Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series, previewing each NLL team as the season approaches. Today, we preview the Rochester Knighthawks. The Knighthawks are coming off of NLL Finals appearance against the Saskatchewan Rush. See our other previews here: Calgary Roughnecks, New England Black Wolves, Colorado Mammoth, Buffalo Bandits, Toronto Rock, Saskatchewan Rush, Philadelphia Wings, San Diego Seals, Vancouver Warriors, Georgia Swarm.
.Whatever happens this season, it is good to know that the Rochester Knighthawks will be staying in Rochester. This offseason was immensely stressful for fans of the team, as rumors swirled all summer long before news broke that current owner and GM would be moving the team – but not taking the Knighthawks name – to Halifax next summer. But, owners of the Buffalo Bandits, were awarded an expansion franchise by the league and will direct the “new” Knighthawks come 2020. Yes, I know, that’s a lot to process.
But all of that aside, we’re here to talk about the product on the floor. And while the 2018 edition of the Knighthawks were only two games above .500 in the win column during the regular season, they managed to make it to Game 3 of the Finals against Saskatchewan last June. That just goes to prove the old adage that sometimes it’s all about getting hot at the right time. But, will Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen and his boys have the same success this season? Read on to find out.
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Rochester Knighthawks: 2019 Season Preview
2018 Finish: in the East, 10-8 Overall, 5-4 Home, 5-4 Away, Lost Finals in Game 3 to Saskatchewan
Well, the biggest loss – and biggest move of the offseason – was Matt Vinc (18 GP, 9-6 W-L, 11.37 GAA, .782 SV%) signing with the Rochester Knighthawk’s arch-nemesis Buffalo. Talk about drama. But beyond the storylines, losing the reigning Goaltender of the Year is not something to be taken lightly, and with a defense that ranked third in goals against (210) and a goaltender that was allowing only 11.37 goals against a game, that’s going to take some time to replace. Perhaps rookie defenders James Barclay (9th Overall, Oakville Rush/Providence) and Luke Van Schepen (16th Overall, Brampton Excelsiors/Siena), who both made the 21-man roster and are coming off outstanding collegiate careers, can keep the defense tight, with captain and stalwart Sid Smith on the IR to begin this campaign.
On the offensive end, not much has changed. Third-year forward Josh Currier (16 GP, 17 G, 14 A, 31 PTS, 42 LB) is now with the reborn Philadelphia Wings, but Rochester found an immediate remedy by signing veteran Pat Saunders (14 GP, 14 G, 18 A, 32 PTS, 28 LB with both Buffalo and Vancouver in 2018), making this his second stint with the team. Although Currier is younger, don’t look for Saunders to be a short-term solution. If he can get back to his old form (76 PTS in 2016 with New England), the lefty forward could really deal some damage.
Despite their record in 2018, the Rochester Knighthawks’ offense was good last season, with 236 goals for (3rd in the league) and two top-ten scoring leaders in Joe Resetarits (18 GP, 37 G, 63 A, 100 PTS, 92 LB) and the always-lethal Cody Jamieson (18 GP, 26 G, 63 A, 89 PTS, 75 LB), coming in 4th and tied for 8th in points respectively. Rochester’s 21-man roster boasts eight forwards, which seems high compared to some other rosters out there, but with the likes of Ohio State product Austin Shanks (15 GP, 27 G, 25 A, 52 PTS, 50 LB) and Casey Jackson (18 GP, 37 G, 36 A, 73 PTS, 74 LB), any coach would be hard pressed not to bring as many big guns to the arena each night as they could.
One player I’m specifically interested in seeing play this season is Quinn Powless (9 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 PTS, 20 LB), the righty from Six Nations who’s showed promise over his time in the league, but just can’t seem to break in and play on a consistent basis. He’s been in the league since 2015, but has never played more than nine games in a season. The Knighthawks and Styres know they have a top talent on their hands, and with the righty Currier gone, this could be Powless’s chance to solidify his place in the lineup.
Angus Goodleaf (18 GP, 1-2 W-L, 11.38 GAA, .798 SV%) takes over in net for the Rochester Knighthawks this season, and he’s been a solid backup during his tenure in the league. But, he’s no Vinc. Goodleaf is going to need all the help he can get, and with Warren Hill (2 GP, 0-2 W-L, 15.27 GAA, .732 SV% with Georgia in 2018) as his backup, this could potentially be a solid one-two punch. But, take “potentially” with a grain of salt. Goodleaf is still unproven in this league as a number one net-minder, and Hill only has a year under his belt. But I’ve been watching them both develop for a few years now, and understand why Rochester has such faith in these two moving forward.
In terms of defense, look to fourth-year player Graeme Hossack (18 GP, 14 PTS, 163 LB, 34 CTO) and 2018 Rookie of the Year Jake Withers (18 GP, 12 PTS, 148 LB, 15 CTO) to lead the charge. Both are young, smart, and absolute vacuums when it comes to loose balls. And while Withers led the league with 279 faceoff wins last year, Hossack’s 163 LB were third in the league and an unreal amount of loosies for a guy that didn’t take a single faceoff. Rochester has done a solid job of grooming young players for big roles, and these two are prime examples of that.
The Rochester Knighthawks kick-off their 25th season at home against the Wings on December 29th, and regardless of the offseason news surrounding the team’s future, I’m positive Blue Cross Arena will be packed with their usual die-hard fans. I grew up an hour away from BCA, and I know from experience how much energy those fans bring night in and night out.
However, if the Rochester Knighthawks are looking to capitalize on that atmosphere at home, they’ll have to improve on their home record from 2018 (5-4). Things weren’t much better for them on the road last season either (an identical 5-4 record), and at one point they went 0-6 (0-3 Away, 0-3 Home), all against division rivals. But this is a new season, and hope springs eternal, right?
Four of their first six matchups are on the road, including two against Vinc and the Bandits (Away January 5th and Home January 26th, which I’m sure will be hard-fought and bloody as always, and they close out the season with three of their last six games against West Division teams Calgary (Home March 23rd), Colorado (Away April 12th) and Vancouver (Home April 20th); these games specifically could propel or quell their playoff chances. The danger of interdivisional play so late in the year is that the less time the Rochester Knighthawks are playing East Division teams, the more time another squad has to make their case for the playoffs.
With the league switching things up just this week and announcing that each Division will now be sending four teams to the playoffs (as compared to three each last year), everyone will be keeping an eye on that extra playoff spot for sure. With Philadelphia showing they’re ready to play with the big boys this past weekend and noted optimism out of Toronto – who were 8-10 and out of the playoffs last year – that new playoff spot this year will be hotly contested and nothing is guaranteed for anyone. With the changes in cage but an offense that’s potent enough to nab some wins, I say Rochester goes 7-11 this year.
For Rochester’s full schedule, click here.
Paul Dawson D
Graeme Hossack D
Darryl Robinson D
Brad Gillies T
Austin Shanks F
Pat Saunders F
Joe Resetarits F
Jake Withers D
Luke Van Schepen D
Eric Shewell D
Cory Vitarelli F
James Barclay D
Ian Llord D
Scott Campbell D
Luc Magnan D
Kyle Jackson F
Angus Goodleaf G
Warren Hill G
Quinn Powless F
Cody Jamieson F
Dylan Riley F