The Rochester Knighthawks (7-3) return to the Blue Cross Arena for the first time in a month to take on the Edmonton Rush (6-4) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and on TSN GO in Canada.
The Knighthawks are coming off their second bye week in three weeks. Two weekends ago, the team traveled to Calgary to take on the Roughnecks and came away with a 13-7 win. Was this latest bye week a blessing or a curse for Rochester?
“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “Once you’re grooving, you just want to keep that feeling going. Saying that, it’s been a tough grind so far this early part of the year. It does the body some good to recover and take a little bit of a break. Catch up with the family, make sure the wife and kids are all happy, and then we’re just going to put our nose to the grindstone and move forward.”
“Anytime during the season, you want to keep that momentum going if you can,” said Knighthawks defenseman Mike Kirk. “For us, that was our mid-point, 10 games. We’ve got a thick part of our schedule coming up with a ton of games in April, and it doesn’t get any easier when you start with Edmonton coming off the bye week. I think we’re ready to get back at it and see what we can do this weekend.”
Taking on the West Division-leading Rush is never an easy task. The Knighthawks’ lone home loss last season came at the hands of the Rush.
“It’s always tough coming off the bye week, especially against a team that’s playing so well right now,” Hasen said. “Last week, they found their groove. They had all facets of the game going and looked really good. It’s going to be tough. We’ve got to come in there and match them right off the bat.”
“You never know what it’s going to bring,” Kirk said. “They’re a heck of a team out the backdoor, but they’ve got a ton of firepower with their offense. This could be an anything game, but both teams will be working hard and trying to get that win.”
The win over the Roughnecks was Rochester’s fifth-straight win. In each win, the team has put up at least 11 goals. The key has been sticking to their principles.
“We always talk about keeping things as simple as possible,” Hasen said. “The biggest thing for us is guys are just playing their roles. We’re successful when guys do that… Just stick with it and work together as a group. I think we’ve been doing that for the last little while.”
The Knighthawks are second in the East Division and pursuing the Toronto Rock (10-3) while trying to stay above the Buffalo Bandits (7-6). Each win brings them closer to the playoffs and as much home-field advantage as they can get.
“It’s always that goal, when push comes to shove you’ve got your own fans cheering for you,” Hasen said. “You’re just following your normal week-to-week routines and that will make things a lot easier. For the most part, we worry about Edmonton now. They’re a great team coming in. That’s our focus. We just have to make sure we’re playing at our best. What happens after that happens, and we’ll go on from there.”
After big wins against the Vancouver Stealth and the Toronto Rock, things won’t be getting easier for the Rush (6-4) when they travel down to Rochester.
Edmonton faced some unfavorable finals a few weeks ago, with back to back overtime losses to Toronto and Calgary. The Rush took those games as a lesson and rebounded to score 19 goals on the Stealth, and beat Toronto last week in a tight defensive clash.
“It was a tough battle,” said Rush general manager and head coach Derek Keenan. “It was a physical, fast game and it’s kind of what we expected. They’re a good team and we expect much the same this weekend playing Rochester. We always have really good games, and tough battles so it was good preparation for us going into this weekend.”
The game had an unlikely hero in defender Nik Bilic, who tied the game late in the fourth quarter for Edmonton, and then gave them the lead. Bilic isn’t known for his offensive prowess, with the totals from last game helping him tie his career high with three goals in a season, which he set last season.
“It definitely felt good,” said Bilic on Wednesday’s media call. “We were just working hard all game and the chances were coming. I was lucky to get the chances at the end of the game and I was lucky to put them in the back of the net.”
“It’s always hard going into Rochester. The fans are pretty loud and the arena gets pretty loud. We’re going to have to go in there and work hard like we did against Toronto, and just try to wear them down, and hopefully we get the outcome that we’re looking for.”
So far through 10 games, the Rush have only allowed more than nine goals three times. Three of their four losses have come by only one goal, while they have won all their games by at least two. If the bounces went the other way the Rush could be sitting with a 9-1 record.
These stellar defensive games have come with the help of goaltender Aaron Bold, who has been rock-solid for the Rush by posting a .784 save percentage. But Bold’s life outside of lacrosse has been difficult of late. His partner, Michelle Fines, has been diagnosed with Stage 4 bone cancer, four years removed from beating breast cancer. Michelle is getting treatment back home in Ontario, and the family is collecting donations to cover medical and travel expenses. Donations can be made to her You Caring page by clicking here.
In related news, the Knighthawks signed restricted free agent Garrett Billings to an offer sheet on Friday night which means that the Toronto Rock have until Monday night to match the offer in order to retain the services of the All-Pro forward.
By Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) & Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.