The 2017-18 NLL season could not have started any more different for the defending NLL champion Georgia Swarm and the Rochester Knighthawks. Georgia (0-2) has struggled to get back into championship form; meanwhile, Rochester (2-0) sits in the top spot in the East Division off its two dominant performances.
Now Georgia’s potential first win of the season will have to come against arguably the hottest team in the NLL. Rochester visits Georgia at the Infinite Energy Arena on Saturday, Dec. 30 for its first road game of the season. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. ET.
Last Saturday, Georgia allowed seven goals in the fourth quarter, giving the Colorado Mammoth a 14-11 win after a tough back-and-forth battle for most of the game. The Swarm had an 8-7 lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Mammoth outscored the its visitors 6-1 in the final seven minutes of regulation to emerge victorious in its first home game.
“We’re disappointed with our record, but we own it,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “We didn’t play well enough for sixty minutes in either game to get a win, and that’s a good refresher for us to remember how hard it is to win in this league and the importance of putting together full games to get wins.”
Rochester’s Christmas weekend went noticeably better as it stomped all over the Buffalo Bandits 21-11. Dan Dawson led the Knighthawks in points that night with nine (3G, 6A), and goaltender Matt Vinc blocked 55 SOG for the win.
The quick and strong start to the season is welcome after Rochester finished with 7-11 records in consecutive seasons, and the positive atmosphere in the locker room is noticeable.
“Obviously, the results speak for themselves a little bit, but it’s been really good,” Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen said. “It’s been good since the start of camp. Guys are working and they’re working for each other, and right now, we’re seeing a bit of success on the floor.”
Now the Knighthawks look to prove that its dominance so far is no fluke against the defending champs while the Swarm uses one of the hottest teams in the NLL as a potential panacea for its slow start to the 2017-18 season.
Georgia and Rochester butted heads three times in the 2017 regular season. The Swarm took the first two contests, outscoring the Knighthawks 28-19. Having secured home field advantage throughout the playoffs and with Rochester eliminated from playoff contention, the Knighthawks took the final game of the season with a defensive 9-8 victory courtesy of a last-second empty netter.
But with a new season underway, the past is just that. Rochester’s offense sits second in the league in GF/GAME with 19. Dan Dawson (6G, 9A) and Joe Resetarits’ (5G, 9A) strong starts are complimented by 12 other Knighthawks players having scored.
Rochester’s defense continues being a strength following the 2017 season and has been nothing short of stellar, stifling the Calgary Roughnecks to only seven goals in Week 1 and holding the Buffalo Bandits to 11 last weekend. Vinc leads the NLL in all positive goalie stats, posting an 8.50 GAA and an incredible .848 SV%.
“We know (Rochester) is playing really well right now,” Comeau said. “We’re going to need to play really well, and as I said earlier, we need to play a full game. I thought we’ve played real well the first two games at times, but half a game’s don’t get you full results.”
While the results may not be what they wanted, Georgia was in the lead in its first two games before losing them later in regulation. The Swarm has been outscored 18-9 in the second half. The offense, led by 2017 NLL MVP Lyle Thompson (3G, 8A), has an 11 GF/GAME despite being mostly unchanged from the 2017 iteration which posted a 14.77 GF/GAME.
Georgia’s defense has started off strong in both contests before running out of gas in the second half. With Mike Poulin between the pipes, the Swarm has managed to hold opponents to only nine goals in the first two quarters, but the 18 it has given up in the final 30 minutes is proving to be the team’s undoing. Even with its late-game struggles, Georgia’s penalty killing unit has been perfect so far this season, killing four power plays last Saturday against the Mammoth.
As Georgia uses the motivation of not letting its slow start continue and focuses on one game at a time, Rochester is doing the same thing in the hopes it can continue its success as it tries to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“We just have to stay the course, can’t get too involved in what Georgia’s going to do or how they’re going to come out,” Hasen said. “It’s taking care of our starts and just kind of rolling from there, making sure we’re doing the right things for what we need to do.”
The Swarm will celebrate its 2017 Championship with a championship banner raising, a ring ceremony for the returning players, and a halftime performance by Atlanta-based GRAMMY® Award-winning hip hop artist 2 Chainz.
Fans can catch the game LIVE via NLLTV.com. Saturday’s matchup will also be the Twitter Game of the Week, available at live.Twitter.com/NLL.