The Rochester Knighthawks (0-2) return to Blue Cross Arena for a divisional clash with the undefeated Toronto Rock (3-0) on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. Toronto looks to carry over momentum from a solid 13-11 win in the team’s home opener against Buffalo on Friday night. Rochester is coming off a bye week that may have been exactly what the doctor ordered for the three-time defending champions who fell to the Rock by one goal in Week 1 before losing by 10 to the New England Black Wolves on the road in Week 2.
“Looking back on it, it might have been a good time that we had the break,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “We were able to refocus a little bit there. We had a very lively practice last week. Now switch gears, look forward, and worry about what’s next.”
“We didn’t get the results we wanted to in the first game,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson. “We’ve analyzed what we did right and what we did wrong. Everyone wants to call it a hangover or a wakeup call for us. The bye week was maybe a good thing. We addressed fitness concerns and had some good runs. The only way to rectify what’s going on right now is to win.
“We’re excited to get back at it…there’s no finger pointing. We believe in what we have. We know there’s a lot of self-accountability for the first two games, and we’re okay with that. We’ve addressed some needs, and that’s the guy you’re looking in the mirror at. It’s not the guy next to you. That’s what’s so great about our team over the last couple of years, is when things don’t go our way, there’s no finger pointing. We just stay the course and we believe in each other.”
The Knighthawks fell to the Rock back on January 3 at the BCA, and while there are lessons to be learned, Rochester won’t dwell too long on that game.
“We’ll look at it obviously,” Hasen said. “We’ll correct some mistakes, but we’re looking forward. We’re worrying about how we come into our own barn this week. We need a much better effort than we put forward the last time around we had these guys. It’s a good chance for us. Toronto’s playing very well. They’re the cream of the crop…in the East right now for sure. It’s going to be a good measuring stick to see where we are.”
“We’re running into an extremely hot team right now,” Dawson said. “They’ve done really well to start off the season. Their home opener [Friday night] is going to be a big deal. We’re going to do our best to match their energy on Saturday night…we focus on what we can control, and that’s our dressing room. Whatever happens on Friday night, we do not have a say in what happens between Buffalo and Toronto. We’re going to focus on Saturday night and bringing a better effort.”
With having lost the first two games of the season, the Knighthawks have an idea of what they need a better effort on going forward.
“First and foremost, everyone in our locker room knows we can be better in some areas,” Hasen said. “Defensively, we need to be better at communicating to each other and picking up our man. Just sticking with our principles, not trying to get outside ourselves and trying to do too much as individuals. Offensively, we’ve had chances. We’ve just got to bury those chances, but our success comes from better ball movement…we’ve talked about our discipline side of things. We [short-man unit] are on the floor an awful lot. We’ve got to clean up the things we do. There’s a fine line, and these guys know what that fine line is, and they’ve got to play to it and try not to go over it.”
Nearly three weeks ago, with six new faces on the roster and questions looming about depleted offensive unit, the Rock spoiled Rochester’s home opener in Week 1 by coming up with a come-from-behind 13-12 victory. From that point on, Toronto defeated the Vancouver Stealth a week later in a 20-goal effort. Although the two teams have taken different paths early, history has shown that a season is not won nor lost over the first few weeks of the season.
“In my mind, Rochester is still the best team [in the league],” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “They’ve had some not-so-great starts in the past and if I recall they won their first championship [2012 season] with a less than .500 record in the regular season. We know what they’re capable of, they’re a good team and they’ll bounce back. It’s a difficult back-to-back for our team.”
This coming weekend is the first of three back-to-back missions for the Rock this season. And while on paper it may seem like a hinderance to play two divisional rivals (Buffalo on Friday) in short order, Rock new comer Brett Hickey said he prefers the rhythm of a quick turnaround.
“I just love playing, so it doesn’t bother me too much,” said Hickey, who with eight points (4+4) has become an important piece to the Rock’s offence this season. “In the second game, you got to play a little bit smarter, respect the ball a little more. We have to limit our mistakes because our bodies might be banged up, we might be tired.”
Despite playing a Rochester team hungry for redemption, Toronto can perhaps rest easier knowing they found lightning in a bottle in the tandem of Josh Sanderson and Rob Hellyer. The two have combined for 37 points (13+24), numbers that dub them the pinnacle of all offensive duos thus far. It’s no surprise that Sanderson, a perennial league all-star, has found success early, but the emergence of Hellyer has been a welcome alteration to the Rock lineup.
“Rob Hellyer in my mind is one of the top right’s in the league now. I think he gained some confidence playing as a full time player for the first time in the league,” said Lovell. “He’s got a few years under his belt playing part-time, but I think all he needed to do was play and he keeps getting better every time I send him out.”
Story by Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) and Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.