SCHILLER AND McCREADY TO ENTER HALL OF FAMEApr 26, 2016
By Craig Rybczynski -- Two of the fastest men on turf will enter the Rochester Knighthawks Hall of Fame on Saturday, April 30th. Pat McCready and Chris Schiller will become the 14th and 15th members of the esteemed club, and the seventh and eighth defensemen to receive the honor.
“I was surprised and excited,” said McCready when he received the news from Owner and General Manager Curt Styres.
The two lightning quick defenders were both blue-collar, hard-working players who displayed a team-first mentality indicative of the Knighthawks teams that have represented the city for the past 22 seasons. During their days in Rochester, the duo combined to play 18 seasons and contributed to the franchise’s first three championships.
“First and foremost, he was a team guy. He was a guy who led by example,” said former teammate Mike Accursi of McCready. “If someone was taking liberties on somebody, he was the first guy to step up and make sure that didn’t happen again. You always knew he had your back and would do anything the team needed. He never worried about his own stats or his own glory. It was all about what he could do to make the team better.”
McCready was a member of two Knighthawk championship teams, raising the Champion’s Cup in 1997 and in 2012. The first Cup was significant as it was his first championship and the first in team history. The year before he played with Charlotte, who folded at the end of his rookie season in 1996.
“I was lucky enough to be brought to Rochester by Steve Donner, Jody Gage and Paul Day,” said McCready. “That was a really good time. I was just a young guy who got a good chance right away. Then we were able to win it that year. “It was amazing at the time. We weren’t favored that year to win it. We just had a special group of guys, being led by Paul Gait, Steve Dietrich, Duane Jacobs and (Tim) Soudan, (Jeremy) Hollenbeck and Regy (Thorpe). Looking back, I was just lucky enough to be on some really good teams.”
For anyone who coached him or played alongside him, it is clear that luck had nothing to do with the success and longevity experienced by McCready. The St. Catharines, Ontario native played 17 seasons in the NLL and retired with 141 goals, 243 assists and 1,593 loose balls, which were ranked third all-time in league history. He also ranked second in penalty minutes (468) and seventh in games played (219). More importantly, he was a three-time champion and three-time All-Star selection. His career took him to teams in Charlotte, Buffalo, Toronto and Rochester.
McCready spent seven of those seasons in Rochester, donning the purple and teal from 1997-2001 and from 2011-12. Not only was he a two-time champ, but was also twice named the team’s top defenseman. In 2011, he earned the NLL Defensive Player of the Year Award while earning First Team All-Pro honors. McCready went out on top of the lacrosse world as he captained the Knighthawks to the 2012 championship.
“It meant everything,” said McCready. “To be able to do that at home and on my own terms allowed me to have a good closure to the game. When you think back, you think of that as the last moment. That was really special.” “Not a lot of guys can say that,” said Knighthawks Hall of Fame goalie Pat O’Toole. “For him to be the leader on that team and to win the championship was an unbelievable thing. To be done after that game and retire on top, there’s no better feeling.”
McCready certainly remembers the titles he won in Rochester, but his fondest memories were about his teammates and his family. Pat bookended his career by working alongside his father and his nephew. He had the fortune to play for his father, Robert “Buff” McCready, for four seasons in Rochester. “Buffer” was as an assistant coach with the Knighthawks from 1998-2001 and saw his son, nicknamed “Speedy,” develop into one of the most tenacious defensemen in the league.
“Lacrosse has always been about family for me,” said Pat. “To be with ‘Buffer’ for those years was very special. He passed away in 2007 and to have those years with him there, and he was the goaltending coach in Buffalo before he passed away, that’s time you can’t get back. That was amazing. “Also to have (that connection) with Paul Day, who has been a big influence in my life, too, was really special. He was there in those years back when ‘Buffer’ was there, as well as when I came back to win it with him at the end.”
Day, who coached Pat during his two stints in Rochester, said that the McCready family played a very big role in the team’s success.
“He was here in the early ‘90s and was important for us those first few years,” said Day. “He came back and finished it off with a great championship and a couple more seasons. He really solidified this young group that is here now. Pat was the leader of that group with Cody (Jamieson), Sid (Smith) and all those guys.”
“His dad was a big part of the organization as well,” added Day. “His nephew (Joel McCready) ended up winning with us, so it carried on (the tradition).”
After spending nearly a decade away from the Knighthawks, he returned to Rochester for his final two seasons. The 2011 and 2012 seasons were very memorable, as he earned the aforementioned accolades. But the biggest thrill of coming back to The Blue Cross Arena was the chance to play on defense with his nephew, Joel.
“Everything just fell into place,” said Pat. “It was a return to Rochester, which was really nice. It was basically where I started out. I can’t stress enough the importance of family, and to be with him was very special.”
Like McCready, Schiller experienced tremendous success in Rochester. For 11 seasons (2002-2012), the Penfield native played for his hometown team. The Penn State grad broke into the NLL in 2001 with the Philadelphia Wings and won the Champion’s Cup as a member of the team’s practice squad. Schiller came home in 2001-02 when the Knighthawks pulled off a deal with the Wings. It was a chance to play in front of his friends and family, and to play with some of the greatest names in the game.
He had a memorable debut in Philadelphia in his first game as a Knighthawk. While trying to defend Jake Bergey, he suffered an ankle injury that would sideline him for the rest of the season. Being out of the lineup, however, was not a setback. Instead, he studied the game and was mentored by a veteran cast of players in Rochester.
“It was a blessing in disguise because I got to learn (the indoor game) and the guy who taught me the most was Jeremy Hollenbeck,” said Schiller. “I would never compare myself with Jeremy, but he was just an amazing all-around player. He was a guy I got to look up to and learn from, and what a guy to do that under.”
Schiller received his big break in 2004 when Hollenbeck, a future Knighthawks Hall of Famer, retired. “He was blessed to have triplets and he had to make a decision in life,” said Schiller of Hollenbeck. “He made the right move and chose family. That opened up a spot for me. I am really thankful for all he did and all he taught me. I hope I was a tenth of the player he was.”
The 2002-03 season was a breakout campaign for Schiller, as he posted 16 goals, eight assists and 93 loose balls. He was honored as a member of the NLL’s All-Rookie Team that season. The following year, he collected 23 points to give him 27 goals, 20 assists and 163 loose balls during the two-year stretch. Schiller said he also learned a valuable lesson during that second season.
“The person who I am going into the Hall of Fame with was my first NLL fight. It was against Buffalo and Pat McCready,” said Schiller with a chuckle. “He taught me a lesson right off the get-go. It was the first time I got beat up in lacrosse and it was by Pat McCready. So, I want to thank him, as well.”
The duo also shared an incredible sense of humor and were constantly lightening the mood in the locker room, on the bench and on road trips. “I can’t say enough about his character and his sense of humor,” said Schiller. “He brought the entire package to our team and it’s rare to find those guys. He was an amazing talent, an amazing guy and an amazing dad. He and I got along because of our senses of humor. He loved to play jokes, he loved to bust chops. That’s kind of who I am.”
Schiller, like McCready, was also a constant threat transitioning the ball. During his career, “Schills” notched 49 goals and 73 assists for 122 points. He also still ranks fifth in team history in games played (138) and loose balls (713). “He was such a great athlete and a hometown guy,” said Knighthawks assistant coach Paul Day.
“I was there when he was brand new and when he was finishing his career. He was five times the player (when I came back). He was probably one of the best defenders as an American guy who picked the game up. He was just a fantastic team player.”
Schiller displayed incredible leadership during his tenure in Rochester, as well. Twice he was named one of the team’s assistant captains, and three times he was voted the winner of the team’s Unsung Hero award. Schiller’s work ethic also earned him the admiration of fellow inductee Pat McCready. “Chris was always an ultra-competitor. He did what needed to be done to win,” said McCready. “He was an ultimate team guy as well. He was the glue that held everyone together. I really enjoyed playing with him. What really struck me about Chris was that he was a quality person.”
Schiller’s most important on-field accomplishment occurred in 2007. That year he was part of team and NLL history as the Knighthawks finished the regular season 14-2 and roared through the playoffs with three straight wins to capture the Champion’s Cup. His greatest memory of that historic season was winning the East Division Finals, 14-13, in overtime over Buffalo.
“‘Junior’ (John Grant) hit just an unbelievable shot to win it in overtime,” he said. “That was by far the best game I have ever played in.”
Having to play the Championship Game in Arizona due to an arena conflict in Rochester only added to the mystique of the season. The Knighthawks defeated the Arizona Sting, 13-11, to capture their second title in franchise history.
“There were only a few times in my life that I played on a team where you just knew going into games that we were tough to beat,” he said. “We were so well-rounded that it was the most confident I have ever been on the field playing. That was the best team I have ever played on.”
On the international stage, Schiller represented the United States at back-to-back FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championships, playing defense for Team USA in 2007 and 2011. This past September, he returned to the national team as an assistant coach. In 2010, he received the ultimate honor for a local lacrosse player, earning induction into the Greater Rochester Chapter of US Lacrosse Hall of Fame. On April 30th, he will receive the greatest individual honor bestowed upon a Knighthawks player, as he is inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame.
“There is unbelievable talent in the Knighthawks Hall of Fame,” said Schiller. “I can’t tell you what it means to be in the same category as Gait, O’Toole, Regy and ‘Cougs’ (Pat Cougevan). To even be mentioned with those guys is humbling and I am extremely grateful. It caps off a storybook career with my hometown team.”