The Rochester Knighthawks found themselves in the unusual position of looking up at the .500 mark and chasing the Buffalo Bandits in the standings when they arrived on Saturday for their game with the Bandits.
Rochester has not had a losing record and been behind the Bandits in the same year since 2010. The Knighthawks have won three National Lacrosse League championships since then.
“It’s 18 games of a learning experience,” Rochester coach Mike Hasen said about 2016. “The one thing about us now is that we’ve got a lot of young guys. In the past, that’s something we haven’t had. We’ll have those bumps along the road, but it will make us better. We know who we are, and what we’ve got to do.”
The Knighthawks’ problems so far have been part of a mixed-up year in the NLL, especially in the East Division. New England, which beat powerful Saskatchewan on Friday night and Toronto on Saturday, shows no signs of going away.
The Black Wolves remained a game behind the Bandits after Saturday’s games were completed. Meanwhile, Toronto is unexpectedly in the basement. Hasen believes that’s another sign of the parity within the league.
“It’s been that way for a few years now,” he said. “Any given team, if they come out a little sharper, is going to come out on top. It’s how close the league is. Like a couple of years ago in the playoffs against Buffalo, it came down to a post. A different bounce and they’re in and we’re out.
“The regular season is a case of 18 games in which we make sure we’re better each time we come out. We try to be better each and every weekend.”
The Knighthawks geared up for the stretch run by making a trade at the deadline with Georgia. Rochester sent a draft choice to the Swarm for Josh Gillam and Joe Maracle.
“We’re excited, it’s added some depth,” Hasen said. “We’re a little banged up. That’s not a secret. We’ve lost some man-games this season. It’s two guys that will make us better. Josh Gillam has some experience in this league.”
Rochester still has a little breathing room in the playoff race, as it is in third place in the division – ahead of Georgia and Toronto. But the Knighthawks are two games under .500 for the first time this season.
“You look at the standings, and you get caught up trying to worry about everyone else,” Hasen said. “We just have to worry about playing our best lacrosse.”
The Bandits’ offense has taken some of the pressure off the defense with its high-scoring ways this season. In Saturday’s game, the defenders more than did their share to help an offense that had some problems.
The list of goal scorers not only included the heroes of the final minutes, Kevin Brownell and Steve Priolo, but such players as David Brock, Alex Kedoh Hill and Jay Thorimbert. Those goals in transition provided a huge lift.
“That’s probably the easiest offense that you’re going to get, when you have those breakaways, or the two-on-ones,” Buffalo coach Troy Cordingley said. “That’s about the hardest situation for a goalie to stop - the guy coming that fast at you. Our transition was on tonight for sure.”
The defense had enough to do on the night, as injuries popped up during the game. Andrew Watt hurt his knee and Matthew Bennett missed some time.
“They were tired. They were gassed,” Cordingley said about the defenders.
The Bandits say they’re content with the roster they’ll have for the rest of the year. They only made one minor move at the recent trade deadline, sending Jerome Thompson to Georgia for a low draft choice. Thompson had trouble getting playing time this season.
“We had some offers that weren’t very good,” Cordingley said. “We are very happy with our team. We feel we are very deep. A lot of other teams also feel good. That’s why there wasn’t a lot of movement. It’s a nine-team league, and that’s why you usually don’t see many trades.”