With the Rochester Knighthawks’ inaugural season just over a month away, it should come as no surprise that the squad is gearing up and getting ready to take on training camp this weekend leading up to Opening Night on Nov. 30.
Earlier this week we had the chance to sit down and talk with the Knighthawks general manager and vice president of lacrosse operations, Dan Carey, on what we can expect to see in training camp and beyond from this brand-new team.
Knighthawks training camp begins over the course of the next three days and range from strength tests to intersquad scrimmages on their new turf. In such a short amount of time, there’s a lot to accomplish for the new organization as a whole.
On top of training camp, there are scrimmages and practices in which Carey and his staff have to look forward to while putting the finishing touches on the new-look Knighthawks team come November. This weekend is just a small sample size of the overall product the Knighthawks are looking to produce over the course of the 2019-20 season.
Friday: First things first, the players need to get their physicals and signed off by the doctors to ensure that they are physically able to perform this weekend. Following their check-ups, the players will go through physical and strength testing, giving them an opportunity to show exactly where they’re at on the physical side of the game.
Between endurance, agility and strength testing, Friday night will give the coaching staff a proper gauge on where each player ranks in each of those perspective categories.
Saturday: Saturday will consist of two practices for the squad, one in the morning and one in the evening with a meet and greet with fans sandwiched in-between.
From 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, this will be the first time the coaching staff will really see their selected players in live action. Carey sees this specific practice as an opportunity to get the guys accustomed to the speed of the National Lacrosse League practice, get their legs going and compete against one another.
The second go-around of the day will more than likely consist of an intersquad scrimmage or two. With 38 players on the Knighthawks current squad, this enables the staff to split the guys up into two separate rosters during training camp, which seems to be extremely beneficial when looking for newfound team chemistry.
“Ultimately, trying to find chemistry in a short time is important. We will be mixing up the rosters and having certain players play with and against each other throughout the weekend,” noted the Knighthawks general manager when asked how to get the guys to mesh in such a short period of time.
Sunday: With just one session on Sunday morning, Carey looks to have a final practice like that of Saturday night. The more the players can face-off against one another on various rosters, the more the staff can tell who is and isn’t going to mesh with the organizations style of play. From 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., the 38 players on the current Knighthawks roster will have their final shot at displaying their skillset and impress the staff with what they can bring to the table for the inaugural season.
Focusing on the positional breakdown of lacrosse, things could go one of two ways – divide the roster into four different positions or keep it simplistic at three. Carey simplifies the style of his team by seeing that transitional players also act as “offensively smart defensemen”, or guys that can play both sides of the 30-second shot clock. This style of play is extremely important with players constantly changing on the fly in the game of box lacrosse. It can help enable the offensive players to take advantage of the field of play for just a little longer when trying to transition the possession of the ball.
“Ultimately, with the 30-second shot clock, you use that as a guide and a gauge for who’s playing at what time. Similar to hockey, you have players changing on the fly,” said Carey when asked why he breaks down his crew the way that he does.
Looking further into the style of play we’ll see from the Knighthawks the season, Carey went even more in-depth on how he’ll want his players to play the field no matter if his team has possession of the ball or not.
“If we have possession of the ball, we’ll have five offensive players out there on the turf playing against the opposing team’s defensive players. We’ll go through that 30 seconds, sometimes it’s 15 and sometimes it’s 20 depending on the situation. As soon as we lose possession of the ball, they’ll try to transition the ball up the floor quickly in certain situations. Defensemen, or transition players, will run the ball up and expose our offensive players to stay on the floor.”
Now for the overall breakdown, and who to keep your eyes on throughout the course of the upcoming season, we examine the three main positions, starting with the goaltenders.
The goalie situation for the Knighthawks is as unique as it comes, especially considering the group that was brought in to cover this specific position. With a trio made up of Steve Fryer, Ryan Hartley and Craig Wende, expect to see each of these individuals fighting for a starting role in net, as all of them have only seen time as backup netminders. Now is their chance to transition into a starting role for a brand-new team.
At 29-years-old, Fryer has seen much time in the NLL prior to coming to Rochester, including a stint with the Colorado Mammoth over the last two seasons, which is where he and initially crossed paths. Although Fryer has seen more shots as a backup goalie, when he has been presented with the opportunity to see game action, he’s shown that he’s capable of starting in the NLL.
After spending the last two years watching Fryer, Carey feels strong about the opportunity that lies ahead for the veteran goaltender.
“I believe, and we believe as a staff, that he is ready for an opportunity to come in and earn a starting spot in this league.”
Fryer’s younger counterpart comes from Mississauga, Ontario, and has just finished with the Junior “A” Orangeville Northmen last season. Hartley was acquired by the Knighthawks in the third round of the 2019 NLL Expansion Draft from the San Diego Seals. Although the youngest of the three, it seems Hartley will be in the running for that starting position as he’s just scratching the surface when it comes to his professional career.
“Rylan Hartley is just kind of scratching the surface, both of them are competitors and I believe that both of them want to earn that starting position,” stated Carey when asked about his initial thoughts on both Fryer and Hartley.
Last but not least, Wende is entering his second season in the NLL after making his pro debut with the Georgia Swam just last season and making 12 saves in his one appearance. Prior to last year, Wende spent time in the Arena Lacrosse League, where he posted a 19-9-0 record with the Toronto Monarchs. Over the span of 35 games, Wende put up an impressive line of 44 assists and one goal while making 621 saves in the net.
Carey noted on how they wouldn’t be bringing in the Kitchener, Ontario, native if they didn’t feel he would put up a good fight for the starting backstop position as well.
When asked about who to look out for on the offensive side of the squad, Carey’s mind immediately went to forward Shawn Evans.
“Shawn Evans is the player that comes to mind. He’s a competitor, he’s a guy that’s won at every level and he’s just not going to accept losing. He’s a guy that that I see as someone who is going to help lead our offense and he’s an unselfish player. He likes to play in the big moment and compete at the highest level, so he’s a guy that we know we’re going to get that compete level from.”
As the first overall pick in the NLL Expansion Draft, it’s no surprise that the former National Lacrosse League champion is being welcomed with open arms and high expectations when joining his new club. Evans has spent the last 14 seasons in the NLL, including last year when he was with the Buffalo Bandits and racked up 94 points in just 17 games. The two-time NLL MVP has been a top producer in the league for the last several years, and Carey expects no different when headed into the new season.
Holden Cattoni and Turner Evans are another pair of forwards that Carey looks forward to watching display their impressive skillset on the turf.
“We have a really good mix of players. Holden Cattoni has got a tremendous outside shot and has potential to score a ton of goals – him working with Turner Evans on the left side. Turner is a guy that does a little bit of everything. He can score, he’s got good vision, he works hard, competes for loose balls. He understands the game really well.”
Cattoni is entering his fourth season of NLL action, after setting career-highs in assists (53) and points (80) in just 18 games with the Swarm last year. Over three seasons in the league, Cattoni has registered 182 points, including 70 goals. Prior to his time in the NLL, Cattoni played at the collegiate level at John Hopkins University, where he was named a Big Ten All-Tournament Team selection (2015) and an Honorable Mention USILA All-American (2014).
Along with Cattoni, Turner Evans is also entering his fourth season of NLL action after setting career-highs in his last season in the league as well. Registering 45 points while appearing in all 18 games for the Seals, the forward tacked on a career-high 19 goals to his stat line last season while also appearing in one playoff contest for San Diego.
Curtis Knight is another offensive player that stood out in the mind of the Knighthawks general manager.
“Curtis Knight is a player that has won championships in Saskatchewan and he’s excited for this opportunity to be able to take on more of a leadership role.”
Knight has spent his first six seasons in the NLL with the Saskatchewan Rush, where he helped lead his former team to six consecutive first-place finishes in the regular season. In 99 games with the Rush, Knight record 307 points in 99 games while also leading the team to a pair of NLL titles over a three-year span.
Dan Lintner and Phil Caputo, among others, are also on Carey’s radar. He expects each and every one of these offensive players to come in and contribute when needed. The chemistry that Carey wants to build simply begins with the pure excitement of bringing in a brand-new squad, while watching the veterans of the league and the newcomers compete for that final roster spot.
Ryland Rees was the immediate player that sparked the mind of Carey when asked about the defensemen we could look forward to seeing on the turf for the Knighthawks this upcoming season.
“Ryland Rees, he’s obviously our second overall pick. High expectations for him, he’s not going to come in and seem like a rookie. He’s going to be a polished player that I feel is going to contribute right away. That being said he’s a younger guy that has never played in the National Lacrosse League, so he’s going to earn that through training camp.”
Rees spent the past four seasons at Stony Brook University, where he appeared in 51 career games. As a two-time team captain, Rees was named the 2019 America East Defensive Player of the year after recording four points (3+1) and causing 10 turnovers during his senior campaign. Internationally, Reese has represented Team Canada twice including winning a silver medal at the 2018 World Field Lacrosse Championship.
As the oldest player on the roster at 34-years-old, Paul Dawson is a guy that you should keep your eye on according to Carey due to the presence he brings on and off the field.
“He’s just got a presence about him in the locker room and on the floor. He’s an incredible competitor, willing to do whatever it takes to help his team win.”
Dawson is a 13-year NLL veteran who has spent parts of the last seven seasons with the previous Knighthawks franchise. In 110 career games with his old club, Dawson record 36 points (13+23) while winning back-to-back championships along the way. Originally selected seventh overall by the San Jose Stealth in the 2006 NLL Entry Draft, Dawson has seen time with a number of clubs in the league, including San Jose, Boston, Philadelphia, the former Rochester franchise and San Diego.
Along with Rees and Dawson, Carey mentioned a number of other defensemen that he would love to see work and fight for a spot on the team. From veterans Dylan Evans, Jay Thorimbert, Matthew Bennett and Frank Brown, there’s a solid group of players coming in that have had much experience in the league prior to their new stint in the Flower City. Carey looks forward to seeing them come in and push each other, and themselves, onto the new Knighthawks roster.
Although Carey admittedly isn’t a huge fan of using the word “potential,” he’s more than excited to see the potential that this team can have when coming in with a clean slate as an expansion team of the league.
Expansion Team Advantage
Beginning a brand-new franchise within the NLL can seem challenging and tasking considering the fact that you’re literally building an entirely new organization from the ground up. Keep in mind the successes we have seen from expansion teams in recent years though, such as the National Hockey League and the Vegas Golden Knights.
In the Golden Knights’ inaugural season back in 2017-18, they won the Pacific Division while holding a 51-24-7 overall regular-season record. Vegas advanced to the Western Conference Finals where they became the first team in NHL history to sweep their first playoff series in their inaugural season against the Los Angeles Kings. In the Stanley Cup Finals, the Golden Knights’ luck ran out as they fell to the Washington Capitals in five games, giving them a second-place finish during their first campaign.
Not bad for an expansion team, right?
With no history and no real idea of how successful a team can possibly be, a clean slate can be a good thing when creating an entirely new entity. That’s the story of the new Knighthawks that Carey is excited to tell, that although we have had lacrosse in Rochester years prior, this is a new team with a new identity and they’re more than ready to set new expectations.
While presenting the Golden Knights comparison to Carey earlier this week, he touched on the appeal of building a new franchise from the ground up.
“That was part of the appeal for me, personally, as you get to choose every player. If you inherit a team as a general manager, it’s players that you kind of inherited and a lot of those players, if not all of them, will be players that you want to continue to build your team around, but not in all cases. For us, we made decisions on every single one of these players and we have to live with that, knowing that we feel like we’re right in the time that we made the decision and felt it was the best decision made for this organization.”
Getting to choose every single player added to the Knighthawks roster was something that challenged Carey and the rest of the Knighthawks staff, but the real test is just beginning now. It’s not every day that you get to start off a season with a brand-new slate and that’s what makes training camp so exciting, yet nerve-racking, over the next couple of days. Training camp will be the first look at a number of guys on the now 38-man roster, which the general manager hopes to cut down after this weekend.
“Building a team – we’re not going to have success overnight. We feel really strong about the players that we have on our roster, but now the real work begins of gaining chemistry and working together and buying into our systems and buying into what the culture of the team that we want to establish is,” said Carey when asked about forming the new identity while keeping lacrosse in a city that’s familiar with the game.
Over the weekend, Carey and his staff will have a better plan of where they want to end up after only the first few days, but they all know that these initial decisions can change due to the players coming in and displaying their skillset.
At the end of the day, though, the Knighthawks are going to be made up of players that are willing and excited to be a part of a new franchise within the Flower City, and Carey made it clear on just how exciting it is for the entire organization to get to this point prior to training camp.
“As an expansion team, it’s really exciting to get to this point. It’s a great opportunity to get the guys together. It’s been a lot of work to get here and I know the players are excited.”