With new jerseys, new turf, new players, and even a new mascot the Rochester Knighthawks were ready to start the 2019-2020 NLL season with a bang, but the visiting Georgia Swarm had other plans. The Knighthawks fell to the Swarm 14-4 in their home opener and inaugural game in franchise history on Saturday night at Blue Cross Arena.
The Swarm shot out to a 3-0 lead before Dan Lintner scored the first goal in Rochester Knighthawks history off of a quick shot that got past Swarm netminder Mike Poulin to make it 3-1.
A 5 on 3 powerplay for the Knighthawks looked like a great chance to cut the Swarm lead in the 1st Quarter, but they could not capitalize. The Swarm answered by scoring a few more goals of their own and a Rochester power play in the 2nd Quarter resulted in a Swarm shorthanded goal to make it 7-1.
The Knighthawks offense struggled to find rhythm on the power play as well as 5 on 5 in their first real live action as a unit. Learning each other’s tendencies takes much longer than a month of training camp. The Swarm defense pressured them hard and made finding any chemistry even harder.
“It’s tough to spot a team that good that many goals and comeback,” said Shawn Evans after the loss. “We just have to go back to the drawing board, regroup, and continue to build with each other. There’s a lot of new guys and new faces.”
Turnovers in both the offensive and defensive zones were killers all game as they gave the Swarm second chances and several fast break opportunities that turned into goals.
It was the Thompson show for the Swarm offense as brothers Lyle and Miles Thompson combined for 7 of their 14 goals. Shayne Jackson picked up a hattrick while Jordan Hall, Zed Williams, Jason Noble, and Bryan Cole also scored for the Swarm.
The Knighthawks defense struggled against the Swarm’s pick and rolls as well as stopping Swarm players getting over the top. Just like the offence, they are still learning to play with each other and being able to communicate through picks or call out where help is coming from.
“It kind of gives us a good measuring stick of where we are, where we need to be, and where we want to be,” said Captain Paul Dawson looking back on the defense’s performance. “All and all, there’s a lot of good lessons to take from this game and sometimes it’s good to kind of get whacked like that.”
Mike Poulin was incredible in net for the Swarm only allowing 2 goals on 38 shots. Swarm backup Kevin Orleman played the last 9 minutes of the game. Poulin befuddled Knighthawks shooters all night with the help of the tenacious Swarm defense.
The second half was much improved from the first for the Knighthawks. A couple late goals gave the Rochester crowd some life as Phil Caputo scored his first as a Knighthawk, Dan Michel scored his first NLL goal, and Jay Thorimbert also scored his first goal in a Knighthawk uniform.
NLL veteran Thorimbert was a bright spot for Rochester going 8 for 12 in the faceoff circle, providing a steady presence on defense, and stepping up in transition.
Knighthawks goalie Craig Wende also impressed in his first NLL start despite the score. Wende’s 44 saves helped keep the Swarm from running up the score, especially in the second half as he made several acrobatic saves.
The Knighthawks looked like what most people expect an expansion team to look like in their first game, but with their first test out of the way they are ready to improve with 17 more opportunities to come together this season.
Looking ahead, the Knighthawks now have two weeks to watch film and prepare for their next game on December 21. They will have extra incentive to bounce back as they travel to Halifax to face the former Rochester Knighthawks organization now turned into the Halifax Thunderbirds.