The Rochester Knighthawks announced today that they have re-signed forward Joel Matthews to a one-year deal. The Knighthawks are bringing back the feisty forward after he posted career numbers in 2015.
“It’s the best feeling. There is nowhere I would rather play,” said Matthews. “Playing with the Knighthawks last year was above and beyond my expectations.”
Last season, the 24-year-old notched career highs in goals (4), assists (9), points (13) and loose balls (17) en route to Knighthawks Rookie of the Year honors. His two best offensive games came in home wins over Toronto and Calgary. In his Knighthawks’ debut, he collected one goal and one assist in an 8-6 victory over the Toronto Rock on January 24th. Then on February 28th, he tied his career high with two assists and three points in a 12-11 win over the Roughnecks. With Matthews in the lineup, Rochester was an impressive 6-0.
“Joel is a big body who can move players and create space for himself and others,” said Knighthawks forward Cody Jamieson. “He has a nice scoring touch and a little mean streak. He is a power forward who can do everything well. He is also a great guy in the locker room and off the floor.”
“Joel has that youthful love for the game that is contagious around the team,” added Knighthawks assistant coach Paul Day. “He was a great addition and the sky is the limit for him. We look forward to him taking the next step.”
The St. Catharines, Ontario native was an instant hit on and off the floor. Not only did he deliver punishing checks on the turf, but he also made sure to engage the fans in the stands. It was not uncommon to see him throwing balls into the seats after warmups to youth lacrosse players. In the East Division Finals at the Air Canada Centre, he even climbed the stairs to the Knighthawks’ cheering section to greet fans and take selfies.
“If those fans weren’t paying the money to come to the games, I wouldn’t be able to do this on the weekends,” he said. “One of my favorite parts about the Rochester Knighthawks is we go on the floor (after the games), and socialize with these people. It’s indescribable. I get Facebook messages and tweets, and comments on my Facebook page supporting me. They are just the best fans ever. Anything I can do for them is huge.”
Rochester first signed Matthews on December 21, 2014. The forward played two games in 2014 for the Buffalo Bandits and registered two goals and four loose balls in a pair of games against the Knighthawks. Matthews was a wrecking ball in those contests and added a spark to the right side of the offense, which was something the Knighthawks were looking for heading into the season. After playing for the rival Bandits in 2014, Matthews was skeptical when he first met the team at their practice facility in Six Nations.
“My first two games were against them, so I thought everyone there would hate me,” he said jokingly. “But it was kind of the opposite. Everyone was so welcoming. It’s just a great organization and it’s run how a professional sports team should be run. I am super thrilled to be back.”
To say Matthews enjoyed the 2015 season would be an understatement. He took in the full NLL experience, from taking his first flight to a road game to sitting alongside some of his childhood idols each week. What he didn’t chronicle with cell phone photos, he replayed in his head when asked about the 2015 campaign.
“Inside I am like a kid in a candy store. I have looked up to guys like Dan Dawson, Cody Jamieson, Craig Point and Matt Vinc since I was 10 years old. I am trying to be mature and calm, but now I am sitting in the same locker room and sharing this experience with them,” said Matthews. “It’s unbelievable. I get paid to do something that I love. I can’t say enough good things about it.”
After an impressive first year in Rochester, Matthews is gearing up for the upcoming season. He has been making frequent trips to the nearby gym, combining a CrossFit program and a classic body building program. He has bulked up from 205 to 220, while still maintaining his speed and agility. For Matthews, the season can’t come soon enough.
“I think about it all the time. It’s all I think about. I am excited to come in this year in even better shape and with a more well-rounded game,” he said. “I want to come in much bigger and a little bit tougher. If I have to be the guy who needs to go out there setting hard picks and getting inside guys’ heads, as long as I am in shape, I think I can earn a spot on the team.”