Blogs | 1/12/2010 9:33:19 AM | John Gurtler
Great to see the crowd in the Button City so supportive of their Knighthawks as this continues to be a heated rivalry on the floor.
And while some of the comments blurted out during the National Anthem last Saturday night were classless, it was the post-game fodder that impressed me. It's good to see and hear NLL fan-frenzy.
Huddled around the gas-heater towers outside a local rib establishment up the street from the Blue Cross Arena were a group of diehard Knighthawk fans. I knew most of them from my days working with the Amerks in the mid-80’s- before the Hawks were hatched.
“Haven’t missed a Knighthawks in 16-years,” one friendly foe said.
“Nothin' else happens Saturday night except Knighthawks Lacrosse and if somebody wants to join me, that’s where I’ll be,” mentioned another.
I was surprised to hear the Knighthawks take the popularity lead over the hockey Amerks. But again, this was right after their 10-5 win over the Bandits and most of the folks outside and in the establishment were Knighthawk and Bandit fans talking lacrosse.
But it was confirmed by a crusty old Amerk fan who informed me 26-years ago when I was in my first year with the hockey club that the Rochester Americans should be pronounced “Rochstir Amerks.”
“Yea, they don’t draw that well anymore and most are looking for a team like the Knighthawks,” said the double fan of both clubs.
And rightfully so as he was finishing off a day where he attended the afternoon game with the Amerks and Lake Erie Monsters and later, the Knighthawks home opener against the Bandits.
One in the huddle broke free of the Southern California-like summer breeze the flaming heater was giving off in eight-degree weather and expressed his glee when he introduced himself to my broadcast partner, Randy Mearns – a former Knighthawk.
“It was like alumni night at the arena tonight seeing you, Duane Jacobs, Cam Bomberry and Chris Driscoll – all original Knighthawks,” said the fan. “That is so cool.”
It was a nice moment and Randy appreciated it. I appreciated the enthusiasm they had for the game and their team. The new ownership has done a great job of fielding a competitive roster for both the Knighthawks and Amerks and the fans are showing their appreciation.
Back to the game.
The well dotted orange clusters of Bandit fans Saturday night in Rochester got a first-game view of their Bandits. Out of the 23-man roster, eight are new to the Orange and Black. Six of them played in the 10-5 loss. I would image head coach Darris Kilgour was not to happy after the game but before, in my pre-game interview, he was happy with the moves that were made during the off-season, the draft and training camp.
“I didn’t like the way the season ended last year, I didn’t like our competitive level,” noted the eighth year coach. “We wanted to get some younger energetic guys in here that really felt it would be a privilege and honor to be here. I think we made the correct changes this year and hopefully that will show on the floor.”
But before paper was position and pencils pushed, Kilgour himself made some changes.
"I think I was getting too attached to some of the guys as a GM; some of the guys I brought in. It’s hard to say you made a mistake and (to) let a friend go (it’s really tough) and as a coach, it’s a little bit easier not to have the final say on some of the guys."
And with that said, Derek Graham pulls up to the desk becomes associate GM.
"Derek is doing a great job for us. I think Derek’s true strength is wheeling and dealing. He has a lot of friends throughout the league, doesn’t mind being on the phone, and I think he will really help out our team."
Duane Jacobs will work the front door and Ron Henry will take care of defense.
And the rookies on the team? Defensemen Chris Corbeil and Steve Priolo, selections in this year’s NLL Entry draft: "I am expecting them to play every game, every minute,” said Kilgour. "Two young guys, Chris Corbeil has been absolutely tremendous as a loose ball guy; transition guy for us (had team high 11 loose balls Saturday night) and Steve Priolo has done a great job being on the back door for us.”
What about Hamburg native Frank Resetarits?
“He is really a great pick setter; he picks a rolls really well,” noted Kilgour. “We are looking for an inside game from him. We were a little bit small on the front door last year and he definitely brings some size. He also has an outside shot. I think he is fitting in really well with this team. I think next week (Saturday night @ HSBC) when he gets a chance to show what he can really do, I think he will be very exciting.”
Now that training camp is over and the first game done, where do you start refitting the pieces? Kilgour was quick to add that it all starts with trust.
“Number one we're going to have to trust each other. There’s a lot of new guys on the defensive end and our defense is built on trust and we will build that up over time,” said Kilgour. By (losing) a lot of the veterans, we lost a lot of the trust that we had. But it starts with the first whistle and we start building that trust. We have to do that right out of the gate.”
And about Rochester – where the handwriting was left on the score sheet last Saturday night. “They have some tremendous offensive players (John Grant 2-6=8, 16 shots on goal) and it’s going to be up to us to really rush and take their time and space away (Bandit Ball), make them make bad decision. The last thing we have to stay out of the penalty box. I am anticipating them (Knighthawks) having the best power play in the League (went five for nine Saturday); at least they have the best firepower. It just seems like every game we play against these guys, it’s a dogfight. We have to go out there and maintain focus for 60-minutes. We know they are going to get some runs with the offensive power they have. We have to match the runs and make it a transition game. We’re definitely going back to a transition this year and I think we have the guys to do it.”
One of the players not in the lineup last Saturday night was John Tavares and you could tell. Not that I expect him to carry the mail every rush but his presence makes other players want to be better and play the system. While I know the Bandits have to be prepared to play when he is not in the lineup but he brings a lot to the game.
No question, John Grant had a good game. Patrick O’Toole was seeing everything quite well and the rest of the team played well around Grant. Gary Gait, too, with a hat trick and two assists. And good players demand attention and you could certainly see that in the presence of Grant.
Penalties played a role in the outcome of the game, with the Hawks netting fifty percent of their goals with the man advantage. With hooking, holding, slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct calls, the odds of winning are not good. And, too, buying in and playing the system, a.k.a. Bandit Ball.
While the game marked the lowest total goal output during a regular season game, there were some impressive sequences of defensive plays, and a solid performance by M&M: 46-saves by Kenny Montour and the strong play of Tommy Montour -goal, assist and good transitions. His long laser pass to Mark Steehuis, setting up Buffalo’s third goal to tie, was picture-perfect. Rookie defenseman Chris Corbeil had a strong firs game again, leading the force with 11 loose balls.
But the facts are clear. Every team has good players and parody abounds. And the crowds seem to be roaring with approval.