January 7, 2023 – National Lacrosse League - Rochester Knighthawks News releaseThe first-place Rochester Knighthawks (3-1) put their record-breaking three-game win streak at the stake tonight when they face Panther City Lacrosse Club (2-2) in their first game back after the holiday break at Segar & Sciortino field at The Blue Cross Arena. This matchup marks Rochester's first encounter with a Western Conference opponent and the only meeting between the teams in the 2022-23 season. The game will begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be broadcast live on Big 107.3 FM and ESPN+.
SEASON SERIES SNAPSHOTThe Knighthawks get their first look at Panther City tonight in the inaugural meeting between the two teams. Tonight's matchup features two of the NLL's top five offenses as both teams are currently averaging more than 10 goals per game. Rochester, specifically, has scored nearly 14 goals per game through its first three games of the season and only Halifax and San Diego have scored more coming into this week. Panther City is also the highest shooting team in the NLL, averaging 75.5 shots per game, while being the only team with more than 300 shots. Conversely, Panther City has allowed an NLL-worst 271 shots-against in its first four games. The contest also pits two of the league's up-and-coming goaltenders in Rochester's Rylan Hartley and Panther City's Nick Damude, both of whom got their start with the San Diego Seals after being drafted by the team in the 2018 NLL Entry Draft. Hartley, who's one of just two goalies without a loss on the season, is tied for the league lead with three wins while Damude paces all netminders in minutes (239) and saves (139). Four of the NLL's top five scoring rookies are also among both teams between Austin Hasen of Rochester and Jonathan Donville, Mathie Gautier and Cameron Wengreniuk of Panther City.HASEN BACK AT THE HELMLeading the Knighthawks into their third season of the expansion-era is an all-too-familiar face in head coach Mike Hasen. One of the most decorated coaches in league history, Hasen is certainly no stranger to Rochester, having previously served as head coach of the former Knighthawks franchise from 2011 to 2019. In nine seasons behind the bench with the original Knighthawks, Hasen guided Rochester to an 81-75 regular season record while leading the team to six playoff appearances. The Knighthawks also finished among the top two teams in the East Division six different times under Hasen, including each of the first five seasons (2011-2015). Hasen's most successful run at the helm of the Knighthawks came from 2012-14 when he made National Lacrosse League history by leading Rochester to an unprecedented three straight Champion's Cups. He remains the only NLL bench boss to accomplish the feat. With 90 career wins, including four last season, Hasen remains on pace to become just the sixth coach in NLL history to reach 100 career wins. Joining Hasen, who is also a four-time Mann Cup winner as head coach of the Peterborough Lakers of Major Series Lacrosse, and assistant coach Pat O'Toole for this season is Gavin Prout, who replaces Mat Giles as the team's offensive coach. Arguably one of the biggest names in the sport of lacrosse, Prout has won at all levels of competition as both a player and a coach. His distinguished resume includes league championships in the National Lacrosse League (2006) and Major League Lacrosse (2002, 2005, 2008, 2009) as well as a Mann Cup in 2000 and pair of Minto Cups in 1997 and 1999. Internationally, he's also a five-time medal winner with Team Canada, including three gold medals. Most recently, the Whitby, Ontario, native won his first medal as a coach after leading Canada to a gold medal finish at the 2022 IIJL World Junior Lacrosse Championship.LAST TIME OUTThe Knighthawks and Albany FireWolves went goal for goal for nearly the entire contest until Connor Fields' fourth tally of the night with 4:05 remaining in regulation ultimately proved to be the difference as Rochester held on for a 14-13 win over its intrastate rivals in a back-and-forth affair on Dec. 17 at MVP Arena. After being outscored 8-5 in the opening half, Rochester shifted the momentum in its favor in the second, using a second-half surge while also overcoming a pair four-goal deficits to outscore Albany 9-5 over the final 30 minutes to remain unbeaten on the season. Fields, the NLL's leading point-getter with 25 points through his first three games, paced the Knighthawks with an eight-point performance, including his third straight four-goal outing to begin the season. Curtis Knight also had his best game of the season thus far with seven points (2+5) while Turner Evans and Matt Gilray each contributed four points on a goal and three assists. Ryan Smith, the team's reigning Offensive Player of the Year, rounded out the scoring with a hat trick while rookie forward Austin Hasen chipped in four assists as Rochester extended its win streak to a franchise-best three straight games. In addition to scoring twice and adding two assists, Holden Cattoni finished with a team-high 16 shots on goal as the Knighthawks outshot Albany 64-41. Rylan Hartley finished with 28 saves in his third straight start, improving to 3-0 and helping the Knighthawks take sole possession of first place in the NLL's Eastern Conference.FIELDS TAKING FLIGHTFollowing another impressive performance in Rochester's win over Albany prior to the holiday break, Fields enters the weekend leading the NLL in scoring with 25 points while ranking second in goals (12) and tied for sixth in assists (13). By averaging eight points per game through his first three games of the season, including four goals in each, Fields is on pace to shatter his career-high mark of 67 points he set last season with the Buffalo Bandits and can likely finish the campaign with more than 140 points. He's also tied for 15th amongst league leaders with 24 loose ball recoveries. Dating back to his rookie season in 2019-20, Fields, who was originally a first-round pick (10th overall) of the San Diego Seals in 2018, has recorded at least one point in 33 of his 35 career NLL games.THE BEST OFFENSE IS A GOOD DEFENSEMuch of Rochester's early season success can be attributed to the increase in offensive production from its defensemen and transition players combined with the steady and consistent goaltending of Rylan Hartley. After setting the single-season franchise record for assists by a defenseman in 2021-22, veteran Dan Coates is off to another productive start this season with three points (1+2) in his first three games, including a goal in the win over Albany on Dec. 17. He comes into the weekend tied for fifth in scoring amongst all NLL defensemen with three points and remains only three points back of Calgary's Shane Simpson for the league lead. Tyler Halls, meanwhile, is assembling what could be a career-year for the second-year defenseman. After securing a full-time roster spot last season, Halls has emerged as one of the Knighthawks' most reliable and versatile assets among the team's defensive core. In addition to his offensive contributions, Halls recently cemented his status as the team's primary face-off specialist having gone 28-for-70 at the center dot this season, good for a .40% success rate. He recently established the new single-game franchise record for most face-off wins following his 18-win performance in Rochester's previous game against Albany, besting the 17 originally set by Jay Thorimbert and later matched by Chris Willman during the team's inaugural campaign in 2019-20. His 28 face-off wins rank fifth in the NLL while his two assists are tied for sixth-most amongst all defensive players. Additionally, his 24 loose ball recoveries are tied for most on the team and 15th overall in the NLL. Hartley has been the main catalyst to Rochester's perfect start to the season. Through three starts, Harley leads the NLL in wins (3), ranks third in saves (124) and is sixth with a .800 save percentage. He's also recorded two assists 16 loose ball recoveries.SCOUTING PANTHER CITYPanther City makes its lone trip to Rochester sporting an even 2-2 record after splitting its first four games of the season. After opening the year with a two-game sweep of Las Vegas, including holding the expansion Desert Dogs to just three goals in a Week 3 rematch, Panther City has dropped its last two, including an 11-9 setback to Saskatchewan most recently. The teams traded a pair of three-goal runs until the Rush pulled way in the fourth quarter and held on for the win. Goaltender Nick Damude made a career-high 48 saves and enters the weekend leading the NLL with 139 saves. Panther City is fueled offensively by forward Will Malcom, who leads the team with nine goals and 21 points and ranks second with 12 assists through four games. Malcom returns for his second season with Panther City after posting a breakout year with the team in 2021-22 during which he finished with 81 points on 27 goals and 54 assists, all of which ranked second on the team. In a three-game stretch from March 5 to March 19, Malcom recorded eight points in every contest, his season-high, including scoring five goals against Saskatchewan, of which included the game-winning goal. A native of New Westminster, British Columbia, Malcom was the 23rdoverall pick in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft by the Colorado Mammoth before being signed by Panther City prior to the 2021-22 season. Panther City has three of the NLL's top five scoring rookies in Jonathan Donville, Mathieu Gautier and Cameron Wengreniuk. Donville and Gautier, who rank first and second among all rookies in points and assists, respectively, were named the NLL's Rookie of the Week in back-to-back weeks. Wengreniuk, meanwhile, leads all rookies with three goals. Panther City's current roster features a trio of former Knighthawks, including one from the previous Knighthawks organization, set to make their return to Rochester. Forwards Phil Caputo and Cam Milligan were teammates briefly with the Knighthawks for the team's inaugural campaign before being reunited again in Panther City. Caputo, who was taken by Panther City with the ninth selection in the 2021 NLL Expansion Draft, led the team with 34 goals in 2021-22. Caputo managed to find the back of the net in 16 of his 17 games played, and he added 17 assists for a total of 51 points, all career-highs for a single season. Burton played parts of four seasons with the original Knighthawks franchise from 2011 to 2014, helping the team to back-to-back NLL championships during the team's unprecedented run of three straight league titles. The 12-year pro is in his first season with Panther City after spending the previous six with the Calgary Roughnecks, whom he led to an NLL championship in 2019.
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