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 Rochester Knighthawks

'Hawks Face Must-Win against First-Place Rock Tonight

April 13, 2024 - National Lacrosse League (NLL)
Rochester Knighthawks News Release

The Rochester Knighthawks (6-9) face perhaps their toughest test of the season while looking to keep their playoff hopes alive tonight when they head north of the border to take on the league-leading Toronto Rock (13-3) at FirstOntario Centre in the NLL's featured Game of the Week on TSN. The 7:30 p.m. contest will be the lone meeting of the season between the two teams and will also be carried live on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+.


With only three games remaining in the 2023-24 regular season, Rochester remains on the outside looking in, sitting one game back of Calgary, Saskatchewan and Vancouver, who are currently engaged in a three-way tie for ninth place all with 7-9 records. Tonight is a must-win for the Knighthawks, who can finish no better than .500 with a 9-9 record, while two of their final three games are against teams that have already locked up playoff berths in Toronto and next week's opponent in Georgia. The Swarm recently became the fourth team this season to punch their ticket to the postseason party by way of a 13-9 win over Las Vegas, reaching the 10-win mark for the fourth time in franchise history.


Tonight's matchup features a tale of two teams converging at drastically different points of the season. While Toronto has been consistently dominant all year, highlighted by a pair of five-game win streaks and becoming the first team to clinch a playoff berth, Rochester's season continues to be defined by streaks of inconsistency. After winning three straight to open the month of March, a stretch highlighted by 37 goals in two games and back-to-back victories over red-hot Albany, the Knighthawks come into the penultimate weekend of the season having dropped three straight to fall out of playoff contention. It marks the first time this season Rochester was held to less than 10 goals in three consecutive contests. The Rock, meanwhile, have continued to maintain their first-place standing with five wins over their last six games, with the only loss over that span coming back on March 16 against the defending NLL champion Buffalo Bandits. Both teams are among the top four in terms of offensive efficiency with the Knighthawks (12.33) holding a slight advantage over Toronto in average goals per game (12.06). Aiding in the Rock's pursuit of their seventh NLL championship, however, is their stingy top-ranked defense anchored by veteran goaltender Nick Rose. Toronto has allowed a league-low 152 goals-against and remains the only team to have given up fewer than 155 goals-against at this point of the season. The matchup also features two of the league's top American-born point-getters in Toronto's Tom Schreiber and Rochester's Connor Fields. The Rock have claimed five of the first six meetings between the two teams and are a perfect 3-0 against Rochester at home.


A seven-goal run by the New York Riptide proved too much for the Knighthawks to overcome as they dropped a 14-9 decision to their intrastate rival this past Saturday at Segar & Sciortino Field at The Blue Cross Arena. With the defeat, Rochester, which has come up short in five of its last six home contests, shows a 4-3 record in the seven games all-time against New York. Ryan Lanchbury (3+2) had a team-high five points for Rochester, while Connor Fields (1+3), Kyle Waters (2+2) and Curtis Knight (1+2) each turned in a multi-point game. Turner Evans (0+2), Ryan Smith (2+0) and Thomas McConvey (0+2) all had two points each while Ethan O'Connor (0+1) and Matt Gilray (0+1) completed the scoring.


A remarkable milestone more than 20 years in the making will finally be achieved tonight and it's one that will neither take place on the field nor on the bench, but rather in the press box. Tonight marks the 400th consecutive broadcast for Knighthawks longtime broadcaster Craig Rybczynski, a league record that spans more than two decades dating back to 2001. The longest tenured broadcaster in league history, Rybczynski is currently in his incredible 22nd season covering the National Lacrosse League and continues to be a staple of Knighthawks lacrosse in Rochester. Following the 2019-20 season, his 19th as the radio and TV voice of the Knighthawks dating back to his time with the previous Knighthawks franchise, Rybczynski was named the recipient of the Tom Borrelli Award as the NLL's Media Member of the Year. He's been a fixture on the team's broadcasts on Big 107.3 FM as well as ESPN+ and was instrumental in leading the Knighthawks into their inaugural season. Rybczynski was behind the microphone for the last four NLL championships won by the previous Knighthawks organization and owns the distinction of calling the first and only three-peat in league history when Rochester won three consecutive titles from between 2012 and 2014.


Despite being held to fewer than 10 goals in each of their last three games, the Knighthawks still rank third in the NLL in goals per game with 12.33 behind only Buffalo and Halifax, both of whom have played more games than Rochester. Additionally, the Knighthawks are fourth in the NLL in total shots-for (1,238) but continue to pace the league in average shots per game (82.53). The only team averaging more than 80 shots per game, Rochester has outshot the opposition in 12 of its first 15 games this season, including in all but one road game. The Knighthawks have also topped the 60-shot mark on five different occasions, highlighted by a franchise-best 73 shots in the win at Panther City earlier this month. Rochester is 4-8 this season when outshooting the opponent.


Aside from what should be an offensive showdown, the matchup will also be a battle at the center dot between a pair of Rochester natives and two of the top face-off specialists in Toronto's TD Ierlan and Rochester's Joe Post. Ierlan played his high school lacrosse at Victor, where he was a two-time US Lacrosse All-American selection and led the Blue Devils to their first two of five straight Section V championships as well as back-to-back New York State titles in 2015 and 2016. Ierlan, who went to the Rock 20th overall in the 2020 NLL Entry Draft, led all NLL rookies and finished fourth in the league with 234 face-off wins during the 2021-22 campaign, the most ever by a Toronto rookie. Ierlan and Post have nearly identical numbers this season with both players recording two points and gathering 131 loose ball recoveries in 14 games. Ierlan, however, has a slight advantage over his former Section V adversary at the center dot, winning three more face-offs and owning a better overall winning percentage (72.3%) compared to Post, who's been nearly unbeatable as well. The Canandaigua native has won 240 of 403 face-off attempts for a 60.0% success rate. His 240 wins, which as of last week are a new single-season franchise record, rank fifth in the NLL while his 131 loose ball recoveries are tied with Ierlan for 11th-most. Post's 26 face-off wins against Panther City set the new single-game mark, besting the 24 he had earlier this season in Saskatchewan. Dating back to his rookie season, Post, who played his collegiate lacrosse at nearby St. John Fisher University, has won 303-of-534 career face-off attempts, good for a 56.7% efficiency rate.


A year after becoming just the third American-born player in league history to record 100 points in a season, Knighthawks forward Connor Fields has showed no signs of slowing down. Coming off his four-point effort last week against New York, Fields successfully surpassed the 100-point mark for the second straight year, joining Philadelphia's Joe Resetarits, a former Knighthawk in the previous organization, as the only two American-born players in league history to reach the 100-point mark in consecutive seasons. More impressively, Fields is closing in on back-to-back campaigns with at least 50 goals and 50 assists and recently became the only player in league history to record more than 100 points and 130 loose ball recoveries in back-to-back seasons. In addition to leading the Knighthawks in goals (44), assists (57) and points (101), Fields continues to pace all NLL forwards with 142 loose ball recoveries. Coming into the weekend just 18 points back of the league's scoring lead, Fields, who has scored two or more goals in 30 of his 32 career games as a Knighthawk, remains on track of shattering his previous career-high of 112 points and is on pace to finish the season with 120 points, making him a viable candidate for this year's Most Valuable Player.


Winners in five of their last six, the Rock return home on the heels of a 10-7 win over Albany last weekend at MVP Arena. Facing a 2-1 deficit after the first quarter, Toronto exploded for six goals in the second while veteran goaltender Nick Rose was sensational in net, limiting the FireWolves to two goals or less in all four quarters to pick up his league-leading 13th win of the season. Tom Schreiber led the Rock offense with a six-point night while Mark Matthews and Chris Boushy each scored twice in the win, Toronto's third straight in which they held the opposition to fewer than 10 goals. Matthews, who's in his first season with the Rock following a decade with Saskatchewan, has proven to be a valuable addition to Toronto, leading the team with 59 assists and 86 points, good for 15th in scoring in the NLL. A contender for NLL Goaltender of the Year, Rose, who leads all netminders with a .927 goals-against average, needs just one more win to surpass Rochester assistant coach Pat O'Toole for second all-time.

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