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Thruway Rivalry: Knighthawks Host Bandits

The Rochester Knighthawks (1-2) welcome the Buffalo Bandits (3-2) back to Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET for the first edition of the Thruway Rivalry in 2015. Watch the game live on NLL LIVE (U.S.) and TSN.ca (Canada).

The Knighthawks are coming off the team’s first win of the season, defeating the Toronto Rock in a tough defensive struggle 8-6 at the BCA last Saturday night.

“It was a very good rebound for us,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “It was a tight game and we had to grind it out. It would be nice to get a few more goals in there, but it was two great defenses and two great goalies. Everybody had chances offensively… We’d love to see a few more goals go the other way and get in the net, get the offense clicking nice and early. It was just one of those games. Both teams were grinding, they were doing what it took to battle for those loose balls and retain possession… Defenses stole the show.”

“We had our struggles early on in the first two games,” said Knighthawks defenseman Paul Dawson. “So any time you can come back and settle down, keep any team to six is great, but especially when it’s a rival… The key is playing the defense we want to play… We have a system in place as a unit, and I think in the first couple of games, we were just trying to do too much and play outside of our comfort zone. As a man, we sat down and fixed our kinks.

“On Saturday, we put a whole 60 minutes together. We got back to our system which is playing big, solid, tough lacrosse. The 30-second [shot clock] violations, that’s something we strive to do. We try to limit teams’ shots, we don’t really try to force strips. We let teams run themselves out of time. As a group, we got back to how we played the last couple of years. That’s big, strong, solid ‘D’. Keep guys to the outside and let [Knighthawks goalie Matt Vinc] see those shots. I think that was the key on Saturday, and that’s going to be the key moving forward… We’re pretty happy with it, but still have a lot of work to do.”

Rochester has only played two home games this season and both have been against the Rock, so this game represents a change in scheduling, but not in intensity. This game is also a scheduling oddity in that the Knighthawks faced the Rock last weekend after Toronto had a Friday night game and now are taking on Buffalo coming off a Friday night game.

“You grind one out against Toronto and you know you have to grind one out against Buffalo,” Hasen said. “It’s going to be another tough weekend, another tough game no matter what they’re doing the night before, when Buffalo comes to town. It’s always a great place to play at, the Blue Cross Arena, and it’s going to be a tough battle right from the get-go.”

“It’s always great playing Buffalo,” Dawson said. “They bring a lot of fans to our barn and we bring a lot of fans to theirs. It’s going to be a great game. They’re going to come in hungry and we’ve still got to work on things. I think it’s going to be a great game, and it’s that rivalry.”

The Knighthawks offense has not been on point the last two weeks, not reaching the double-digit mark in either game (seven goals against the Black Wolves in New England in Week 2), but that does not worry Rochester. Nor do they believe it has to do with roster moves made during the offseason.

“It’s guys getting used to each other, it’s going to take some time,” Hasen said. “Jordan (Hall) is a totally different player than Johnny (Powless)… It’s guys coming and getting on the same page. We have moments. We had a lot of moments early the last game. All credit goes for why we didn’t get so many to Toronto’s D and B. Miller. ‘B’ made a lot of great saves and he got us frustrated early.

“The good thing about it was at the end of the day, we stuck with our principles offensively and we buried our chances late to pull it through… It’s a work in progress, it always is. That’s what this league is, game in, game out. You just find your way until you’re playing your best lacrosse hopefully in April.”

Knighthawks forward Stephen Keogh, who had something of a breakout year in 2014, has not played yet this season and coach Hasen provided an update.

“Keogh right now is still day-to-day,” Hasen said. “He’s bumped up from the summer. We’re just making sure he’s 100% ready to go. He’s receiving treatments daily, and as soon as he’s good to go, he’s going to be in there.”

After a hard-fought 15-12 home win over Minnesota on Friday night, Buffalo finds themselves in the thick of the East Division race through four weeks. Two wins during the weekend could go a long way in the playoff race later on.

“Nobody’s going to run away with this division,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “We’re 0-2 against the East, these are games we feel we need.”

The rivalry between Buffalo and Rochester is perhaps the most intense in the NLL. Both the players and coaches know how much these games mean to the fans and the standings.

Saturday night will mark the first time the Bandits play the Knighthawks this season. Last year, the Bandits’ season ended in Rochester in the sudden death overtime portion of the East Division Finals. Rochester went on to win its third-straight Champion’s Cup.

“It won’t take a lot for the guys to get motivated Saturday,” said Bandits transition player Mitch Wilde. “Especially the way our season ended last year.”

Bandits forward John Tavares has been placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and is now eligible to return in Week 8.

Story by Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) & Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.

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