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Season Preview: Rochester Knighthawks

The 2014 season brought the Rochester Knighthawks their third straight Champion’s Cup, but there was more to it than that. While it was the third straight time the team had successfully navigated the postseason, it was the first year of the three where the team looked like a juggernaut during the regular season. That is a big difference when assessing Rochester’s chances of making it four in a row. This is a team that had won back to back titles and then got better. The question now is: have they managed to do the same thing again? The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but the Knighthawks certainly don’t look like they’ve weakened themselves, even with trading away Johnny Powless. That’s a testament to how thorough a job Curt Styres does as the team’s general manager, and it bodes well for another strong season for the K’Hawks.

2014 record/playoffs: 14-4 in regular season, 4-2 in playoffs (including mini games)

Top 3 returning scorers: Cody Jamieson (36 goals, 72 assists for 108 points), Dan Dawson (19/71/90), Joe Walters (15/26/41) [Note: Stephen Keogh (33/38/710 is currently on the Physically Unable to Perform list but is still on the roster]

Key additions: Jordan Hall (F), Aaron Wilson (F), Chris Attwood (F)

Key losses: Johnny Powless (F, traded), Joel McCready (F, traded), Mac Allen (D, injured), Mike Accursi (F, retired)

Outlook: The Powless trade is a fascinating study in how Styres and the Knighthawks conduct their business. They gave up plenty in Powless and Joel McCready along with the 9th and 23rd picks in this year’s draft to get the 2nd and 11th picks this year. Not to be overlooked, though, is that the Knighthawks also receive a first-round pick in next year’s extraordinary draft as well as a first-rounder in 2017. That helps to set them up for continued success, which is clearly something that Styres always has his eyes on.

Losing Powless stings because he’ll be good for a long time, but does it really hurt Rochester this year? I have to say no it doesn’t because of the pickup of Jordan Hall from New England later on draft day. Hall significantly outscored Powless last year (34/42/76 to 30/23/53) and he is a more refined player at this stage of their careers. The fact that Hall spent two years with Rochester before he was traded to the Wings, where he spent a pair of seasons, suggests that it shouldn’t be a major struggle for him to find chemistry with the team.

In fact, the loss of McCready may be harder to overcome in the short term because he brought an off-ball game and some intangibles that are tough to replace. Aaron Wilson is an excellent off-ball player as well, but doesn’t bring the same kind of interior banging that McCready was known for. Neither does Chris Attwood, who is extremely talented but is definitely more of a shooter than a player who will create space for others.

The fact that second overall draft pick Jeremy Noble’s work situation precludes him from joining the Knighthawks obviously doesn’t help, but the additions of Wilson and Attwood help to soften that blow. The Knighthawks should still be good enough offensively, as they were in 2014 when they scored 210 goals, fourth in the league.

Despite the excellence of league scoring champion and MVP Cody Jamieson and his cohort up front, though, it was in their own end where the Knighthawks really made their mark last year. They allowed just 167 goals, more than only the Edmonton Rush. And they haven’t changed much in the back end.

Rochester has almost their whole defensive lineup returning and once again they’ll be doing their thing in front of now four-time goalie of the year Matt Vinc. While Brad Self begins the season on the PUP list, the Knighthawks D corps is still a deep and team-oriented unit that doesn’t have a lot of players who get star recognition but is full of guys who buy into what the team is trying to do and who do it well. Sid Smith may be one of the most underrated players in the league. The captain is a reliable defence-first player who epitomizes the Rochester approach of just doing what needs to be done.

Throw in other players who may not get the recognition they deserve, like Dylan Evans and Mike Kirk, and you have a group that will make it difficult for opponents to get the shots they want for another season.

An awful lot of things have to go right for a team to win a Champion’s Cup title, so the stars aligning for Rochester to win a fourth in a row seems to be asking a bit much. But when you look at their roster and factor in what is clearly one of the best coaching staffs in the game, do you see anything that says they can’t do it again?

Story courtesy of Stephen Stamp on ILIndoor.com.