When Dan Carey officially signed on to become the first general manager of the Rochester Knighthawks back in December, he did so knowing full well the journey that would lie ahead.
With the impending relocation of the original Knighthawks to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Carey would be charged with launching a rebrand of an original, iconic NLL franchise with more than two decades of deep-rooted history in a marketplace known for its love and passion for lacrosse. Not to mention build a brand-new roster from scratch, hire a coaching staff and get the organization primed for its inaugural National Lacrosse League season under new ownership.
A massive undertaking to say the least.
But it was the challenge that appealed most to Carey, who departed his position as general manager of the NLL’s Colorado Mammoth and ventured east to take the reins on Rochester’s newest expansion team.
“For me, it was about the opportunity to build a new franchise from the ground up and everything that goes into that,” said Carey. “It’s going to be a challenge, obviously, but that’s the exciting part of it. The city of Rochester has a storied history of lacrosse with a strong, passionate fan base, and I look forward to building a franchise that the city and fans alike can be proud of.”
His first task was overseeing the rebrand with the official logo and color scheme, both of which were unveiled during a franchise launch event last month.
“I’m proud if it,” said Carey when referring to the new look. “I think it has a clean, classic, tough look to it and it’s something I felt went with the city of Rochester in many ways.”
The history that coincided with the original Knighthawks’ 25-year run in Rochester, including the team’s five NLL Championships, would follow the team to the Canadian Maritimes. So, too, did the purple and teal colors. All that remains from the original team is the name, which was confirmed months prior when Pegula Sports and Entertainment – which also operates the Buffalo Bandits, Bills, Sabres and Rochester Americans – announced their acquisition of the Knighthawks from former owner Curt Styres.
Carey highlighted the importance of keeping the Knighthawks name in Rochester as the organization begins a new era.
“We felt it was important to have that association within the city,” said Carey. “The NLL isn’t like the other major pro sports leagues. We have our work cut out for us to attract people to The Blue Cross Arena to come and watch. I think league-wide we’re doing a great job of growing the NLL, but there’s some work to be done to have people understand and know who we are. I know Rochester is a market that the Knighthawks have been in for a long time, and there’s an important part of the NLL here. With the previous franchise leaving, we felt it was important to keep something and the Knighthawks name was most important.”
The next step is to build the roster, which will begin to take shape next month with the 2019 Expansion Draft. The Knighthawks, along with the New York Riptide, will have the opportunity to select 11 players from each of the other NLL teams. Ahead of the Expansion Draft, each team will designate 11 protected players before the June 25 deadline. The Knighthawks and Riptide are then allowed to select eligible players who are not on the protected list.
Rochester holds the first overall pick in the Expansion Draft as predetermined by a coin toss during halftime of Game 1 of the NLL Finals in Buffalo. The Riptide, who will be coached by former Knighthawk legend Regy Thorpe, will choose second in the Expansion Draft and first overall in the upcoming NLL Entry Draft in September.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us leading into the Expansion Draft, but it’s also exciting,” said Carey. “We get to pick the players that we think are going to help us succeed and for me that’s the fun part of it. That’s what this is all about. It’s about building a team to help us have success as early as year one.”
What is most important to Carey, however, is building a team that can develop a culture conducive to bringing about success, something he has a proven track record of.
Before arriving in Rochester, he spent the previous three years with the Mammoth, most recently serving as general manager. Named just the second general manager in Colorado franchise history on July 13, 2017, Carey was instrumental in assembling a Mammoth roster that posted two straight winning seasons, culminating in back-to-back postseason appearances. During the 2018 season, Colorado finished second in the Western Division with an 11-7 record, marking its second runner-up finish in three years, while advancing to the NLL’s Champion’s Cup Playoffs for an unprecedented eighth straight season.
“There’s a lot of things we’re going to be looking at, but we want to build a team that is really tough to play against and they’re compete level is really high. Character is a very important thing for me. We want to have players that represent our organization well. I’m just really excited about getting to that point.”
An added benefit is that Carey is a product of the National Lacrosse League. A native of Peterborough, Ontario, Carey was the Mammoth’s first-round selection (seventh overall) in the 2005 NLL Entry Draft. He was named an NLL All-Star in each of his first three seasons in the league, and as a rookie, was instrumental in Colorado winning the Champion’s Cup in 2006. In 60 career regular-season games with Colorado, Carey scored 89 goals and assisted on 147 others before adding 25 points in 12 games with the Toronto Rock during the 2012 campaign to close out a six-year professional playing career. He posted his best season in the NLL in 2007 when he tallied career-highs in goals (32), assists (44), points (76) and points-per-game (4.75) before being named the recipient of the 2008 NLL’s Sportsmanship Award a year later.
His extensive lacrosse resume also includes back-to-back Ontario Lacrosse Championships and a three-time Mann Cup champion with his hometown Peterborough Lakers. He helped the Lakers to three titles over a four-year span (2004, 2006, 2007) and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2006 Mann Cup, Canada’s top prize in senior men’s box lacrosse. Internationally, Carey also won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2007 World Indoor Lacrosse Championship and took home silver while serving as team coordinator for the Canadian men’s national team at last year’s World Lacrosse Championship.
“This is a legacy market in the NLL,” said Carey. “We know there is a lot of passion in Rochester.
Our goal is to build off that.”
And as for what fans can expect this coming season?
“Their support is extremely important for us, especially as a new organization,” said Carey. “In any sports franchise, your lifeline is your fans. Knowing we’re going to put a product on the floor they can be proud of. For us, it’s something we’re excited about. It’s a new start for me personally and I think the fans we’ll be proud of this team and one they can get behind.”
Get ready, Knighthawks fans. The First Flight is just a few short months away.