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Rochester Knighthawks Game Preview: Sunday, March 12 at Georgia

March 12, 2023 – National Lacrosse League (NLL) – Rochester Knighthawks News Release

The Rochester Knighthawks (8-3) wrap up their two-game road swing looking to get back in the win column this afternoon as they make their way south for an Eastern Conference showdown against the Georgia Swarm at Gas South Arena. The 4:00 p.m. matinee will be the second of three meetings between the two teams this season and will be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.


Tonight’s matchup features a tale of two teams as the Knighthawks, who opened the season with six straight victories, including three on the road, go up against a Georgia team in search of its third straight win after going winless through its first seven matchups. More importantly, though, the contest will be a special teams battle as the league’s second-best power-play unit matches up against the top penalty kill. Through nine games this season, the Swarm have gone 23-for-28 on the power-play for a 61.2% conversion rate that is second behind only Buffalo. Georgia’s 23 power-play goals this season lead all Eastern Conference teams and rank fourth-most overall. For the third straight week, Rochester has the top penalty kill in the league after successfully killing off 6-of-8 shorthanded situations over that span. Anchored by goaltender Rylan Hartley, the Knighthawks have allowed a league-low 12 power-play goals-against on 37 shorthanded scenarios, good for an NLL-best 68% efficiency rate. A win today over Georgia would give Rochester a 2-0 advantage in the season series after defeating the Swarm 16-11 in the season-opener between the two teams back on Dec. 3. The win, which would be the first of a franchise-best six straight for the Knighthawks, featured a memorable debut for newcomer Connor Fields, who recorded a season-high 10 points on the strength of four goals and six assists on his way to earning NLL Player of the Week honors opening weekend. Fields scored a natural hat trick as part of a seven-goal run to begin the second half during which Rochester outscored Georgia 10-2 over the final 30 minutes. Rookie forward Austin Hasen also had his performance of the season, scoring twice on five shots en route to being named the NLL’s Rookie of the Week for Week 1.


Leading the Knighthawks into their third season of the expansion-era is an all-too-familiar face in head coach Mike Hasen. One of the most decorated coaches in league history, Hasen is certainly no stranger to Rochester, having previously served as head coach of the former Knighthawks franchise from 2011 to 2019. In nine seasons behind the bench with the original Knighthawks, Hasen guided Rochester to an 81-75 regular season record while leading the team to six playoff appearances. The Knighthawks also finished among the top two teams in the East Division six different times under Hasen, including each of the first five seasons (2011-2015). Hasen’s most successful run at the helm of the Knighthawks came from 2012-14 when he made National Lacrosse League history by leading Rochester to an unprecedented three straight Champion’s Cups. He remains the only NLL bench boss to accomplish the feat. With 95 career wins entering the weekend, including four last season, Hasen remains on pace to become just the sixth coach in NLL history to reach 100 career wins. Hasen recently surpassed legendary head coach Les Bartley for sixth all-time following the win over Halifax on Feb. 11. By season’s end, Hasen will also have coached more than 200 professional games, becoming the second this season behind Georgia’s Ed Comeau, who previously served as head coach of the original Knighthawks franchise, and only the fifth head coach in NLL history to do so.


On a night where Connor Fields set the franchise’s single season scoring record, the Knighthawks came up short in a back-and-forth defensive battle with the Toronto Rock, falling 9-8 to their Eastern Conference rival last Saturday at FirstOntario Centre. Both teams, which entered the contest sporting 8-2 records, went goal for goal up until the final minute of the third quarter when the Rock went on a four-goal run to ultimately pull away in the fourth quarter en route to their eighth straight win. Fields turned in yet another impressive performance, factoring in on seven of Rochester’s eight goals while also finishing with a team-high 15 shots on goal. By scoring twice and adding five assists, Fields set the franchise’s single season scoring record with 66 points, surpassing the previous mark of 63 established by Holden Cattoni during the 2021-22 campaign. Rylan Hartley made his 11th consecutive start between the pipes, establishing a new single-game record with a season and career-high 56 saves.


Rochester’s 11-10 overtime win over New York on Feb. 25 ended up being the second-longest game in NLL regular-season history with a duration of 74:02, falling 2:04 short of the league record just over 13 years ago to the day. The Boston Blazers and Orlando Titans played the longest game in league history on Feb. 20, 2010, finishing in 76:06. The game was also Rochester’s first this season that went beyond regulation. The Knighthawks are 2-3 all-time in overtime dating back to their inaugural campaign.


For the second straight year, the Knighthawks are dipping into the local talent pool after agreeing to terms with defenseman and face-off specialist Joe Post on a one-year deal for the remainder of the year. A native of Canandaigua, Post is one of the most decorated players to come out of Division III St. John Fisher University in Rochester, where he was a two-time USILA All-America First Team selection and holds NCAA Division III all-time records for career face-off wins (1,250) and groundball recoveries (854). A four-time Empire 8 All-Conference honoree, he also owns the distinction of becoming just the second player in program history to be crowned Empire 8 Conference Player of the Year. In 78 career games with the Cardinals, Post scored 17 goals and added 10 assists for 27 points. He also won 1,250-of-1,755 face-off attempts, good for a. 704 winning percentage. He won more than 200 face-offs in four of his five seasons and topped the 300-mark twice, including 336 during his sophomore campaign, while helping Fisher to three straight NCAA National Championship tournament appearances. Post becomes the second Rochester native to sign with the Knighthawks, joining Pittsford’s Jared Conners (2021-22).


It should come as no surprise by now that the Knighthawks have one of the elite offensive tandems in the NLL in forwards Connor Fields and Ryan Smith. Rivaling that of Buffalo’s Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne, the duo has combined for 54 goals and 114 points so far this season, even connecting on four of Rochester’s 11 goals in the overtime win against the Riptide on Feb. 25. Following his 10th straight multi-goal effort to begin the season, Fields enters the weekend ranked third in the NLL in goals (33), trailing only New York’s Jeff Teat and Toronto’s Tom Schreiber in that category, and sixth in points (66) despite missing one game. By averaging nearly seven points per game through his first 10 games of the season, highlighted by four straight weeks of four-goal efforts, Fields is on pace to reach the 100-point mark for the first time in his pro career. He needs just one more point to match his previous career-high mark of 67 set last season with Buffalo and is a mere three goals away from setting the new single-season mark for the Knighthawks, currently held by Smith (35). Dating back to his rookie season in 2019-20, Fields, who was originally a first-round pick (10th overall) of the San Diego Seals in 2018, has recorded at least one point in 40 of his 42 career NLL games, including at least two points in all 10 games so far this season. After taking his first season in the NLL by storm, Smith has picked up where he left from a year ago. Smith, who last season was one of only four rookies to reach the 50-point mark, ranks third on the team in goals (21) and points (48) in 11 games. He’s also tied for third in the league with a team-best eight power-play tallies. Smith, who successfully reached the 100-point mark in only 27 career games, the fastest in franchise history to do so, led all NLL rookies and set the single-season franchise record with eight power-play goals last season on his way to earning All-Rookie Team honors. Rochester is 4-1 this season when both players score at least twice in the same game.


Much of Rochester’s first-half success can be attributed to the increase in offensive production from its defensemen and transition players combined with the steady and consistent goaltending of Rylan Hartley. Matt Gilray currently ranks seventh in scoring amongst all transition players with 16 points and continues to lead the league with three-game winning goals. Coming off his three-goal performance against New York on Feb. 25, Brad Gillies remains at a close second with 13 points after recording at least one point in nine of his first 11 appearances. Tyler Halls, meanwhile, is assembling what could be a career-year for the second-year defenseman. After securing a full-time roster spot last season, Halls has emerged as one of the Knighthawks’ most reliable and versatile assets among the team’s defensive core. In addition to his offensive contributions, Halls recently cemented his status as the team’s primary face-off specialist having gone 99-for-280 at the center dot this season, good for a 35.4% success rate. He also established the new single-game franchise record for most face-off wins following his 18-win performance in Rochester’s win at Albany on Dec. 17, besting the 17 originally set by Jay Thorimbert and later matched by Chris Willman during the team’s inaugural campaign in 2019-20. His 99 face-off wins rank 11th in the NLL while his six assists are tied for 15th-most amongst all defensive players. The young Hartley has been a mainstay between the pipes for the Knighthawks and the catalyst to Rochester’s 8-3 start to the season. Through 11 starts, Hartley is second amongst all netminders in minutes (661) and saves (465) and sits third in wins (8) entering play this weekend.


After opening the season with seven straight losses, the Swarm have won two straight following back-to-back wins over Albany, including a 20-4 thrashing over the FireWolves on Feb. 25 for their first win of the year. Former NLL champion and league MVP Lyle Thompson continues to pace Georgia’s offense with 25 goals and 53 points while Andrew Kew leads the team with 30 assists in nine games this season.

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