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Knighthawks set to begin title defense on the road

12/28/2012, 12:00pm EST
By Travis Larner, Knighthawks beat writer for NLL.com

Rochester visits Washington to open 2013 NLL regular season

Cody Jamieson and the Rochester Knighthawks begin their NLL title defense on the road against the Washington Stealth at Comcast Arena in Everett on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 10 p.m. ET. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

The New Year’s resolution for the Rochester Knighthawks can summed up with one word: repeat. The reigning National Lacrosse League champions will begin their title defense on the road on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 10:00 p.m. ET against the Washington Stealth at Comcast Arena in Everett to open the 2013 NLL regular season.

Fans can watch the season opener and the rest of the games all season long on the NLL on YouTube on The Lacrosse Network by clicking here. Listen to the game online on Sportsradio 950 ESPN, also airing locally in Rochester, by clicking here.

Getting off to a fast start will be a priority for the Knighthawks in 2013, rather coming together at the end of the season like they did last year. Rochester’s first-quarter goal total was the lowest in the league (36), but their second-half total was the highest (112). In seven of their nine losses, the Knighthawks trailed at halftime, and they were tied at intermission during the other two.

“I wouldn’t say there is a sense of urgency to make sure it happens,” said Knighthawks forward Cody Jamieson. “I think we might have to do a better job mentally preparing for the game. It doesn’t really matter if we’re coming from behind or from the front, we just got to get better every single time we’re together.”

“Not only for each game, but for the season in general, we don’t want to play catch up,” said teammate Joe Walters. “We want to start forming that chemistry and playing well right from the get-go. That starts this Saturday.”

Rochester head coach Mike Hasen addressed this issue in practice this offseason. By changing his practice plan, he tried to start practice at a faster tempo to help the players adjust to the speed of the game. Hasen also stated it’s a good sign that the Knighthawks were able to play well in the second half after fighting from behind after a slow start.

“We were down a lot throughout the year early and we just kept fighting and fighting to the very last whistle," he said. "That’s one thing that we do pride ourselves on. There’s a couple of things we’ve done practice-wise to hopefully help that process along.”

One might think a general manager would be satisfied with his roster after taking home the crown, but not Curt Styres. The Knighthawks owner and GM pulled off two of the league’s biggest offseason acquisitions by bringing in two former NLL Most Valuable Players in Casey Powell and Dan Dawson.

“It’s the best,” Powell said. “I couldn’t ask for anything more. It’s amazing how this path of professional lacrosse has led me back here. It’s a great feeling to play in front of the best fans in the NLL and to finish my career here in Rochester where it started.”

After sitting out last season, Powell signed a one-year deal this offseason to return to Rochester where he made his professional indoor debut in 1999. Powell has scored at least 80 points in each of his last five seasons. In 2010, he became the first American-born player to be named the league’s MVP, scoring 80 points (44+36) in only 14 games. Powell is now just five points away from reaching 600 for his career, which he very well may achieve against the Stealth this weekend. In his first NLL game in over a year, Powell netted two goals in Rochester’s preseason victory over the Minnesota Swarm on Dec. 8.

In a blockbuster trade involving six players and two first-round draft picks, the Knighthawks acquired 6-foot-5 brothers Dan and Paul Dawson. Dan Dawson uses his height to his advantage to see the floor and has excelled at feeding his teammates the ball throughout his career. He finished second in the league with 78 assists, a career-high which is second-most in a single season in NLL history. Dawson also won a league MVP award back in 2009 when he scored 104 points (30+74).

Adding Dawson and Powell to the right side of the Knighthawks offense will take pressure off of  Jamieson on the opposite side, but some are concerned there will not be enough ball to go around for all three when considering secondary scorers Mike Accursi, Stephen Keogh, Craig Point, Johnny Powless, Cory Vitarelli and Walters.

Saturday’s contest marks the first time that Dawson, Jamieson and Powell will all be on the floor at the same time.

“Our team philosophy is that we don’t look at it as a ‘big three’,” Hasen said. “We look at it as a tough nine on offense that we hope teams have to struggle to defend.”

“In Rochester, we are the ‘Big 23’ and we are going to do the best we can to mesh and form chemistry to be as successful as we can as a team,” Powell added. “We obviously don’t play games as individuals and we do not plan to do so. We’re just trying to contribute and do the best we can in the system.”

The Rochester defense will be without Ryan Cousins, Kyle Laverty and former NLL Defensive Player of the Year Pat McCready. Cousins will begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List for the second straight season, Laverty is currently on the holdout list and McCready has unofficially retired after 17 years.

The remainder of the championship defense—Tyler Burton, Scott Campbell, Dylan Evans, Rory Glaves, Mike Kirk, Brad Self and Sid Smith—are returning along with the gritty defender Paul Dawson and transition players Joel McCready and Matt Hummel.

“Everything you work for, you want to win the championship in the end,” Hummel said. “To do it two years in a row is something everyone wants. You can’t look at the end of the season, you take it game-by-game. Hopefully, you’ll walk out with a ring on your hand.”

Washington’s main scoring threats all saw a decline in production in 2012 as the Stealth finished with a dismal 4-12 record. After two consecutive 90-point seasons in 2010 and 2011, Washington’s Lewis Ratcliff failed to reach 80 points last year. Stealth forward Rhys Duch finished last season with the lowest point total of his four-year career while teammate Athan Iannucci hasn’t scored more than 29 goals since he set the league record with 71 in 2008.

“We’re aware of [Washington’s] tendencies and hopefully we will be able to capitalize on the situations that show for us,” Hasen said. “But we play a team defense. It’s not one individual that will be checking these guys. We’re going to have to work as a unit. It’s going to be real tough. We’re pretty confident of where we are right now.”

Last season, the Knighthawks defeated the Stealth by a score of 15-12 on Feb. 18 at Blue Cross Arena. Despite a four-goal performance from both Duch and Ratcliff, Rochester stormed back with a seven-goal fourth quarter, led by Accursi and Point who had five points each (3+2). Faceoff specialist Bob Snider won 84% of his draws, an area Rochester has struggled with over the past few seasons.

Not only are the Knighthawks starting their season on the road, but they are traveling over 2,600 miles across the country. While some may dread the long hours on the plane and in the hotel, it does provide the players a chance to bond.

“One thing that fans don’t get to see is that the time we spend together is very special,” Powell said. “That’s another great reason why I love to come back. It’s fun to be in the locker room and it’s fun to travel with the guys. To fly out there, I got goosebumps just thinking about it. I’m excited to start this 2013 campaign.”

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