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Jan 6, 2015

By Brian Antonio and Craig Rybczynski -- When Sandie Dron received the news, she started to cry. That was her reaction – in the middle of Kohl’s – when the Rochester Knighthawks called to invite her and her family to take part in the team’s Championship Ceremony on Opening Night.

“Unbelievable. Amazing. I can’t believe that honor was bestowed upon some of the fans,” she said. “It was just the most incredible thing ever.”

Saturday’s pregame ceremony and banner raising was another tribute by the Knighthawks to the “7th Man.” Owner and General Manager Curt Styres has always spoken about the importance the fans have played in the team’s three-year championship run. That’s what prompted the team to raffle off an authentic Championship Ring in November and initiated the call to fans to participate in the on-field ceremony.

Still fighting back tears Saturday, Dron was one of 11 fans who escorted the Champion’s Cup out onto the turf. Sandie was joined by her husband, Michael, and friends Michele Hartney and her daughter Addison, along with Paul and Chantal Oke. They were joined by Tim and Jenn Knab, Melanie and Jason Childers, and Dave Grieco. 

“The fact that we all knew each other was really kind of cool. We got to walk it out and stay out there while they raised the banner,” said Dron, who has been a season ticket holder for 20 seasons. “Not only did we get to shake the hand of the owner and his kids, and (Head Coach) Mike Hasen, but they gave us hugs. I made sure to thank them because without them we wouldn’t be here.”

The honor of carrying the Cup was entrusted to Tim Knab and Dave Grieco. Knab, known as “Knabber” by the lacrosse community, has been with the Knighthawks since the team was announced in 1994 and has been the president of the fan club, a group that he started, for 20 years. 

“Oh, it was absolutely amazing. The reason I started the fan club was to have experiences like that for the fans,” said Knabber. “These are the types of things that make the Knighthawks organization so great. We didn’t play in the game for the Cup, but it’s for the fans. It’s our hometown and we all share it. This is our Cup.”

Tim shared the moment with his wife, Jenn, and son, Dylan. Jenn, also dressed in a Knighthawks jersey, was one of the fans chosen to attend the Cup procession. The Knabs have always loved the Knighthawks, as the team has provided them with some of their most cherished memories. Tim even proposed to Jenn at a game on March 29, 2003. That’s what made Saturday night’s pregame event so hard to put into words.

“For a Knighthawks experience, it was absolutely the top,” said Jen. “It’s without words. It was amazing. I had goose bumps the whole ceremony, right from when the Cup came out. It was very special. It actually brought me to tears on the field.” 

Dave Grieco accompanied the Knabs onto the carpet, and carried the Cup with Tim the 100 feet from the visiting goal to midfield. Grieco, who was a season ticket holder when he lived in Rochester, now makes the five-hour drive from his home in West Chester, Pa. to watch his Knighthawks play on Saturdays. Having the chance to hold the Cup in front of thousands of fans was exciting and nerve-wracking.

“Oh man, I had butterflies,” said Grieco. 

Grieco, like every other member of the group, was at The Blue Cross Arena last May to witness the Knighthawks make history against Calgary on May 31st. Saturday was another occasion that will remain among his most memorable Knighthawks moments. 

“It feels like it was yesterday,” said Grieco. “Both of those moments definitely rank in my top three.” 

The energy of the crowd fueled a great start to the night. For once, the fans had a chance to experience the atmosphere they help create when the players race onto the field. That was certainly true for Melanie and Jason Childers.

“That was definitely fun. The crowd cheering behind us was great,” said Jason. “It was just nice being able to be out there after being a season ticket holder for 12 years.”

“There’s hardly words for it. I’ve been on the field before, but it was not quite like that,” said Melanie. “It was way better to be on the field while the players were introduced. That part was really fun. We have always been a big part of the Knighthawk family, but this adds to it.”

Paul and Chantal Oke are recent converts to the Rochester Knighthawks. The Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario area couple started rooting for the Knighthawks in 2009. Paul still remembers his first game in February of that season as Rochester hosted the Toronto Rock. The guys’ weekend began as a road trip to watch the Rock, but turned into his first game as a Knighthawks fan.

“I went down with a couple of buddies of mine to do something different. We went and my intention that night was to cheer for the Rock, but by the time I left I was a Knighthawks fan,” said Paul, who had been to only one other lacrosse game before that night. “I couldn’t believe how amazing the sport was, how quick it was, how fast-paced it was and how much scoring and action (there was). And yet, there was a lot of good defensive play too. You had all the best attributes of basketball and hockey, which I really liked.”

When he got home, he could not stop talking about his new-found sport. 

“I was just saying, ‘This is incredible. You’ve got to come and see a game with me,’” said Paul.

Two weeks later, Paul and Chantal made the four-hour trip to Rochester and watched Shawn Evans score the overtime game-winner in a 15-14 Knighthawks victory over the Buffalo Bandits. After that game, she was hooked.

“We have gradually gone to more and more games every year,” said Paul. “Last year, we attended the most games. We did seven of the nine home games and then we did both of the playoff games. That Calgary game and that Buffalo game are two of the greatest sporting events I have been to.”

For Paul, who worked as one of the guardians of the NHL’s Stanley Cup for three years, it was a chance to be up close to another championship trophy. And although working three banner raisings for the Hockey Hall of Fame, he ranked the Knighthawks’ event right at the top of his list.

“I have been a part of a couple of banner raising ceremonies for the Stanley Cup in Detroit and New Jersey. This was every bit as special for me because we have put in so much of our heart into going. But at the same time, we get so much back,” said Paul. “We have so many good friends down here now. It’s just a great day out for us every time we go. It’s nice that the organization has recognized us, but for us it’s given us an extra element in our lives we didn’t have six years ago.”

For Michele Hartney, it was also a special night – one that brought back memories of her late father, Bill Dwyer. It was her dad who passed long his love of lacrosse and the Knighthawks to her and her daughter. It was fitting then that just a couple months after his passing, his daughter and granddaughter were able to take part in this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It was so surreal. I couldn’t believe I was standing out there. After so many years of supporting the team, and then watching them win three championships in-a-row, having that opportunity to be out there was amazing,” said Michele. “It was one of the top things that has ever happened to me.

“It would have been so awesome if my dad could have been here to see it, but he was at the game back in May so he got to see them win again,” added Michele. “I know that meant so much to him."

On January 24th, the team will honor Bill for his unwavering support of the Knighthawks. It was something that, in the past several years, brought him so much happiness. It was at the 2013 and 2014 Championship Parades that the Knighthawks showed him their gratitude. During the back-to-back presentation at City Hall, Joe Walters presented him with a Championship hat. Then in June, Coach Hasen handed Bill the Championship hat from the three-peat title.  

“He ate, slept, and everything was Knighthawks. He was the biggest fan. It was such a positive impact in his life. It made him very happy,” said Michele. “I love how the fans feel really involved. It was exciting that Curt Styres wanted the fans to help bring out the Cup. It was an amazing thing. To be part of that meant the world to me.”

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