Knighthawks Week One
The Rochester Knighthawks opened their season 1-0 last Saturday against The Georgia Swarm in emphatic fashion for the last placed team in the league last year. After a massively productive offseason and preseason, an identity has finally shown for the new era Knighthawks. That came in the form of a 16-goal win over the Georgia Swarm. A team featuring familiar faces to Rochester with former Knighthawks defenseman Mike Manley and goalie Craig Wende in between the sticks for the Swarm. Newcomer Connor Fields led the Knighthawks in scoring with a franchise record 11 point night, four goals and seven assists. He was followed in points by Curtis Knight and Holden Cattoni, each with six. Ryan Smith and Thomas Hoggarth also made big contributions with five points from each of them.
Rochester came out dominant, scoring on their first possession with a point-blank shot from Curtis Knight to put Rochester up 1-0. Holden Cattoni proceeded to have a dominant quarter following an assist on Knight’s opening goal, one overhand shot from mid range, one right on the crease. Much of the offensive play was being run through newcomer Connor Fields, Curtis Knight, and Ryan Smith.
Defensively Dan Coates and Brad Gillies led each defensive line as its primary defender against Lyle Thompson, one of the leagues best defenders, Coates and Gillies kept him quiet though with one goal and two assists. Another new acquisition to the defense along with Gillies was Jordan Trottier, a 24-year-old defender, who showed serious physicality throughout the game but especially in the first quarter. Rylan Hartley was the heart of it all though, the netminder posted 28 saves in the first half and stood on his head throughout, making acrobatic save time after time to bail out the Hawks defense.
The dominant performances on both offense and defense led to a 4-2 split in the first quarter. The second was quite different. One fans may be quick to forget but shouldn’t as to ensure it doesn’t continue. A 7-2 split in favor of Georgia allowed them to go into the half up 9-6 and appeared to have a significant upper hand.
An impressive transition offense from Georgia proved to catch the upper hand against The Knighthawks. Offensively the team did not fight for rebounds on misses which allowed quick offensive transition play to flow from the Swarm, they would catch the defense before it was settled and got goal after goal that way. Shayne Jackson, the 2020 NLL MVP, is the first man out the door for Georgia and it proved to help their offense as he notched two of his three goals and an assist in the quarter. An offseason acquisition for Georgia, Andrew Kew matched Jackson in the quarter with two goals and an assist. Lyle Thompson also scored his loan goal in the quarter.
The Offense was fighting against an extremely physical Georgia defense. So physical that they could hold up play for almost the entire shot clock and not allow time for a second chance shot from Rochester. This led to the poor rebounding that allowed Georgia’s offense to flourish. Two goals were scored in the quarter for Rochester, both from new Knighthawks. Connor Fields scored his first in green, scooping a loose ball out of the air on the crease and dropping it in the back of the net. The other was from Rookie Austin Hasen, his second goal of the game was scored in a quick transition, set up by Knight with a perfect screen to allow Hasen to free his hands for an outside shot.
The momentum heading into half was with the Swarm, a three goal lead sat with Georgia and Hartley was holding the defense together. Something must have clicked at half though for Rochester.
A 4-0 sweep in the third quarter from The Knighthawks flipped the Swarm on their heads and they didn’t know what hit them. Knight and Fields ran the point, notching two and three points respectively. Thomas Hoggarth notched his first goal of the season in transition. Rochester proceeded to go on a seven goal run before they were stopped by Jeremy Thompson notching a goal immediately following a face-off win against Coates. Between the end of the third and the beginning of the fourth quarter, Fields scored three goals from the point, going both sidearm and overhand showing a lot of range both on the floor and in his game.
Rochester had the game in their hands with about four minutes to go, and unlike last year. They kept the Swarm completely at bay. One more goal was notched for Georgia, coming from Jackson, but it wasn't enough to change the momentum of the game at that point. it was the Knighthawks on top. Before the final whistle, Cattoni and Hoggarth were able to complete their hat tricks. Brad Gillies also notched his first as a new era Knighthawk, scoring on the empty net with just under two minutes to go.
This game started with the retirement and honoring of multiple players including former Swarm defender Joel White. A name that should be synonymous with Rochester. White was drafted by the Knighthawks in 2012 after graduating out of one of the greatest classes in Syracuse University history, a two time NCAA championship winner. He only played one year of indoor for the Knighthawks, featuring in six games at transition.
Most of his Rochester notoriety came from his time in the city in the summer, featuring as a Long Stick Midfielder for The Rochester Rattlers for the entirety of their existence from 2012 on. He was also the second ever guest on The Rattlers Sit Down (now WNY Lax).
The Offensive unit was dominant scoring 16 goals in their first outing of the season. Connor Fields, Curtis Knight, Holden Cattoni, and Thomas Hoggarth all scored at least three goals while Ryan Smith had 5 assists. Despite that firepower, Rochester still await their first overall pick, Thomas McConvey, who will be playing his fifth year of College at The University of Virginia.
The unit proved to be much improved from last year with new assistant coach and offensive coordinator Gavin Prout running the show this season. Off ball movement was significantly increased and it allowed for a much higher productivity rate on offense.
Defensively Rochester stood tall during the second half, only allowing two goals. Dan Coates and Brad Gillies led the defensive lines and overall they held their own. Many young players feature throughout the defense as well, Mitch Ogilvie, Tyler Halls, Jordan Trottier, and Curtis Romanchych are all under 24. Paul Dawson Captains the unit, a long known face for Rochester fans.
The fight at the face-off X is an interesting one, Chris Willman was the specialist for The Knighthawks last year. Following his release from the team the week before opening day of the season meant that his role would need to be filled. In the first half it was Tyler Halls taking many of the face-offs, with minimal success against a league stalwart in Jeremy Thompson. Coach Hasen made the change to veteran defender Dan Coates at the X, Rochester narrowly came out on top in the face-off split, winning 16 of 31.
The Knighthawks missed multiple faces in the transition phase of the floor. Ryland Rees and Cory Highfield are both on IR while Thomas Whitty is on the PUP list. Matt Gilray was the loan man on the roster in transition at the beginning of the game. He held his own, no goals but led transition through much of the game. Gilray definitely proved he will be capable of filling the secondary transition role once Rees is back on the floor.
In the third and fourth quarters, Connor Fields filled in the transition. Fields proved to be a versatile lacrosse player as he held his own with The Knighthawks defense.
Rylan Hartley was positioned between the sticks for Rochester on Saturday, he posted 46 saves, 28 in the first half. Riley Hutchcraft watched from the bench and will wait for his chance later this season.
Last Year Hartley was set to play in about half the games of the 2021-22 season along side Evan Kirk. However Kirk was sidelined early in the year and Hartley had to come in sooner than expected. He went down later in the season with an injury and wasn’t able to come back. Much of the failures of last years 4-14 season have been attributed to the goalie room situation that took place last season, as stated by the front office.
Next Week the Knighthawks will take on the Toronto Rock, last year’s Eastern Conference runners up, who scored 19 goals in their season opener against Vancouver. We will see the Dawson Brother showdown, between Paul and Dan Dawson, both former old era Knighthawks. Face-off man TD Ierlan won 25 of 32 face-offs last week for the Rock, Rochester still have a question mark at their face-off specialist position. Ierlan is a Victor, NY native who played his collegiate ball at Albany, he's no stranger to upstate New York.