NLL 2013 Preview: Rochester Knighthawks

Knighthawks fans are looking forward to seeing Casey Powell, here in a preseason scrimmage with Minnesota, back in Rochester teal. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
Knighthawks fans are looking forward to seeing Casey Powell, here in a preseason scrimmage with Minnesota, back in Rochester teal. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

How to consider the Rochester Knighthawks’ 2012 season is quite a conundrum. On the one hand, you can’t conclude a season any better than parading around your home rink with the Champions Cup, as they did in May. On the other hand, they finished 7-9 and gave up six more goals than they scored. Ultimately, as owner/GM Curt Styres and Head Coach Mike Hasen would tell you, either way they needed to improve because the teams around them would be getting better anyway. By maintaining the cores of a solid defensive unit and a group of young offensive stars and adding the Dan and Paul Dawson and Casey Powell, it’s hard to imagine it’s anything but mission accomplished on the improvement front.

Rochester Knighthawks

2012: 7-9, won Champions Cup
Top 3 returning scorers: Cody Jamieson (36-49-85), Mike Accursi (22-44-66), Stephen Keogh (26-32-58)
League leaders: Cody Jamieson, short-handed goals (4)
Key Additions: F Dan Dawson (trade), F Casey Powell (dispersal draft), D Paul Dawson (trade), T Joel McCready, T Matt Hummel (draft pick)
Key Departures: T Jordan Hall (trade), F Jarrett Davis (trade), T Pat McCready (retired), T Joel White (trade), D Kyle Laverty (holdout list)

Outlook: One of the big stories was supposed to be how Paul Rabil would fit in on the Knighthawks after they traded Jarrett Davis to get him. Instead, they welcome Dan Dawson to an already impressive list of righty forwards. In fact, with Dawson, Powell, Stephen Keogh, Craig Point and Mike Accursi back in the fold, you have to wonder where Kedoh Hill will find playing time. Considering that he’s primed for a breakout year after an outstanding summer in Six Nations, that’s really an embarrassment of riches for Rochester on the righthand side.

It’s not like the left side is weakness, either, with Cody Jamieson, Johnny Powless, Cory Vitarelli and Joe Walters. You can trot out the line about having only one ball for all those sticks, but the Knighthawks strength on offence last year derived from a team approach that saw lots of ball movement and unselfish play all around. Dawson and Powell should only enhance that. It will mostly be a question of how long it takes the group to gel. Given how slim the chance of Rochester being the only team to miss the playoffs is, as long as that happens by the end of the regular season, it’s all good. After all, last year the Knighthawks didn’t put together a three-game winning streak until the playoffs.

One key if they are to have a better regular season than last year will be the play of Matt Vinc. He had a distinctly uncharacteristic year in 2012, finishing in a tie for seventh in save percentage among goalies who played regularly (.753) and sixth in goals against average (12.21). Given that he was named the NLL’s top goalie in each of the previous two seasons, it would be surprising if he didn’t rebound to form in the new year. And he showed in the post-season, especially his brilliant performance in the title game, just how tough he can be to beat when he is on is game.

Styres and Hasen showed that they like the mix they had in place by how stable the roster remained. They gave up some good players to acquire the Dawson brothers, but it’s hard to find a way to see the trade for them as anything but a win at this point. Dan is one of the best set-up men in the game and a veteran leader to help continue the growth of the young stars up front.

On the back end, Paul brings toughness to a group that plays Hasen’s system very well. The fact that both brothers have played for the Knighthawks head coach in Brampton assures a fairly seamless transition to Rochester. They will both help to fill the leadership void left by the retirement of captain Pat McCready, as well.

They’ll definitely miss McCready, both on and off the floor, but there are plenty of players ready to step up in his absence. Defenders Tyler Burton, Dylan Evans and Mike Kirk are all solid contributors, all teammates in Brampton and all showing steady improvement. Joel McCready had to miss last season while he was completing firefighter training. He returned to the Langley Thunder in the summer and had a good year topped off by a strong showing at the Mann Cup.

Even with Ryan Cousins starting the year on the PUP list and Kyle Laverty listed as a holdout, the Knighthawks D has plenty of depth with Sid Smith, Rory Glaves and Scott Campbell back. The back end also has draft pick Matt Hummel and Jamie Batson, who played only one game for them last year but has established himself in summer ball as a solid defender. If anyone gets hurt or underperforms, they have Tom Montour, Ian Llord and rookie Cody McLeod waiting on the practice squad.

On paper, there isn’t much not to like about this Rochester team. They don’t have to wait long to move the roster from paper to the turf. Their opener in Washington is just eight days away.

Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at stamplax@hotmail.com.

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