Oakville, ON – The Rochester Knighthawks have something the Toronto Rock want and prior to Saturday’s season opener, the Rock will watch a banner being raised emblematic of the most sought after prize in lacrosse at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester recognizing the Knighthawks’ third consecutive NLL championship. The game will be broadcast live on tsn.ca at 7:30pm ET.
Will the Rock watch the banner raising or wait it out in the locker room?
“Out of respect to the Knighthawks and what they have done I think it’s important to see what they have accomplished,” said Rock Head Coach John Lovell. “We also have to focus on preparing for the task at hand and the length of the ceremony will still be something to consider.”
The Knighthawks made a couple of significant changes despite winning another championship. Rochester shipped out rising star forward Johnny Powless and transition player Joel McCready to the Vancouver Stealth. The team didn’t waste time filling the offensive hole left by Powless when they acquired Jordan Hall from the New England Black Wolves. They also signed unrestricted free agent forward Aaron Wilson who was released from Buffalo.
On the offensive side, reigning NLL MVP and scoring champion Cody Jamieson leads the way flanked by the always dangerous, Dan Dawson. Stephen Keogh will begin the season on the sidelines as he recovers from an off-season injury.
In goal, the 2014 NLL goaltender of the year Matt Vinc has provided the type of goaltending the Knighthawks have needed winning three straight titles and is showing no signs of slowing down.
“We’re facing the defending champions and there’s not a lot of changes. They filled their offensive holes with Hall and Wilson. They seem to always replace anything they lose. It’s a veteran group that knows how to play and are champions for a reason,” Lovell said.
With Rock captain Colin Doyle sidelined for the 2015 NLL season, the team has chosen to name three alternate captains for the coming campaign. Josh Sanderson, Sandy Chapman and Patrick Merrill will all wear an “A” on their jersey as alternate captains.
“We decided a while ago that since we have three returning players that wore letters last year it wasn’t necessary to change anything,” explained Lovell. “We have a solid leadership group that doesn’t end with the players wearing a letter on their jersey. If one of those three can’t play on a given night, there are several others that are candidates to wear a letter on a game-to-game basis like Stephan Leblanc or Rob Marshall. This situation best suits our circumstances and to share in the overall leadership. Players don’t always need a letter to be leaders.”
The Rock have made a few roster moves prior to this weekend’s game. Veteran defender Patrick Merrill has been moved to the physically unable to perform list as he is still nursing an injury sustained in the summer while playing for the Six Nations Chiefs of Ontario’s Major Series Lacrosse. Rookie forward Brandon Benn was released from the active roster and signed to the practice roster. With two open roster spots, transition player Mark White has been moved from the practice roster to the active roster. Also, free agent defender Glen Bryan has been signed to a one-year agreement and was placed on the active roster.
The series of moves means there won’t be much debate as to who the opening night forwards will be with only 6 on the active roster. Josh Sanderson, Stephan Leblanc, Kevin Ross, Kasey Beirnes, Rob Hellyer and newcomer Brett Hickey will compose the offensive group.
“We have decided on the six offensive guys that are going to play,” Lovell said. “We have two rookie offensive guys on our practice roster now, and they are available to us. We have every confidence that they can play. We thought that was a better way to allocate our active roster spots, to have Bryan and White on the active roster. We have a few guys that aren’t 100% healthy on the defensive end, so we wanted extra bodies on the back end on the active roster. We also have the flexibility of having players like Nick Diachenko and Brodie Merrill, who both have offensive capabilities. We have people that can stay and play offence if needed.”
While the Rock will be dealing with changes on offence by way of the subtraction of Doyle and Garrett Billings, on the defensive side of things the changes come by way of additions.
“We made significant changes on the back door and acquired 3 guys that have size and experience with the ability to play in all situations. Certainly on paper it makes us better, but it’s up to our group to make us better as a team,” Lovell said of the additions of Brodie Merrill, Jeff Gilbert and Brock Sorensen on the defensive side. “Nick Diachenko has made strides to become a better overall defender and is a player with great athleticism. Mark White has worked hard in the offseason and is going to be a good player down the road. Our returning group of Rob Marshall, Sandy Chapman, Patrick Merrill, Damon Edwards, Bill Hostrawser, Jesse Gamble and Scott Johnston will improve and get better. Glen Bryan has a history with the Rock and we know what he can do and he’s a good addition. Together they will be a better group.”
Lovell knows Saturday will be a tough test right off the bat for his group that went 2-1 in preseason, which included a 15-7 win over Rochester on December 14th in Montreal, PQ. The Rock were defeated by the Knighthawks in all 3 regular season meetings in 2014.
“We liked our preseason and we are excited about what we have done,” Lovell said. “However, it was just preseason and it doesn’t mean anything going into this game on Saturday night. We have to be prepared to play a full 60 minutes to have any success against Rochester. They are relentless in what they do in terms of attacking you offensively and defensively. They don’t do much to hurt themselves, so we have to be good in all areas of our game.”
The Rock will play another road game on Saturday, January 10th at Vancouver and then enjoy a bye week prior to returning to Toronto to play their home opener on Friday, January 23rd against the Buffalo Bandits at 7:30pm at Air Canada Centre. Toronto Rock Owner Jamie Dawick has guaranteed a win over the Bandits. Should the Rock lose, every fan that has purchased a regular priced single game ticket to the home opener is eligible for a free ticket to any other 2015 Rock regular season home game at Air Canada Centre.
2015 Toronto Rock season tickets, flex packs, the upper bowl season pass and single game tickets are also all on sale now. For more information, please visit torontorock.com or call 416-596-3075 to speak with a ticket representative and get your hands on the BEST ticket in town.