The Rochester Knighthawks (7-4) travel north to face its East Division rival Toronto Rock (11-3) on Friday at 7p.m. ET. Watch the game on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada. This is the third and final regular season meeting between the divisional foes as Toronto attempts to clinch a home playoff game with a win.
The Rock have visited the Knighthawks twice, coming away with a 13-12 win in Week 12 before the Knighthawks got revenge two weeks later with an 8-6 win on the same floor.
The Rock acquired a big stick in Kevin Crowley from New England on Tuesday in exchange for long-time Rock forward and league-dominator Garrett Billings. The move was made as result of what the Rock are calling a “contract impasse” between Billings and Toronto owner and general manager Jamie Dawick.
Less than 24 hours previous to the move, Toronto matched a Knighthawks offer sheet for the playing rights of Billings.
“Because of the contract impasse with Garrett Billings and our owner Jamie Dawick, Jamie felt like he needed to make a move,” said Lovell.
Billings served five years in Toronto, amounting a staggering 473 points over that time. During his tenure, the perennial All-Pro has had over 100 points in three-straight years and played a major roll in Toronto’s 2011 Champion’s Cup victory over the Stealth.
In Crowley, the Rock get a 26-year-old thick chested right-handed shot standing in at 6-foot-4. The “Big Cat” has found the back of the net 30 times or more in each of his three complete seasons in the league. With 10 games under his belt this season, Crowley has tallied 52 points (19+33) thus far.
“I’ve seen Kevin grow up in the league, he’s a great teammate and I think he’s one of the elite offensive players in the game, he’s a very versatile player,” said Rock transition player Brodie Merrill, who played alongside Crowley from 2012 to 2014. “I think he’ll fit well with out group.”
The move also mitigates the huge loss of Rob Hellyer due to injury. The Rock’s top offensive player suffered an upper-body injury in a Week 12 loss to the Edmonton Rush. Hellyer has since been placed on injury reserve without a firm timetable on a return.
“We needed some insurance and some depth on the right side,” said Lovell.
The timing of that added insurance could not have been better. Thanks to a league-best 11-3 record, Toronto has the earned the opportunity of controlling their own playoff fate, and that mission starts this Friday. A victory over the Knighthawks will not only cement a guaranteed home playoff game, it will give the Rock the tiebreaker should the two teams finish the season with the same record. Toronto can clinch the East Division with a win and a Rochester loss against Minnesota on Saturday.
“I think it’s important, especially if you end up playing the one game playoff. It’s always important to have home floor advantage,” said Lovell. “But our goal is to get first place and avoid that game. Rochester is coming off of a difficult loss last weekend, so it’s going to be a tough game. It’s a tiebreaker game, so it’s going to be a good battle,” he said.
The Knighthawks are looking forward to getting back on the floor to wipe away memories of last Saturday’s abysmal 16-3 home loss at the hands of the Edmonton Rush.
“We’re going to have a good practice, worry about us tonight [Wednesday],” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “Just get focused on Toronto.”
“Bottom line is we were pretty terrible last week,” said Knighthawks defenseman Paul Dawson. “The beautiful thing about this league is you always have a chance for redemption the next week. We have Friday night, two big games this weekend, and it starts Friday with Toronto, a team we’re chasing for first place… We both want to finish first. Last week is in the past. You laugh it off. Everything went wrong for us. We have a chance at redemption on Friday night, so we’re looking forward to a great battle. It’s always a tough game against Toronto and it’s going to be a great game.”
If Dawson is any indicator, the Knighthawks would have relished the opportunity to jump back on the floor Sunday to deal with the Rush loss, especially after only playing twice in March.
“For me personally, and I think that goes for the dressing room too, we want to get right back out there,” Dawson said. “If we could have played Sunday, I think we would have and it would have been awesome. March was kind of a slow month for us, only having two games. Not saying that’s an excuse, but it’s great that we get to play right away on Friday. I think our team is just looking forward to it… We knew we were at our worst. That’s not the Rochester Knighthawks. We had some time away from the game in March, and to tell you the truth, I’m sick of having time away from the game. I want to get back at it and I want to get in the thick of things here. I can’t wait for Friday.”
The Knighthawks know they have a tough task against the Rock’s transition game coming up on Friday night.
“They’ve got their systems in place,” Hasen said. “We really want to stick to a 25-second shot clock. That means defensively getting off the floor hard to give our guys as much time to work the clock. Just be really smart getting on and off the floor for each other so they don’t have that opportunity to run. They’re good at it, they’re really good at it.”
A new face could be on the floor Friday night after the Knighthawks acquired forward Joe Resetarits from the Buffalo Bandits at the trade deadline. While it remains to be seen if this Thruway Rival swap will be as good a deal as the last one (Alex ‘Kedoh’ Hill for Scott Self), the Knighthawks are happy with the move.
“Joe’s a really hard worker,” Hasen said. “He’s really tough to check… He gets guys open and gets himself some good opportunities. We’re excited to have him in our lineup and looking forward to having him put the ball in the net for us.”
The Knighthawks sent defenseman Jamie Batson along with second round picks in 2016 and 2017 for Resetarits and the Bandits’ third round pick in 2016. The trade came up on Wednesday’s conference call with Rock head coach Jon Lovell wanting to get in on the questioning.
“I’ve got a question for Mike,” said Lovell.
“Go ahead,” Hasen said. “But I’m not sure I’m going to answer it.”
“What are you doing trading my boy Bats to Buffalo?” Lovell asked.
“(Bandits GM Steve Dietrich) Chugger wanted him more!” Hasen replied.
Just shows that even divisional rivals can have some fun off the floor. It remains to be seen whether Friday evening will be as fun as the mid-week conference call.
Story by Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) & Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Ward Laforme.