NLL: Knighthawks on the move, sort of

A fans’ worst fear is hearing rumors that their beloved team may end up folding or relocating to another city. Philadelphia and Minnesota fans know this all too well, and you can add the fans of the Rochester Knighthawks to that list – sort of.

The NLL announced last week that Knighthawks’ owner Curt Styres is moving the team to Halifax, Nova Scotia for the 2019-20 season, but will leave the history and the Knighthawks’ brand to Terry and Kim Pegula of Pegula Sports and Entertainment. PSE also owns the Buffalo Bandits.

“When I took over ownership of the Knighthawks on June 19, 2008, I said that when I left, I wanted to leave the team in better shape than I found it,” said Styres. “I believe we have done that as we have added three banners to the rafters as NLL champions and made a fourth trip to the Finals last season. We have also created hundreds of new fans and introduced the game to thousands of children across western New York. Again, I cannot put into words how proud I am of everything that WE have accomplished together.”

Below is a link to the letter sent to all season ticket holders and fans on the Knighthawks’ mailing list. This was sent out just a few minutes before the press conference.

Some fans were upset as nowhere in the letter does Styres say that he is taking the organization with him, leaving fans to believe that the players and coaches they have rooted for will still be here, and that Halifax would be the expansion team that Styres would start up. That isn’t the case, however, as Styres will take the organization to Halifax at the end of this season.

Over the past 24 seasons I had the honour to make many friends in Rochester, one of whom is Melanie Bael Childers, an 18-year-season ticket holder.

I asked her about her feelings on the announcement.

“It’s some of the coaching staff I’ll miss the most,” said Childers. “Assuming they all go with the team. The guys we’ve known for 15 or more years, from their time as players here, to becoming the coaches. The guys we hung out in the suites with, both at home and on the road. Hasen. Accursi. O’Toole”.

Childers also stated, “I am glad that we will still have a team. We’ve changed ownership in Rochester before. There were rumors of Mr. Styres moving the team out of Rochester back when he first became the owner. I have to believe that he saw the passion the fans here have for the team and for the sport, and decided he couldn’t leave without making sure we would still have a team in the long run.”

Other fans may not be so forgiving. Some fans not only in Rochester but in other cities feel that Styres should leave the organization as is and start the expansion in Halifax. It will be interesting to see if there is a drop in season ticket holders and the overall attendance for this season as people prepare for the change.

The Knighthawks open their 25th year on December 8th when they face the New England Black Wolves. It will be interesting to see what type of reception the team and Curt Styres receive.

This will be Rochester’s 25th anniversary season. Through the conclusion of last season, the Knighthawks compiled a 208-144 record (118-58 home) with five championships. Three of those titles came during the historical run as the Knighthawks became the first team in the NLL history to win three in a row (2012-14).

Over the past 24 years the Knighthawks have had many rivalries with Toronto, Philadelphia and of course the infamous I-90 games with the Buffalo Bandits. Many a great player has worn the Knighthawks’ colors (excluding current roster). Casey Powell, Paul Gait, Pat OToole, Casey Zaph just to name a few.

One fan who will never give up on his Knighthawks is Tim “Knabber” Knab, the heart and soul of the Knighthawk Knation. We leave you now with his thoughts on the current situation in Rochester:

“For those of us who were kind of blindsided during the Knighthawks’ playoff run this year, I guess this day was expected but you always held out that maybe it was just unsubstantiated rumor. So, Curt Styres is taking the roster, coaches and his gracious ownership to Halifax, Nova Scotia starting the 2019 season.

He didn’t just back up moving vans to the Blue Cross Arena at midnight and clean out the lockers and storage; he made sure that Rochester was taken care of and would not be left without a team in the NLL.

That to me says volumes and whether it was his idea or the NLL’s, he had to agree to it and that leaves me with a sense that Rochester will always hold a spot in his heart as he and his family will in ours. He always preached family and I truly believe that is why he can’t fathom leaving Rochester without the team he has built.

Of course, starting over from scratch in Rochester will be something new as we originally came from the ashes of the Detroit Turbos. However, this is the city that was once the Flour Capital of the United States and now is better known as the Flower City with our Lilac Festival and world renowned arboretums.

Never feel sorry for us, we are not leaving the NLL and we are resilient, the little City that could and will. The Pegulas chose to buy Rochester and that also makes us swell with pride.

Yes, Kim Pegula grew up watching the Knighthawks that she now owns. She grew up in the suburb of Rochester called Fairport, yes the same town that Knighthawks’ Hall of Famer Tim Soudan calls home.

I remember the call in 1994 from Steve Donner asking if the MILL would work in Rochester and I said ‘Hell yeah!’ That has never changed and to all of the Knighthawks Knation reading this, I have one primary reason I’m excited about the future. I will be able to see you, my lacrosse family for 25 straight years and for years to come as we make the Rochester Community War Memorial the Barn Down by the River, the most foreboding arena in the NLL.