The Rochester Knighthawks (11-5) return home to Blue Cross Arena for their final regular season home game when they host the New England Black Wolves (4-10) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the two teams’ third and final matchup of the season on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada. The teams have split their season series so far, with New England defeating Rochester in Week 2 by a score of 17-7 before Rochester got revenge with a 15-10 win in Week 7.
The Knighthawks are coming off a West Coast weekend road trip, losing to the Colorado Mammoth 11-10 on Friday despite a fourth-quarter comeback and defeating the Vancouver Stealth 13-9 on Saturday.
“It was a tough weekend,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “We were able to play a full 60 minutes against Vancouver. You look at the schedule early and say if you can get a split out of that weekend, we’d be happy. Just the situation we’re in and what those two games meant for us as far as standings-wise, it was a little bit disappointing, but it was a good effort. A good effort after a long weekend of work.”
Last weekend also highlighted the veteran leadership of Rochester and guys stepping up in needed roles, whether it be on the offensive side of the floor or taking care of some of the dirty work.
“There’s a lot of accountability to each other in that locker room,” Hasen said. “Guys count on each other to step up in moments and come through. ‘Paulie’ (Paul Dawson) had a great shot, great transition, and he picked his spot and picked his corner real nice. At the end, ‘Daws’ (Dan Dawson) had to step up and take care of something that was happening throughout the game. When guys do that, guys feed off that. It’s a good morale boost all around for this group…
“That’s one beautiful thing about this group in that locker room. They really don’t care who it is, whoever is hot they’re going to get the ball to and just try to feed off that. Cory [Vitarelli] had a great night in Vancouver. They just kept feeding him and it kept dropping for him. The next night, it’s going to be someone else. They’ll make sure they take care of business and move the ball for them.”
This is the one and only time the Black Wolves come to Rochester this season and New England is clinging to its playoff lives.
“This is going to be a tough one,” Hasen said. “I thought (New England) played extremely well against Toronto last week. We’re going to have our hands full… We’ve got to make sure we take care of our home floor. We need to take care of a team that runs the floor very well and pushes in transition. Then they’ll get settled and get their offensive guys on the floor. They’re going to take shots from wherever at anytime. It’s going to be a big test. We’re going to have to make sure we’re at our best. We still have business to take care of, we’re still looking for first place.”
The loss to Colorado on Friday night means that the Knighthawks need to win out and get help with a Toronto Rock loss to clinch first place in the East Division.
“We still hold a little bit of our destiny in our hands,” Hasen said. “We have to come out with two solid efforts and get some help that last weekend from New England as well.”
Needing a win to stay in the playoff race, New England will make its first trip to Rochester with its season on the line.
“It certainly is a tough barn to play in, for us anyway,” stated Black Wolves head coach Blane Harrison. “I think organizationally these last couple years we haven’t had much luck up there. Personally, I still enjoy going up there. I like the atmosphere; I like the feel of the place. Hopefully, they’ll keep the out-of-town scoreboards off and we can focus on the team that’s across the way from us. If we can focus on that and take care of business, then we give ourselves a chance and keep our fingers crossed.”
“It’s certainly a special and unique place to play,” added Black Wolves defender Brett Manney. “Any time you’re playing defending champs, it’s always a good game, there’s no reason not to get up for it. We’re looking forward to the challenge that lies ahead Saturday night.”
The Black Wolves lost to the Toronto Rock 15-12 this past Friday. As usual, the pack outshot their opponent, but was unable to get enough shots to hit the back of the net. Though the shot production was routine, the lineup had a noticeable change: one of New England’s scratches was 6-foot-4 defender Bill O’Brien. O’Brien started every single game before the pack faced the Rock, but the decision to scratch him was a culmination of different elements.
“He’s been playing very well, and he’s still a rookie,” said Harrison. “We had someone who had sat out who wanted to get back in the lineup, which we thought was a better matchup to the way Toronto plays. It was more a combination of a couple things. We’re certainly not down on Bill, and we fully expect him back in the lineup this weekend.”
With just four games left this season, the Black Wolves have no more room for error. Though they are not technically eliminated from playoff contention, their hopes of taking the third and final playoff spot depend on whether or not they can make a run for the postseason. That run would need to start with Rochester on Saturday night. However, without the possibility of a midweek practice, the team is focusing on being ready mentally.
“Quite honestly, we’re an interesting team,” noted Harrison. “We’re not afforded the luxury of a midweek practice to iron some things out and to work on some of the nuances of the game. I’m not belly-aching at this point, it is what it is. We really do focus midweek on a lot of video conference calls that kind of thing, and our focus is trying to eliminate some of the mistakes that we seem to constantly make.”
“I suspect everyone in the league feels the same way, but I really feel for us, it’s a key component of our success,” Harrison said. “Admittedly, we haven’t had much of it this year from a record perspective. But I have liked the compete level. We have split with a very good Rochester team, we have had some really good luck with a very solid Buffalo team, and we’ve played Toronto tough and lost by a total of four goals over two games. I think when we kind of bear down and limit our mental mistakes, I think we can be a tough team to compete against.”
Story by Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) & Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.