The Rochester Knighthawks were pretty pleased with their 2018 season, coming out of a scarily tight Eastern Division in second place before advancing to the NLL Finals where they fell in three games to the Rush. Despite the good finish, it was a season-long fight with every other team in the East, a fight which has now gotten bigger with the addition of the Philadelphia Wings. The ‘Hawks are entering their 25th season in Rochester, one which is sure to be bittersweet whatever the outcome as the team – well, the players and ownership – will be moving to Halifax for 2020 while the Knighthawks will be rebuilt as an expansion team.
The ‘Hawks have added seven new players to their roster this season despite a lack of offseason movement – they made no trades. They lost only three players – Josh Currier and Frank Brown in the expansion draft, and Matt Vinc to free agency, while adding three rookies from the draft and four free agents. Sixteen players are returning. They will start the season without Eric Fannell (PUP) and captain Sid Smith (IR).
Rochester’s offense will again be led by American scoring champ Joe Resetarits, who reached the 100-point plateau last season and set the record for Americans in the NLL. Youngsters Austin Shanks and Kyle Jackson will continue to hone their skills with a healthy Cody Jamieson to guide them. Nine-year Knighthawk Cory Vitarelli will be counted on to provide scoring support in the form of his usual highlight-reel goals. Quinn Powless needs to have a big year and show he can contribute enough points to remain at the pro level. Langley Thunder product and fifth-round draft pick Dylan Riley will get a shot on the ‘Hawks right side to start the season. Pat Saunders rounds out the offensive corps. Saunders played one game for the ‘Hawks in 2009 before bouncing around the league. His best year was in New England in 2016 when he put up 44 goals and 76 points.
2018 defender of the year Graeme Hossack returns to lead the defense. Other veterans include Paul Dawson, Ian Llord and Brad Gillies. The Knighthawks have Jake Withers returning to take their face offs. Withers, of course, set the record for rookie face off wins in 2018 and finished with a 67%-win average. Eric Shewell enters his second year on the ‘Hawks roster after winning a second-consecutive Canadian senior championship with teammates Vitarelli, Llord and Withers. Darryl Robertson was signed after being released by the Rock, and rookies James Barclay and Luke VanSchepen are being thrown right into the fire on the active roster.
Angus Goodleaf has some big shoes to fill with Vinc’s departure. Vinc led the Knighthawks to their three-peat between 2012 and 2014 and won the NLL goaltender of the year award six times. Goodleaf has played 10 years in the league but only once played over 200 minutes in a season, so suddenly being thrust into the starting role will take some adjusting. He’s ready, though, and already has the fans behind him. Through his relief work he’s garnered a 10.38 GAA and .784 save percentage. Warren Hill of the Six Nations Chiefs will serve as backup. Hill has had an impressive campaign for the Chiefs, with a 9-2 record over three season, despite not getting a lot of starts.
Cam Milligan – Offense
Brandon Robinson – Offense
The Knighthawks’ lack of moves indicates they’re content with the squad that got them to the NLL Finals. They’ve replaced what they needed to without disrupting the core players that got them to that point. They have a much-desired mix of veterans and youth to ensure that they’ll remain competitive in future seasons.
However, competition will be even tighter this season than last. The rival Buffalo Bandits made a dearth of moves, acquiring several high-profile players on both offense and defense, while also enticing Vinc away from the teal and purple. The Bandits finished last in 2018 and lost the season series to the Knighthawks 3-1. They don’t want that to happen again.
The Knighthawks also have to contend with a younger Toronto Rock squad, a confident New England team, an ever-dangerous Swarm team that added sharpshooter Holden Cattoni and the upstart Philadelphia Wings who are looking to make a statement during their return to the league.
It will remain to be seen whether the Knighthawks made just enough moves to keep up with, and surpass, the competition as they look for a second straight trip to the NLL Finals. Winning the championship would put a cap on a very special 25th season.