Editor’s Note: We’re excited to give you an inside look at the Rochester Knighthawks! Thanks to the help of the innovative team at SISU Guard, the Official Mouthguard of the NLL, we are beefing up our National Lacrosse League coverage for 2016, starting with a preseason preview series! We hope you enjoy our look at the NLL season through a new lens with the aid of our partner SISU!
For Monday’s preview we broke down the defending NLL Champions, the Saskatchewan Rush. Looking to claim the crown back from the Rush is an organization that many were starting to call a dynasty. Today the Rochester Knighthawks are getting the LaxAllStars.com treatment.
2016 NLL Preview: Rochester Knighthawks
After three consecutive seasons, all capped off by hoisting the coveted NLL Champion’s Cup, the Rochester Knighthawks were forced to pass the trophy on. At the end of the 2014 season, it was hard to find a Knighthawks reference with out an allusion to the building of a “dynasty”. It made sense, the Hawks were the first professional lacrosse team to ever achieve the three-peat and the first pro sports team in the US to accomplish the feat since the 2000-2002 LA Lakers. A dynasty is defined as “a powerful group or family that maintains its position for a considerable time.” Before the three-peat Rochester only claimed one title and last year they failed to return to the NLL Finals.
Was 2015 a fluke down year, or has this 3 year “dynasty” run its course?
2015 wasn’t a total flop for Rochester by any means. The 2014 defending champs finished the regular season 12-6, 7-2 at home and 5-4 on the road, which secured their spot in the Eastern Conference bracket. In round one they knocked off their rival Bandits 14-11 at home, sending them to a series with the Toronto Rock. Rochester handled the first game 10-9 at home before the series was evened up in the Air Canada Centre in game two, 11-8. The tied series forced a mini game immediately after game two, in which the gas ran out of the Knighthawks’ tank and the Rock moved on with the 8-2 win.
Seventeen Knighthawks that finished the 2015 season on the starting roster are back for the start of 2016, and of the other three, two of those names are rookies and one was selected in 2013. But before we get to them, let’s ask ourselves a couple of questions.
Can the defensive heavy Knighthawks return to glory or has the shipped already sailed? Let’s look at the facts!
At a Glance
- Game 1: 1/9/16 vs Colorado Mammoth @ Home
- Arena: Blue Cross Arena
- 2015 Record: 12-6 (Regular Season), 2-2 (Playoffs)
- 2015 Attendance: 7,051
- Mascot: R. Thunder (Knighthawk)
- Dance Team: Knightingales
- Website: Knighthawks.com
Six draft selections were made in the offseason for Rochester. Of those six, the two first round picks, Graeme Hossask and Brad Gillies, have already secured their spots in the opening lineup.
To kick off the season, Hawks fans will only need to get acclimated with four new faces; two starters and two practice squad guys.
The second overall pick went to Rochester in a deal with Vancouver, which was used on Lindenwood University grad and current Brooklin Redmen defender, Graeme Hossack. After finishing his senior season in 2015, Hossack was awarded first-team All-American honors on top of earning first-team all-conference all four years. Hossack is expected to come straight into the NLL game ready and with the potential to fight his way up the ranks of the league’s top defenseman. Groomed in Whitby, Hossack helped lead his junior Warriors to two Minto Cups before being picked up post-draft by the Redmen. The giant lefty has been relied on to lock-down the opposition and carry the defense, but during his senior season at Lindenwood he built the confidence needed to carry the ball on offense as he collected 16 goals, 1 of which was an overtime winner. He also has a little brother that will likely enter next year’s draft, I’m sure Rochester has an eye on him.
Joining Hossack in the initial lineup is RIT and Northmen product Brad Gillies, the final pick of the first round in a trade with the Rush. The Oakville Rock featured Gillies in 13 regular season games and all 5 of their playoff matches in 2014 where he added 12 total points as a defenseman. Likely leaning more towards a transition player, Gillies is going to add youth and speed to the Knighthawks defense. Gillies also is a two-time Minto Cup champion and now also lends his services to the RIT men’s lacrosse sideline, a perfect fit to keep the Oakville kid nearby.
Second rounders Derek Searle and Adam Bomberry both impressed the staff enough to earn a spot on the practice squad right away.
The highlights of Searle’s career are mainly from his junior career with the Six Nations Arrows and then the Burlington Chiefs. Searle is an aggressive defender that will pressure the ball when he gets the chance. Selected by the Sr. A KW Kodiaks in the MSL draft, Searle appeared in 17 games with 2 goals and 9 assists as a defenseman. The future has always been bright for Searle, in 2013 he was named as the Gus McCauley award winner for top Jr. A defenseman and two-time 1st Team All-Star. His rookie year with Six Nations he squared off and held his own in a tilt with Andrew Suitor at four years his senoior, that should tell you something about this kid’s toughness.
Adam Bomberry completed his college career as a member of the historic Onondaga CC Lazers, where he helped the team go 35-0 and win 2 NJCAA Championships. Bomberry was a backbone of the Iroquois Nationals defense at the WILC 2015 where he helped secure a silver medal for the home team. The 21 year old Six Nations product has also won back-to-back championships at the Junior A with the Arrows and the President’s Cup in Junior B levels with Akwesasne. Bomberry is a name you should know because my money is on this kid to become a staple of the NLL’s future.
Former member of the world-famous Thompson trio at Albany, Ty Thompson put in work in the offseason and the coaches honored the efforts by signing Ty to the practice roster. The Akwesasne product grew up with eyes on Rochester although he was drafted by the Black Wolves in 2014. Thompson stays involved with lacrosse year-round has recently competed the past two seasons with the Rochester Rattlers in the MLL, was named an sponsored athlete by Epoch and is a part of the family-owned Thompson Lacrosse brand. Thompson can be a solid role-playing forward for the Hawks, he has played an incredible amount of lacrosse in his day, the NLL only seems to be the logical next step.
After being named the NLL Championship MVP for two years in a row, Cody Jamieson followed up as the NLL MVP in the 2014. Last year Jamieson led the Knighthawks with 92 points, 36 of which are in the goals category, but failed to lead the team back into the Finals. It’s hard to say Jamiseon slipped in 2015, but he was still only named to the 2nd Team All-NLL list. Jammer sat out the WILC 2015 for the Iroquois Nationals but still offered his services as a voice on the coaching roster. The rest and rehab time likely means that Jamieson is going to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders.
Back to support Jamieson are forwards Joe Resetarits and Joe Walters, both coming off of career-high seasons and were members of the silver medal winning Team USA at the WILC 2015. Resetarits made the difference for Rochester as he came in a mid-season deal from Buffalo. In 7 regular season games, he accumulated 27 points for the offense and secured 6 in the 4 playoff games last season. K-Hawk and Upstate hero Walters should be ready to ball out again in 2016. Putting up career numbers with 53 points, 20 goals in 2015, the crafty left-handed sniper has become one of the most electrifying Americans in the NLL and is agin like a fine wine. If you follow Walters on social (you should, @JWalters1) you know that he’s been putting in the hours and isn’t ready for his career to plateau. Count on both of the Joes to make waves again in 2016.
Seven-time NLL all-star Dan Dawson is heading into his 15th season in the NLL, fourth in Rochester. Dawson led the Hawks last season 62 assists and finished second only to Jammer with 85 points. The former Champion’s Cup MVP served as team Captain for Canada at the WILC 2015 where he lead his men to another flawless record and the gold medal. This past summer Dawson was a member of the unstoppable Victoria Shamrocks where he added the 6th Mann Cup to his resume.
Playing in 15 regular season games and 3 in the post, Craig Point had himself a year in 2015. 46 points were a solid hit for Point during his 9th season in the league. Point also threw down in the WILC with the Iroquois Nationals while wearing a pretty BA gold facemask. Injury and age have been nagging at Point a bit, he suffered in the face-off column last year and has declining loose ball numbers year after year. Only time will prove if we will see the elder statesman tough out the entire season.
In the 11 games Stephen Keogh played in 2015, he managed to rack up 22 total points. Keogh is rough, tough and when healthy can really fill up the points sheets. In 2014 he finished with a career high 71 points in 16 games which fell off a bit last season but after getting in a good summer workout with Six Nations Chiefs and in the WILC 2015 with Ireland, it’s time for Keogh to bounce back and have another 60+ point season.
Cory Vitarelli scores goals, it’s what he’s good for! Standing at 5’10”, Vitarelli doesn’t seem like the biggest threat on the floor but that 220 lbs is hard to throw around. 25 goals per season and 40 points seems to be the number he shoots for and the Peterborough lefty makes it happen. Vitarelli won’t hang out on the highlight reel but he will bury the ball when it’s given to him.
Captain Sid Smith has returned in an attempt to help carry his team back to the Champion’s Cup along with seven other defensemen from the 2015 campaign. Smith is heading into his seventh season with the Hawks and posted a career, and team, high 30 caused turnovers and 81 loose balls in 16 regular season games. If Smith can repeat the performance for 15+ games this season, the Knighthawks will be in great shape come spring time and Vinc’s job will be a whole lot easier.
Veteran Scott Self competed in all 18 regular season games and the 4 post season games the Hawks played in. Pretty damn impressive considering the 36 year old Peterborough native has been in the league for 15, going on 16, seasons! Self might not be the scariest takeaway guy in the league but he puts in work off-ball and at 6’2″, 220 lbs the man is force to be reckoned with.
Ian Llord is back to mix it up on the loose balls and the backline again. He can pull off the takeaway in clutch moments, but is really good for having a big body in transition play. Llord isn’t known for backing down and will again be the secondary enforcer behind big Paul Dawson. Speaking of Paul Dawson, don’t mess with him. 73 penalty minutes in 17 games is not any easy number to achieve, especially when you can actually be effective on the floor as more than a goon.
Scott Campbell and Dylan Evans both put up 7 points last season from the D-side. Campbell accumulated a solid 14 cause turnovers in the regular season while Evans lent most of his talents to the draw circle. Taking 423 of the teams 451 face offs, Evans fell slightly below the 50% range winning 213 of his takes. If Evans can improve upon his numbers at center court, the weight can start to come off of the Rochester defense that highlighted by guys with years of NLL experience trying to bring two young guns up to speed. With the era of the NLL face off specialist appearing to have met its end, this could be a good year for Evans to prove his worth to the transition and defensive sides.
Veterans Mike Kirk and Jon Sullivan are again on the Rochester bench to kick off the season. Kirk didn’t put up any points in the 17 regular season games he suited up in 2015, but that’s not unusual for a defenseman at 6’2”, 228 lbs. Kirk had a good summer which led the big, bad righty to be dealt from KW to Peterborough. Both defenseman picked up over 50 loosies respectively. Sullivan is now on year 12 in the NLL, 2015 being the first season he dressed all 18 games plus the playoffs. The fundamentals first, lock down talents of Sullivan are key for consistency on the defensive side.
As I mentioned above, Graeme Hossack and Brad Gillies, the two first round rookies, will join the veteran lineup to start 2016.
It’s hard to tell what the plan is for the transition team. With Jordan Hall listed as the only activated T on the roster, it appears the Knighthawks aren’t going to be in any hurry to move the ball up the floor in 2016. Joel Matthews has been listed to the Practice Roster and veteran Brad Self is currently stuck on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
Hall put up 64 points and 72 loose balls in 2015 although he was slowed down a bit by the Knighthawks after spending the previous two seasons with the green light from Philadelphia. The 6’0” lefty forward is entering his 9th season in the NLL and should continue to rank amongst the top of the goals and points columns for the K-Hawks.
Boy, oh boy, do I love watching Rochester and one of the main reasons is my infatuation with Matt Vinc. Easily one of the greatest to play the game, Vinc is healthy and prepared to take his team back to the Championship. With a tendy like Vinc, the rest of the team is given leeway to have some ups in downs. Plain and simple, Matt Vinc will win the Knighthawks games, whether or not the rest of the bench even shows up. Last season Vinc finished with a staggering 9.64 goals-against average and an .803 save percentage, he’s really, really good. The beloved five-time Goaltender of the Year edged out champion Aaron Bold for the award again in 2015. Over the summer, along with Brandon Miller and Bold, Vinc helped secure another perfect record and gold medal finish for Canada at the WILC 2015.
The team’s Owner/GM’s son Brandon Styres is getting his first backup shot after getting drafted to the team in 2013. Styres is coming into 2016 after a highlight Jr. B career with the Niagara Thunderhawks and backing up Henhawk in CLax with Oshweken. He’s spent a wealth of time learning from one of the best to ever play the game in Vinc and should be ready to make his debut should they ever need to call his name.
Last year’s backup Angus Goodleaf will start the 2016 campaign on the Physically Unable to Preform List. Goodleaf was one of the stars in September’s WILC for the home side Iroquois Nationals. Due to him signing a three year deal after last season to keep him in Rochester, I’d imagine it’s only a matter of time until Gus makes his way back to the bench.
Calling it Early
The Eastern Conference is really hard to judge right now. The Rock can stay relevant but the Swarm and Black Wolves can easily be a dark horse team to win the conference. With very little change to the lineup, the Knighthawks look good on paper, but activating two rookies on the backline definitely makes me raises my eye brows. Like I said, Hossack should be a stud early on, but without a game under the rookies’ belts, it’s hard to put my money on them heading back to the Finals. Playoff win? Yes. Return to the Cup, sorry but I can’t stake my reputation (whatever it may be) on it.
You know what to do! If you believe the Knighthawks are going to make their return to glory, let your voice be heard in the comments below! Think the birds will never get off the ground? Tell us that too!
Up Next: New England Black Wolves