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Rochester and Toronto Set for Division Battle

With playoff spots at a premium this year, starting the season 0-3 is not ideal. And you certainly don’t want to drop two games in a row to the same division rival, so the Rochester Knighthawks are looking to get their first win when they visit the Toronto Rock this Saturday at Scotiabank Arena at 7 p.m.

The Rock dropped their home opener to New England but are coming off two successful road games, the second of which they won 14-11 over the Knighthawks. Toronto and Rochester have historically had quite the rivalry and even though this is a new iteration of the Knighthawks, having them start off with a home and home (even with two weeks in between) will maintain the animosity.

For head coach Mike Hasen, Saturday’s game will be about the Knighthawks finding consistency.

“That’s a lesson as a young team we need to learn,” Hasen said. “We competed well the first game. We just need to learn to stick with it and eliminate the mental lapses. The Rock are too good of a team to allow those runs they got on us the last time around.”

Toronto was bolstered in that game by a six-goal run through the second and third quarters and had a solid 9-3 lead. Rochester was able to chip away at the score with a couple of mini-runs but were unable to complete a comeback.

Rochester lost their first game to Georgia pretty badly at 14-4, but that can be forgiven since it was their very first game together as an expansion team. Their third loss was a close 14-12 game against Halifax.

It makes sense; despite having veterans like Paul Dawson, Dylan Evans and Shawn Evans on the Knighthawks, it takes time for new teams to gel. The Rock’s comradery only gets better. They’ve had four years to implement Matt Sawyer’s system which allowed them to outwork the Knighthawks in their first matchup.

The opponent is not the only factor at play here for the Knighthawks this weekend. The venue could play a part in their success or failure, too.

Hasen hopes his players can stick to lacrosse – playing in Toronto is often the biggest away game for opponents, for the large number of players from Ontario who get to play in front of friends and family. The excitement can sometimes be a distraction for visiting teams who get caught up in trying too hard.

“We hope not, but historically it will happen,” Hasen admitted. “We ask our guys to get the little things out of the way Friday and when we show up, try our best to turn off the rest of the world and worry about us. That’s easier said than done especially with such a young group as this will be their first experience here; but it’s a lesson we need to learn.”

The Knighthawks certainly don’t want to fall to 0-4 but headed into the game they’re less worried about that and more focused on playing well and building those systems that will make them successful in the future.

“Every game is important but we’re not looking at the standings and it doesn’t really matter who we play,” Hasen said. “We’re focusing on us, building and growing together as a team and making sure each week that we come in, work hard and take the lessons from each week to be better.”

How they match up

The Knighthawks’ leading scorer is Holden Cattoni with three goals and eight assists, Shawn Evans with five of each and Turner Evans with two goals and five assists. The Rock are led by Dan Craig’s six goals and eight assists and Rob Hellyer and Dan Dawson with seven goals and six assists each. In their first match, Shawn Evans and Curtis Knight had five points each while Craig and Hellyer led the Rock with four goals each.

Jay Thorimbert matched up well against former teammate Brad Kri on faceoffs and the two should have another good battle this weekend. Thorimbert won 50 per cent of his faceoffs while Kri won 62 per cent (Chris Willman and Bill Hostrawser also took three each).

In goal, Nick Rose has a big advantage over either of Rochester’s starting options. Rose is a league veteran and doesn’t easily get rattled. If there is a weakness on the Knighthawks, it’s in the cage where Steve Fryer and Craig Wende are battling for the coveted starter’s position. Fryer has proven himself a capable backup but he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to work as a starter. Wende has been a familiar name in Ontario lacrosse for several years but other than 18 minutes with Georgia in 2019, this is his first year in the NLL so he’s battling a learning curve.

Saturday’s East Division matchaup is the NLL Game of the Week, viewable for free on B/R Live in Canada and the U.S. and worldwide on Facebook and Twitter.