The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks will host the Minnesota Swarm on Saturday to open the NLL preseason.
The defending champion Rochester Knighthawks host the Minnesota Swarm at Blue Cross Arena for an 8 p.m. exhibition on Saturday, Dec. 8. Rochester defeated Minnesota in a preseason game last December at home by a score of 19-15 while the two teams split their two-game regular season series in 2012. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network by clicking here.
Saturday’s game will be the first time the Knighthawks hit the turf at Blue Cross Arena since their 2012 Champion's Cup win over the Edmonton Rush last May. While a win or loss will not affect the team’s chances of a title repeat, goaltender Matt Vinc hopes to begin the preseason on a high note.
“It’s going to be great to get back in front of those fans where we were able to hoist the Cup," Vinc said. "Hopefully we will give them a glimpse of the 2013 team that’s hopefully going to give it their all and hopefully going to get back to that [title] game."
Rochester native Joe Walters understands that building chemistry as a team is the most important outcome from the preseason. The players credit their ability to come together at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs as one of the biggest factors for winning the title, but do not want to wait for week 16 to gel as a team.
“We’re adding some new pieces, so we want to make sure that we start to gain that chemistry right away," Walters said. "That starts on Saturday. It’s a good opportunity for us to start building."
2012 NLL Championship Game MVP Cody Jamieson scored a game-high nine points (6+3) when Rochester defeated Minnesota, 19-15 in a preseason tilt last December.
“It’s not our ultimate goal at this point, " Knighthawks coach Mike Hasen said about getting the win again this year. "But I think it will send some energy as far as an organization and for our fans to help show that we are continuing down that path that we want to be on to remain successful."
The Knighthawks roster currently has 36 players but it must be reduced to 26 before the start of the regular season. Casey Powell will be manning the right-hand side of the Rochester offense for the first time since 2000. Joel McCready, who sat out the 2012 season, will also make his return to the lineup. Former Buffalo Bandits Ian Llord and Tom Montour will be wearing purple and teal for the first time in their careers as well.
“We want to make sure they are going 110% every time they are on the floor," Hasen said. "We’ve gone through a few of our systems and we want to make sure people have grasped on to what we’re trying to teach them. The biggest thing we told the guys is just go and play.”
Robbie Campbell, Rochester's first pick in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft (26th overall), will be making his professional lacrosse debut. Campbell had an impressive training camp, where he won the overall fitness testing. Campbell will be used primarily on the defensive end of the floor, but Hasen noted that he “has the natural ability to get up the floor quickly” and will be given opportunities to score in transition.
Two players who will not see time on Saturday are Ryan Cousins, who was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform List, and Jordan Hall, who is recovering from a torn ACL.
“If you ask Jordan Hall, Jordan Hall is ready to play right now," Hasen said. "He’s looking good and definitely feeling good, but I know there’s a little bit of caution with Jordan right now just to make sure he’s okay. He’s going to be 100% when he steps on the floor, but not this weekend."
The Swarm, who lost to the Edmonton Rush in the semifinals last season, added four first-round draft picks to their lineup. Brock Sorenson and Kiel Matisz, who stand at 6'6" and 6'5" respectively, were taken with the second and third overall picks. Drafted fourth overall was Shayne Jackson followed by Alex Crepinsek six spots later.
“I think they’ve gotten a whole lot better," Hasen said. "Their draft picks are legit players and have excelled in the leagues they play in. I think it’s just another stepping stone for them personally and their team."
After making their first round of cuts last Sunday, the Swarm will travel with 33 players this weekend. With several roster spots still up for grabs, tough decisions are soon to follow for the Swarm’s coaching staff.
“Everybody has a chance to make it at this point and I think we’re living proof that we’re not afraid to make changes,” Swarm associate general manager and head coach Joe Sullivan said. “I’m looking for all of the little things: guys hustling on every loose ball, finishing every check, and for players that are responsible and get on and off the floor in a timely manner.”
Sullivan is eager to see how his team measures up against the reigning champs.
“They are the defending champions and they are deserving of it,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to see a lot of their good players during different phases of the game. It will be a great opportunity for our guys to see how they play.”
Minnesota will hold one more training camp session next weekend before the team prepares for its season opener on the road against the Buffalo Bandits on Jan. 12.
Sullivan said he hopes to have his final roster set after Sunday so that the team can begin implementing its offensive and defensive systems next week.
“After Sunday, it’s my intent to have our roster,” Sullivan said. “If things go well and the guys put forth the effort, all we’ll need to decide is who is going to be on the practice squad and who is going to be in the regular rotation."
Travis Larner, Knighthawks beat writer for NLL.com, contributed to this report.