks came away with the victory. He will be excited to travel to Albany next week, where last year, the infamous goalie fight happened.
NLL Power Rankings?
Following their win, the Knighthawks were propelled into the NLL power rankings, sitting at number five and dethroning Toronto from their #1 seed as they drop to four. Quite impressive that last year’s worst team in the league is 2-0 and earned NLL player of the week honors in both weeks one and two.
Next Week in Albany
Rochester will travel to Albany to face the Firewolves next week on Saturday. A potential trap game scenario. On paper Rochester appear the better team. However much like the Knighthawks, The Firewolves are also a team stocked full with chips on their shoulders. They already showed it in week one as they marked an 11-10 win over The Buffalo Bandits. Last year Rochester handled Albany with ease, outscoring them 31-20 in their two contests last year.