The Rochester Knighthawks and New England Black Wolves are set for a rematch, once again at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. The last game on January 10 saw the Black Wolves finish with a dominating win, 17-7. That sent Rochester to a 0-2 start while New England beat most expectations to start the season 2-0. Since then, things have changed. New England was on the wrong end of lopsided losses to Edmonton and Minnesota while Rochester avenged their opening loss to Toronto, topped Buffalo and then lost a tough overtime road game in Minnesota.
These are not going to be the same teams, as both of them have experienced some lineup changes, especially among the forwards. The Knighthawks are unsurprisingly the most stable, only rotating players in one spot. Joel Matthews and Aaron Wilson both played two games until Stephen Keogh returned to the active roster for their last game. Keogh will likely get the nod for this game as he has been an integral part of the Knighthawks offense in their title runs. What also makes this match up interesting is that the Black Wolves tried signing Keogh to a deal in the offseason before the Knighthawks countered, locking him up on a four year contract. There will definitely be some respect from the New England coaching staff towards his abilities on the floor.
The Black Wolves have had much more instability on the roster in the past few games. Quinn Powless suffered a knee injury and is now in the Injured Reserved list. This brought Matt Crough up in his place for the Edmonton game and also gave Mark Cockerton his first action of the year in an attempt to get some more points on the board. Mike McNamara sat out the Edmonton game due to a suspension stemming from the extra-curricular activities (jumping in on an altercation from the bench) after the Rochester game while David Diehl sat out in favor of Jesse Fehr. This amount of turnover doesn’t account for a nine point loss, but it didn’t help things either.
The blueprint for beating New England has been established by Minnesota and Edmonton: push transition as often as possible. New England still has a very strong set defense, but they are very exposed in the reverse transition game. Evan Kirk has also been beatable between the pipes in the last few games, but the shots he has had to face are not going to lead to a high save percentage. The roster instability may not be as much of a factor as the Black Wolves were able to get some practice time in over their bye week, which is always a luxury in this league.
Rochester is not a heavy transition team, but they may run Jordan Hall out of the back door for a few shifts in an attempt to have him push the tempo a little bit more. If they can get Cody Jamieson out the door ahead of the Black Wolves’ defense, this may lead to some quick goals as well. Edmonton ran this to perfection with Ben McIntosh and Mark Matthews.
Rochester is starting to get their legs under them again and realistically should win this game. New England also has proven they can go toe to toe with Rochester and come away as victors. No matter the result, both teams will be playing with plenty of emotion. Tune into ESPN3 at 6PM EST on Sunday. It will be a great game to watch.