ROCHESTER, NY — It’s one of the smallest arenas in the NLL but it may be the toughest on visiting teams.
The Rochester Knighthawks averaged just over 7,500 fans this season at the Blue Cross Arena but that didn’t seem to matter as the K-Hawks carved out a 10-1 record in their home digs and haven’t lost a playoff game there since 2004.
The Roughnecks will attempt to change that tonight.
“I think it’s a tough barn to play in, it’s a smaller arena,” Jeff Shattler said. “The atmosphere is going to be really loud in the barn. The big thing is, a lot of guys here are from Ontario and we have all of our family here and we don’t really have that in Calgary.
“I’ve got probably 10 people coming out that rarely get to see me play so I’m more excited to play here than in Calgary.”
Shawn Evans, who suited up for the Knighthawks in the first six years of his NLL career, admitted that it can be an intimidating place to play.
“They’re a big, physical team in a smaller barn,” Evans said. “The fans are kind of over top of you. I don’t know if it’s a small arena or just how the arena is designed.
“They’re a bigger team and a physical team in their barn so we just have to come out and make sure we’re moving our feet and moving the ball quick so we don’t get jumped on by their defence.”
Riggers netminder Mike Poulin doesn’t mind the thought of playing in a hostile environment.
“I’m an eastern guy, I’ve played in this arena before,” said Poulin, who turned aside 36 shots in Calgary’s 10-7 Game 1 win Saturday. “It’s a good crowd and a good fan base behind them, they support their team really well. It’s one of those things, a lot of times when you go into a place that’s half-empty and quiet, it can be hard to get up for it, even if it is a big game.
“This one, it will be easy to get up for. It’s fun, it’s exciting, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to be ready.”
Poulin admitted it can be a difficult building for a goaltender to track shots.
“It will be an adjustment on the fly compared to any other building with the low roof or the lights or whatever,” he said. “Both goalies have to go through it and both teams have to play under the conditions so no excuses.”
Roughnecks head coach Curt Malawsky played for the Knighthawks from 1998-2003 and recalled a few teams that didn’t care to play in Rochester.
“The arena’s dark and a bit dingy and over the years, Philly and Buffalo used to come in and they hated it,” Malawsky said. “I think it’s a mindset. I think other teams come in with a mindset where there might be a little bit of an intimidation factor.”
The Roughnecks have only visited Blue Cross four times and have just one victory.
“I think the big thing is that we have to come in with a positive mindset,” Malawsky continued. “It doesn’t matter where we are or what day it is, we have to play our game. I think that’s the biggest hurdle that we have to get over, and I know this group’s never had an issue (with things like that) since the start of the season, so it’s not going to be an issue for us.
“Everything’s on the line (Saturday) and it’s men against men and there should be no distractions where you play. You’re competing for that Champion’s Cup and I expect our guys to be at their best.”
Calgary defender Dan MacRae played field lacrosse and attended RIT in Rochester for two years before joining the Roughnecks. The Oakville, ON native said it feels more like homecoming for him and some of his teammates.
“We do have a lot of eastern players on the team here and it’s probably going to be pretty family oriented for the fans coming in,” MacRae said. “I’m not sure if they’ll be as rowdy as the Calgary folk that come up to Edmonton on the fan buses — I know they get pretty passionate up there — but, hopefully, it’ll be a good turnout.”