There was an overwhelming sense of relief in the home locker room inside Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York, after the Knighthawks Week 11 grind-it-out-style 15-13 win against their Eastern Conference rivals, the Albany FireWolves.
Not only was the young franchise able to pick up an all-important victory following their four-game losing streak (all Eastern Conference losses), but more importantly, the win once again sparked hope in an organization that was given a gut-wrenching reality check during the losing skid.
Before the team’s bye-week during Week 12 of this NLL season, Knighthawks Head Coach Mike Hasen stressed to his team that, just because there isn’t a game to suit up for, the players shouldn’t bask (too long) in the joys of their accomplishments; there’s still work to be done.
“We need to turn the page quick and just carry on,” Hasen said. “We need to keep that momentum going as we move forward, that’s for sure.”
In just their second year as an expansion franchise, it’s expected that there will be continual growing pains. Yet, coming into this season, things felt different.
Certain roster moves, such as the acquisition of Evan Kirk and having a healthy Thomas Hoggarth joining the lineup, to name a few, made it feel like this year, the team might exceed expectations – the 2-1 start only added fuel to that fire.
However, as the losses piled up – Kirk no longer being with the team, COVID and injuries didn’t help make things any easier – Hasen and his Knighthawks were humbled week after week as they slid down the Eastern Conference standings.
All of the losing was a stark reminder of how much work still needs to be done to become a championship-contending franchise. It helped to refocus the group on the steps that need to be taken to be as successful as they hope to be.
“I started the season thinking about the wins and losses instead of the little things,” Hasen said. “After the results over the last few weeks, we’ve reset ourselves a little bit and remembered where we are in this building process. We’re a team that wants to win every time we step on the floor or else we wouldn’t be here, but, at the same time, we need to focus on doing the little things first.”
The plan is for the Knighthawks to go back to the basics, the simpler strategies. Before taking significant steps to tweak a game plan, a foundation must not only be in place but should be perfected (or at least close to it) before a team can play around with new concepts and strategies.
A couple of the simplest things this team can do is communicate with each other during the entire game and not take any of the 60 minutes of game time off.
“First and foremost, we need to make sure that we’re communicating with each other,” Hasen said. “Our coaching staff has always told our group that we can talk through things – if we’re not talking, that’s when we get ourselves into trouble.”
“What I’ve told the guys is that we need to show up on time. If you look at the last two games [before the Albany win in Week 11] against the Buffalo Bandits and Toronto Rock, we went down early and forced ourselves to have to try and get back into it. When we fall down early, we’re always chasing, and guys start to lose their rhythm.”
Knighthawks forward Holden Cattoni, who was an integral part of the Knighthawks inaugural season in 2019-20 and led the team in scoring, believes that this losing streak will benefit the club as the season flows into the must-win spring months.
“It’s good for us to have gone through that losing skid now rather than later in the year,” Cattoni said. “I think we’ll learn a lot from that and grow a lot from it. Hopefully, it’s something that we can use to our advantage if times get tough later in the year.”
Now, let’s take a step back here for a moment before we blow this four-game losing streak out of proportion; they happen more than many realize. With that in mind, the goal for an NLL team should be to try and avoid a losing streak of four or more games. It will likely be detrimental to your team’s most important goal: winning a championship. It also feels awful.
Since 2010, 21 teams have gone on to make the playoffs even after experiencing a four-game losing streak at some point during that season, but, those teams have a combined playoff record of 14-26. Furthermore, only twice did one of those teams make the NLL finals and neither went on to win the championship.
As Cattoni mentioned, one of the most critical teaching moments following a losing skid is remembering what it feels like to lose so often. If this Knighthawks team, which, mind you, is still currently right in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race, wants to be playing in the postseason, they’ll need to strive to never experience that awful feeling of losing so frequently again this year.
“I think we have to remember how we felt going into our last game [against the Albany FireWolves], especially after losing four games in a row,” Cattoni said. “I think we need to carry that with us for the rest of the year.”