A new era is dawning in Rochester for the Knighthawks as they prepare for the 2012 National Lacrosse League season. And for as much as having a finalized roster does to get a team ready, there are plenty of questions the Knighthawks can’t answer until their young offensive unit is facing live game situations. That’s where the Knighthawks find themselves today after a series of trades over the last season or two puts them in a position where the veteran sticks up front are few. Make no mistake about the talent that’s there, though. It’s young and dynamic, but how it all comes together and how quickly it gels is the priority for Rochester if it has plans on contending for a 3rd NLL championship. Turn the page to get the lowdown on what to expect from Rochester in 2012.
2011: 10-6, lost in first round of playoffs
Top 3 returning scorers: Cody Jamieson (28 goals, 25 assists for 53 points), Craig Point (20-27, 47), Mike Accursi (21-24, 45).
League leaders: Casey Powell (14 power-play goals), Matt Vinc (.794 save percentage and 585 saves)
Key additions: F Andy Secore, D Ryan Cousins, F Casey Powell, F Alexander Kedoh Hill, T Brad Self.
Key departures: F Shawn Williams, F Shawn Evans, G Aaron Bold.
Outlook: Knighthawks Nation is squirming a bit as the 2012 NLL season approaches, and can you blame it? The comfort zone of familiarity is gone, long gone. It started with the trade last season of John Grant Jr. and continued this past offseason with trades that sent away Shawn Williams and Shawn Evans, all 3 of whom are easily regarded as top offensive talent in the league. What the Knighthawks are left with up top is a group of talented but very young forwards and it’ll be very interesting to see how that core responds.
The Knighthawks did pick up a veteran stick in Casey Powell in the Boston Blazers dispersal draft, but CP’s given no indication he’ll play this season. Another veteran forward, Craig Point, was put on injured reserve this week so that leaves the offense with just 2 proven veterans in Mike Accursi and Jordan Hall. Another veteran is Andy Secore, who came over in the trade that sent Williams and backup goalie Aaron Bold to Edmonton. But he’s never played with Rochester and was put on the physically unable to perform list. So the Knighthawks will be putting a lot of stock in their stable of very talented but very young forwards.
Cody Jamieson and Jarrett Davis are in their second season and Jamieson, who came in last year as the top overall entry draft pick, will be the No. 1 option. He’s got the talent and the drive to succeed in the spotlight and he was capable last season in winning the rookie scoring title by a single point over Calgary’s Curtis Dickson. But you get the sense that he can produce more and there were rumblings that he wasn’t completely healthy. Talk this year is that Jammer is 100% and if his 6-goal performance against Minnesota in Saturday’s exhibition game is any indication, he’s ready to roll.
Forwards Stephen Keogh and Johnny Powless both are rookies through the entry draft, but bring different worlds to Rochester. Keogh’s had plenty of Junior A experience in Toronto and put in his paces as a solid NCAA scoring option at Syracuse. Powless, however, is just 18 years old. Still, he’s got a world of talent and had 5 pre-season assists, 4 of them coming in the win over Philadelphia. In going 2-0 in their exhibition games, the Knighthawks did display a balance on offense, especially against Minnesota as 10 different players combined for the 19 goals scored in that game.
One of those 10 players was Brad Self, who scored 3 goals and is being counted on in his role as a transition player. He’s back in the NLL for the first time since 2008 after giving pro hockey a try and Rochester’s patience with Self just may pay some rewarding dividends. Beyond Self, there are plenty of reasons for the Knighthawks to be optimistic in its transition game even though second-year man Joel McCready is on the hold-out list for job-related reasons. The steady Chris Schiller is back for an 11th season and Joe Walters, who struggled last season and played just 5 games after sitting out many as a healthy scratch, could be a surprise after playing some ball this summer in helping the Brampton Excelsiors win the Mann Cup. Rookie Joel White, out of Syracuse University, has the tools to contribute as well.
That leaves the defense, which should be in good shape with a solid mix of youth and experience. Of course, it all starts with goalie Matt Vinc, who has emerged as perhaps the top keeper in the game today. He put up some sparkling numbers in seasons past with the Titans and many wondered if those weren’t the product of a defensive system. Vinc answered those questions by leading the league in save percentage and total saves so he’s shown that he can do the work himself when needed. Working in front of Vinc will be NLL Defender of the Year Pat McCready, who signed a 1-year deal with the team on Wednesday. Scott Campbell is an athletic defender who will bring plenty of speed out of the back end and Mike Kirk, another dispersal draft pick, should have a solid and immediate impact. Sid Smith, Kyle Laverty, Rory Glaves and Tyler Burton are all very capable defenders and the unit’s work last year gave up just 159 goals, tied with Buffalo for second-fewest in the NLL behind Boston’s 155.
From the back end out should be Rochester’s strength. The defense is experienced enough and mobile enough to move the ball. Once the ball reaches the front door, however, is the question the Knighthawks need to answer, and quickly. At least 6 of the 9 forwards are in their first or second NLL season, so how quickly that youth develops will be instrumental in how much winning the Knighthawks do this season.
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