Rochester begins quest to continue its historic title streak in 2015
The Rochester Knighthawks made National Lacrosse League history last year as the first NLL team to win three consecutive titles when they beat the Calgary Roughnecks in a thrilling 2014 Champion’s Cup Finals. However, team president and general manager Curt Styres, along with assistant general manager Landon Miller, were not content to enter the 2015 season with the same roster as the team begins its title defense.
The Knighthawks did make sure that they kept forward Stephen Keogh, a restricted free agent, who had received an offer sheet from the New England Black Wolves. Keogh contributed 71 points (33G, 38A) in 16 regular season games, as well as 10 points (6G, 4A) in the playoffs.
On draft day however, the Knighthawks were active, and not only with drafting players. Surprisingly, Johnny Powless and Joel McCready were traded along with two picks to the Vancouver Stealth for picks, including the second overall pick of the draft.
“We have a couple of new guys out there, but we’re a veteran team trying to fit them in and show them the way that we like to play,” defenseman Mike Kirk told Knighthawks.com.
Powless was the fourth highest scoring player on the Knighthawks with 53 points (30G, 23A) in 18 regular season games and 8 points (4G, 4A) during the playoffs. McCready had 29 points (14G, 15A) in 10 games and 9 points (3G, 6A) in the playoffs. McCready played a key role in the Knighthawks’ defeat of their Thruway rival Buffalo Bandits in the Eastern Conference finals, contributing 5 points (2G, 3A) in Game Two and scoring the game tying goal in the 10-minute mini-game.
The Knighthawks used the second overall pick from the Stealth to draft Jeremy Noble from the University of Denver. Noble tallied 49 points (13G, 36A) in 19 games for the Pioneers as a senior, capping his career in Denver with 147 points (67G, 80A). Noble has a box lacrosse background as well, having won the Minto Cup three times with the Orangeville Northmen, his hometown team, in 2008, 2009, and 2012. Surprisingly, Noble announced in early December that he may hold out this season due to prior commitments with the situation now worth monitoring in the coming weeks.
The Knighthawks also brought a familiar face back into the Wolf Pack. Using a combination of their own picks and picks from the Stealth, Rochester brought back Jordan Hall from the New England Black Wolves (formerly the Philadelphia Wings). He had 76 points (34G, 42A) in 16 games in 2014. Hall previously played two seasons with the Knighthawks, including the 2012 season when they won the first of three consecutive championships.
Then prior to opening training camp in East Rochester at Total Sports Experience, the Knighthawks signed forward Gavin Prout, who is eighth on the all-time NLL scoring list with 922 poinits (301G, 621A) in 184 games. His 621 assists are good for sixth in league history. He won the Champion’s Cup with the Colorado Mammoth in 2006, scoring 25 points (10G, 15A) in three games.
Yet the core of the Cup-winning team is still intact. Cody Jamieson, who was named the 2014 NLL MVP while winning the scoring race with 108 points (36G, 72A), still paces the Knighthawks’ offense. Dan Dawson finished the regular season with 91 points (19G, 72A). Those two, along with Keogh, are the go-to guys on offense. Factor in the addition of Hall and the steady presence of Irondequoit native Joe Walters (who was involved in all three goals in the mini-game win over Calgary), and Rochester’s offense should not miss a beat even with the offseason moves.
“We’ve got a lot of guys back so I think we’re almost starting where we left off which is good,” Knighthawks captain Sid Smith added to the team’s website. “We’ve got some young guys that look good so I’m excited for the opportunity they have to make this team better.”
The defense, the backbone of the team, is unchanged. Smith continues to be a force as a defender on the backend, and goalie Matt Vinc is still at the top of his game, making key saves in the biggest moments for Rochester.
“(The defense) gives them the stops, especially with ‘Vno’ (Matt Vinc) back there,” head coach Mike Hasen told Andrea Chevalier from Knighthawks.com. “When we need him the most, he can go down to that final second. Last Championship Game, they had a big push at the end and those guys were knocking bodies down, getting in lanes and doing whatever it took to secure the win.”
The Knighthawks kick off their pursuit of a fourth-straight Champion’s Cup with a preseason game on Saturday, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. ET in the friendly confines of Blue Cross Arena with an exhibition against the Minnesota Swarm.
Rochester plays its home opener as part of NLL Face Off Weekend 2015 presented by New Era on Saturday, Jan. 3 against an East Division rival in the visiting Toronto Rock.