Matthews: Knighthawks: A Sad Finish For A Great Indoor Lacrosse Run

KNIGHTHAWKS: A SAD FINISH FOR A GREAT INDOOR LACROSSE RUN...

CURT STYRES TAKING THE TEAM’S BANNERS AND HISTORY TO HALIFAX STINKS

The 25th anniversary season for the Rochester Knighthawks has been demoralizing for the team’s fans, particularly for those who enjoyed a long run of exceptional indoor lacrosse.

The K-Hawks, in case you haven’t been paying attention, will be a National Lacrosse League expansion team next season. Owner Curt Styres, who bought the lacrosse team and the AHL Rochester Americans from Steve Donner’s group in May 2008 for $5,575,000, is taking his team to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he’s likely to draw bigger crowds – at least for the first few seasons – and make a lot more money than he could here. Scotiabank Centre seats 10,595 for hockey/lacrosse and the tickets won’t be cheap in a fresh market starving for a “major league” pro team.

He’s taking what’s left of his depleted roster with him – the players who were ready to make the move from Rochester to Nova Scotia. His team will be called the Thunderhawks.

Rochester will retain the name Knighthawks but – contrary to earlier reports – Styres will be taking the team’s records and banners with him. That stinks.

All of those great players – led by superstar John Grant Jr. – wore ROCHESTER uniforms when they scored their goals, blocked shots, doled out checks and made saves. The franchise won five championships here. The banners belong at Blue Cross Arena. (Styres could have proudly displayed replica banners in Halifax for the unprecedented three consecutive championships the K-hawks won here under his watch).

Stryres’ final season in Rochester has been mostly a disaster. The first sign of trouble was when superstar goalie Matt Vinc became a free agent and opted to sign a multi-year deal with the rival Buffalo Bandits because he didn’t want to make the move to Nova Scotia. It appears that Vinc was even better than we thought.

Then Styres began unloading popular veteran players who didn’t fit into his future plans in Nova Scotia or didn’t want to play so far away from their jobs and homes in the province of Ontario. He received mostly future draft picks in return. Smart move by him. Slap in the face for K-hawks fans.

The K-hawks for the first time in their 25-year history have been outclassed this season. They’ve won their last two games to climb to 4-11 with three games remaining this year. They play at the Colorado Mammoth Friday night and figure to be playing before 12,000-plus fans at Pepsi Arena in Denver.

In an unfortunate bit of scheduling, the final two relatively meaningless games of the season will be at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial versus the Vancouver Warriors Saturday, April 20 and the New England Black Wolves Saturday, April 27.

It will be interesting to see how many people attend those two games. Only 4,777 showed up for last week’s 12-10 home victory over the Toronto Rock.

Most of the team’s loyal fans have suffered mightily through this season. They’re upset at Styres for moving the franchise to Halifax (and probably more upset now that it has been confirmed that he’s taking the team’s history with him), even though an expansion team for Rochester was part of the agreement.

Under the circumstances, I believe a formal farewell by Styres at Blue Cross Arena before or after the final game is out of the question. That’s unfortunate because he did an excellent job in terms of putting a winning and entertaining product on the floor. He was justifiably proud of his team and of his achievements as owner/general manager.

In 25 years under the ownership of Donner and Styres, the K-hawks made the playoffs 20 times. They won five championships (1997, 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014) and lost in the Finals five other times (1995, 1999, 2000, 2003 and 2018).

They have a 212-155 record, including 120-63 at home and 92-92 on the road (including 1-7 this season). In the playoffs, they were 27-19, including 17-3 at home.

The Knighthawks of Donner and Styres should be fondly recalled as a winning and entertaining franchise that consistently drew well. They were a huge part of the NLL’s success as the world’s best indoor lacrosse league. In terms of lacrosse, it was truly major league.

Sadly, the final season will be the worst season.

It is time to start over. Maybe the 2020 Knighthawks – and if the history is gone, why not start fresh with a new name? -- can match the success of this season’s expansion San Diego Seals, currently leading the Western Division with a 9-6 record.

I’m not optimistic. The Pegulas will own theteam in Rochester, probably mostly because they operate Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial and wanted to fill nine-plus home dates on the schedule. But this is hardly an ideal situation. The Pegulas also own the Buffalo Bandits, probably the NLL’s best team this season.

Buffalo’s average home attendance this season is 12,607. Rochester’s average home attendance is 6,632.Which team do you think will get the best of player personnel? Will there be any in-season trades involving the two teams, maybe to shore up the Bandits? We’ll see.

SPRAYING BASEBALL HITS TO ALL FIELDS...

Bad news for Cleveland and good news for Minnesota: Indians starting pitcher Mike Clevinger is expected to be sidelined until at least late June with a back strain. He was spectacular in his two starts this season: 1-0 record, 0.00 ERA, 2 hits allowed and 22 strikeouts in 12 innings.

Cleveland is a flawed team, with a suspect bullpen and relatively weak offensive outfield.

Starting pitching is the greatest asset for the Indians but Clevinger will be impossible to replace.

Minnesota is the only team with the talent to threaten Cleveland in the AL Central this season and the Twins would need to have a lot of things go right – like Clevinger’s injury.

xxxThe Twins crushed the Mets and Jacob deGrom 14-8 Tuesday night. Mitch Garver, the International League all-star catcher with the 2017 Red Wings, hit two of Minnesota’s six home runs. deGrom’s streak of 26 consecutive quality starts (three earned runs or fewer in six innings) was blasted to smithereens. His pitching line: 4 innings, 8 hits, 6 runs, 6 earned runs, 1 walk, 3 strikeouts.

xxxThe Seattle Mariners, after unloading a bunch of high-paid veteran players in the offseason, entered Wednesday with the best record in MLB at 11-2.Are they for real? Probably not, unless you think they can continue to lead the majors in runs (104) and home runs (33).

xxxApparently, the historic batting woes of Chris Davis are not can’t-miss entertainment in Baltimore. The crowd was a mere 6,585 Monday night at Camden Yards as Davis went 0-for-5 to stretch his two-season hitless streak to 0-for-49. That’s a MLB record for a position player. He’s 0-for-28 with 15 strikeouts this season. He did not play Tuesday night.

xxxTwo of the 2018 International League Post-Season All-Star Team members are playing in Japan this season:Kenny Vargas (DH/Rochester) with the Chiba Lotte Marines and 1B/Lehigh Valley) Joey Meneses with the Orix Buffaloes. Meneses was the IL Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year last season. They are two very good Triple-A players who gave up dreams of playing in MLB in favor of a few $1 million seasons in Japan.

xxxFormer Red Wings playing in Mexico this season include sluggers Chris Carter, Oswaldo Arcia and Danny Ortiz.

BOB’S MASTERS PICK IS McILROY...ROOTING FOR RICKIE FOWLER

My pick to win the 83rd Masters and complete his personal Grand Slam on Sunday at Augusta National is Rory McIlroy. My sentimental pick is Rickie Fowler.

McIlroy has been the most consistent player on the PGA Tour this season and should be loaded with confidence. In the last five Masters, he finished 8th, 4th, 10th, 7th and 5th.

I also like McIlroy’s generous odds (OddsShark): 7-to-1 in the 87-player field.

McIlroy is trying to complete his personal Grand Slam. The only players to win all four current majors are Jack Nicklaus (6 Masters, 4 U.S. Open, 3 The Open and 5 PGA Championship), Tiger Woods (4-3-3-4), Ben Hogan (1-4-1-2), Gary Player (3-1-3-2) and Gene Sarazen (1-2-1-3). Rory would join this exclusive list.

Fowler is widely regarded as “the best player never to win a major.” He’s a colorful and charismatic player and I think it would give golf a boost if he were to win this week. He’s fan favorite, partly for his colorful outfits and his relatively smallish size (5-foot-9, 150 pounds).

Fowler is 18-to-1 and, frankly, I don’t think that’s a bargain. He has only 5 wins in 225 career PGA events. In 36 majors, he has finished in the top 10 eight times, with three seconds, including last year’s Masters, one shot behind Patrick Reed.

In my opinion, the least appealing odds are 14-to-1 for Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth at 18-to-1. Woods might have a few wins in majors left in him, but there is no logical reason to back him at the fourth-lowest odds (behind McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose) this week...Speith is in a long slump. He won the 2015 Masters, 2015 U.S. Open and 2017 The Open. He hasn’t won since. His finishes so far this 2019 season: 55-MC-MC-35-45-51-54-MC-24--30. He’s only 25 but the old magic is missing.

SHORT SHOTS

xxxThe Rochester Americans won their sixth and most-recent Calder Cup in 1996.Clay Bellinger was the International League;s all-star shortstop for the Rochester 1996 Red Wings. Twenty-three years later, his son, Clay Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers, entered Tuesday leading the American League in the Triple Crown cateogories: .435 batting average, 7 home runs and 19 RBI.

xxxIt didn’t take long for Caesars Palace in Las Vegas to post Virginia as the 5-to-1 favorite to win the 2020 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship, followed by Duke and Kentucky at 8-to-1, Gonzaga at 10-to-1 and Michigan State 12-to-1.

xxxI don’t understand why Magic Johnson abruptly stepping down as president/basketball operations of the Los Angeles Lakers is such a monumental big deal. I believe it is typical Los Angeles/Lakers/ NBA overkill. He said he’s not having fun and wants to get back to being Magic again. Sounds logical to me. The team is a mess, LeBron James is starting to slip and let someone else try to right the ship. One big plus for the Lakers is that the league and the networks want to see the team become a powerhouse soon.

xxxThe Buffalo Sabres came out of the NHL Draft Lottery Tuesday night with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft (June 21 in Vancouver).Since the Sabres began in 1970, the team’s only No. 7 pick was center Erik Rasmussen in 1996. In 545 NHL games with Buffalo, Los Angeles and New Jersey, he had 52 goals and 76 assists for 128 points. Kyle Okposo was picked No. 7 by the New York Islanders in 2006.

HAPPY SPORTS BIRTHDAY TO...

Wednesday, April 10

Nerlens Noel 25...Corey Kluber 33...Dion Phaneuf 34...Andre Ethier 37...Alexi Semenov 38...Kasey Kahne 39...Sean Gilbert 49...Rob Brown 51...Kirk Lowdermilk 56...Cathy Turner 57...Steve Tasker 57...Jeff Weston 63...Ken Griffey Jr. 69...Mel Blount 71...John Madden 83. Steven Seagal 67 is invited to the birthday party.

Thursday, April 11

Kenta Maeda 31...Ramon Sessions 33...Dunta Robinson 37...Mark Teixeira 39....Kelvim Escobar 43...Terry Cousin 44...Trot Nixon 45...Reggie Tongue 46...Blake Brockermeyer 46...Jason Varitek 47...Trevor Linden 49...WWE Goldust 50...Brad Muster 54...Bret Saberhagen 55...Terry Hoage 57...Michael Ray Richardson 64...John Gould 70.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

April 10

106 years ago (1913), Walter Johnson began his streak of 56 consecutive scoreless innings pitched...103 years ago (1916), the Professional Golfers Association – PGA – was formed in New York City...70 years ago (1949), Sam Snead won his first of three Masters by three strokes over Johnny Bulla and Lloyd Mangrum...41 years ago (1977), Tom Watson won the 41st Masters by two strokes over Jack Nicklaus...14 years ago (2005), Tiger Woods won his fourth Masters on the first hole of a playoff with Chris DiMarco.

April 11

112 years ago (1907), Roger Bresnahan of the New York Giants became the first catcher to use shinguards...57 years ago (1962), the New York Mets lost in their debut...54 years ago (1965), Jack Nicklaus won the second of his six Masters, beating Gary Player and Arnold Palmer by a record nine strokes...53 years ago (1966), Emmett Ashford became the first African-American MLB umpire...9 years ago (2010), Phil Mickelson won his third Masters by three strokes over Lee Westwood.

Bob Matthews' Column

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