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Knighthawks look for lift in 2013 home opener

01/15/2013, 2:00pm EST
By Travis Larner, Knighthawks beat writer for NLL.com

Rochester set to raise 2012 title banner before playing Buffalo on Saturday


The Rochester Knighthawks (0-1) will raise their 2012 NLL championship banner when they host the Buffalo Bandits (1-1) on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET at The Blue Cross Arena. (Photo: Ward Laforrme)

There is no shortage of intriguing storylines for the 46th installment of the New York State Thruway rivalry between the Buffalo Bandits and the Rochester Knighthawks.

Most notably, the Knighthawks (0-1), who will host the Bandits (1-1) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET at The Blue Cross Arena, are raising their 2012 National Lacrosse League championship banner in a pregame ceremony. The Knighthawks defeated the Edmonton Rush by a score of 9-6 for the Champion’s Cup last May for their first title win on home turf.

“I have some mixed emotions,” said Rochester defenseman Mike Kirk. “I think we all remember that was last year and we’ve all moved on to 2013. We’ll take the banner and have that moment, but we’re really looking forward to battling with Buffalo.”

Fans can watch the game live on NLL on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network. It is also being televised live in the Rochester area on the Time Warner Cable Sports channel.

“We did not play very well [in opener] and we have to be better in Week 3 against Buffalo,” said Rochester head coach Mike Hasen, whose team lost 13-12 on the road to the Washington Stealth in Week 1. “As [Kirk] said, we’ll take a moment to relish what we did last year, but we got a long road ahead of us.”

The Knighthawks, who own a 9-9 all-time record in home openers, have lost their last two opening games at The Blue Cross Arena. Coincidentally, their last home-opening win was against the Bandits on Jan. 9, 2010.

Former NLL MVP Casey Powell is expected to make his season debut with Rochester after being ruled out of the season opener in Washington on Jan. 5 with a calf injury. Powell is only five points away from 600 career points. The former Syracuse University All-American has scored at least 80 points in his last five seasons prior to sitting out last year.

Shawn Williams, a member of Rochester’s 2007 championship team and former team captain, is returning to Rochester for the first time as a Bandit since 2001. With the Edmonton Rush last season, Williams earned a pair of assists in the Champion’s Cup final. After being traded to Minnesota, Williams was sent to Buffalo for a first-round draft pick in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft.

On Wednesday, Rochester signed former Bandit goaltender Angus Goodleaf to a one-year contract, pending league approval. Goodleaf spent the last three seasons as the Bandits’ backup netminder. Meanwhile in Buffalo, the Bandits appear to be having problems with their goaltending situation.

Anthony Cosmo has started both of Buffalo’s games this season, but has yet to finish one in the net. In just over 35 minutes of playing time, Cosmo has an 18.48 goals against average. However, his counterpart Kurtis Wagar has stepped up in relief by posting a 9.25 GAA. The Bandits invested two first-round picks in Cosmo, but the former All-Pro goaltender has not performed well as of late.

While Hasen admits he hopes to see his offense fluster Buffalo’s goalies this weekend, he is more worried about his team’s preparation rather than game planning against a specific netminder.

“We’re just preparing like we do every other game,” he said. “We’re going to really worry about what we want to do and how we’re going to create space to get the open looks. If we can do that, I’m fairly confident that the guys can find the back of the net more often than not. That’s our main concern.”

Joe Walters, a Rochester native, was able to match his career-high of four points against Washington with two goals and two assists. In 2012, the Knighthawks were 5-0 in home games with Walters in the lineups and he scored 19 points (4+15) in those contests.

On the opposite end of the floor, Hasen’s defense struggled in the first game of the season versus the Stealth as Washington outshot Rochester 64-47.

On the bright side, the Knighthawks shutdown Washington’s power play unit. In the second quarter, Tyler Burton was assessed a five-minute major for high-sticking. Rochester finished the man-down situation with a shorthanded goal from Scott Campbell on one of many intercepted passes by the Knighthawks.

Although Matt Vinc finished with the same box score as he did in the semifinal victory over Toronto in last year’s playoffs – 51 saves and a .797 save percentage – he was handed a loss despite winning NLL Defensive Player of the Week for Week #1.

“I think we got away from our principles,” Kirk said. “If you watch the film, like Buffalo probably has, we were just spread out, we weren’t helping each other and watching them capitalize on our mistakes. We’ve talked about it, we’ve had a couple practices under our belt, so it’s something hopefully we can improve upon this weekend.”

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