The Rochester Knighthawks have quickly risen to become one of the most storied franchises in the history of the National Lacrosse League. Now in their eighth season, the team has never missed the playoffs. They have played in the championship game four times, winning once.
Yet with all that playoff experience, Rochester has hosted just one playoff game - a 10-8 victory over the now defunct Boston Blazers in 1995.
Now, in 2002 the Knighthawks have another chance to play playoff lacrosse in front of their hometown fans at the Blue Cross Arena. Rochester will host the Vancouver Ravens Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the first round of
the NLL playoffs.
Rochester has been dominant at home this season. The Knighthawks are one of two NLL teams to finish with a perfect 8-0 record at home in 2002 - the Toronto Rock are the other. They have also won their last 14 home games dating back to last season, and are fourth in the league in attendance.
'It's a very comfortable environment for everybody,' Knighthawks' Head Coach Paul Day said. 'The majority of the guys that are with our team have been with us for three or four years, they are very comfortable with the
hotel and with the surroundings. We are going to have 11,000 people in there and they are great fans, it's a small environment. We have had the luck to have great fans, it's definitely a key on our side.'
The Knighthawks boast the most potent offense in the NLL, scoring a league-high 258 goals this season. All-star forward John Grant leads the attack with 105 points, placing him third in the league in scoring.
Offense, however, is not the Knighthawks only strong suit. Veteran goaltender Pat O'Toole is between the pipes, the team's unsung hero this season.
O'Toole is fifth in the league in goals against average, allowing 12.72 per game. He, like most of his teammates, also thrives in the rowdy environment of Rochester's Blue Cross Arena, as the Knighthawks have only allowed 88 goals at home, the second fewest in the NLL.
Saturday, Rochester will meet the Ravens for the first time. The Knighthawks own a 4-3 record against playoff teams this season; their only three losses have come at Toronto, Washington, and Philadelphia. The Knighthawks come into the contest winners of their last six, including an overtime win over Columbus last weekend.
Day feels that his team has a sense of familiarity with the Ravens despite not having played them during the regular season.
'A lot of these guys have played against each other : we have seen these guys and they have seen us,' Day said. 'Everybody pretty much knows what everybody brings to the table. The play a very Canadian style. Most of our guys have watched them this year on the TV.'
Grant makes the Knighthawks dangerous from anywhere in the offensive zone and is the key to the team's success. Consequently he acts as Rochester's go-to guy, and has taken the most shots in the NLL this season.
Forward Tim Soudan may play in the shadow of Grant, but perhaps no other Knighthawk is as responsible for the team's success in 2002. Soudan has scored three game-winning goals; only Vancouver's Peter Morgan and Albany's Gary Rosyski have scored more (four).
Saturday's game will be televised live on CNN/SI, and on tape delay in Canada on Sportsnet. Fans in Rochester can hear the game on WYSL 1040 AM, and via the Internet at nationallacrosse.com.
The winner of Saturday's contest moves on to the NLL semifinals and will travel to face the Albany Attack - who earned the No. 1 playoff seed thanks to a 14-2 record - next weekend.