By Craig Rybczynski – Ever since Owner and General Manager Curt Styres took over majority ownership of the Rochester Knighthawks almost ten years ago, he has stressed the importance of family. That theme has been interwoven into the fabric of the team, like the nine clans of the Iroquois that adorn the team’s sweaters.
It’s not just a saying or a phrase, but a very real part of what it means to be a Knighthawk. That has been evident at holiday parties, championship celebrations, road trips, and, more recently, at the National Lacrosse League Entry Draft.
“It’s all part of the culture we are trying to create,” said former player and current assistant coach Mike Accursi. “We definitely had the most staff and players at the draft. It proves we are doing something right.”
On Sept. 18, the Knighthawks turned out in big numbers at the NLL Entry Draft to welcome their six newest additions: Jake Withers, Austin Shanks, Eric Fannell, Adam Perroni, Trevor Stacey and Kessler Doolittle.
In all, 20 members of the Knighthawks family formed a reception line to congratulate each of the team’s draft picks. The night started with Withers going second overall and ended with Doolittle’s selection at the No. 52nd spot.
On such a big night for the organization, the front office staff traveled en masse to the event as Knighthawks Executive VP of Business Operations Nate Snyder, Director of Communications Craig Rybczynski, Digital Media Coordinator Charlie Ragusa, Digital Media Assistant Derek Raux, and Account Executive Matt Stathopoulos were all on press row to report the team’s selections back to the loyal Knighthawks fans.
Rochester created quite the buzz as they became the first team in league history to select three players from the same university in the first round. Even Ohio State head coach Nick Myers proudly tweeted about his three former players: Withers, Shanks and Fannell.
— Nick Myers (@MyersJMZ) September 18, 2017
Social media aside, it was the reception the players received from the Knighthawks players, coaches and staff that left a lasting impression on the draftees.
“Having my name called on draft day was obviously exciting,” said Withers. “They were nothing but welcoming, and we went and had a good meal after that. It made me more excited about the journey that lies ahead.”
Withers and Fannell were both impressed how the Knighthawks’ emphasis on family mirrored the culture created by Myers at Ohio State.
“At the end of the day, you can’t really do much if you don’t view the guys on the team as family,” said Withers. “Growing up in Peterborough (Ontario) instilled that in me, and coming to college just strengthened it. Then getting drafted by the Knighthawks and (joining) the family-based atmosphere they have, I couldn’t be more excited.”
“It makes me happy that Rochester has a similar mentality,” added Fannell. “I really enjoyed going to Ohio State. Why I chose to come here was because of coach Myers. He runs a really strong family-oriented program.
“I am very happy that I have already been welcomed into the (Knighthawks) family. Now I just have to keep earning my spot.”
Rochester forward Kyle Jackson knows all about earning his spot after a rookie season in which he finished second on the team in points. Being a member of the previous draft class, the University of Michigan product thought it was important to welcome this year’s crop of players.
“I find that moments like those are important to bring the new guys on board and show them that we are a family,” said Jackson. “Our culture and our atmosphere around the team needs to be like family. In a time where their family and friends are there to support them on one of the greatest moments of their lacrosse lives, it’s important to show both them and their families that they are moving on to good hands in their professional endeavors.”
Knighthawks forward Cody Jamieson reinforced Jackson’s assertion about family. He referenced his own draft night memories and how much he appreciated NLL Hall of Famer and former Knighthawk Paul Gait handing him his draft jersey. Jamieson certainly paid it forward at the 2017 NLL Entry Draft.
“It’s an honor to represent the Knighthawks at something like that,” said Jamieson, who was joined by his 4-year-old son Comyn. “It’s definitely fun for me because you don’t realize how time flies. I was that fresh, young face seven years ago. It’s nice to see a new crop coming in because time doesn’t stop for anyone.”
— Cody Jamieson (@Cjamieson88) September 19, 2017
Jamieson and Jackson were two of the five players who were in attendance at the 2017 draft in Oakville, Ontario. Dan and Paul Dawson and 2017 All-Rookie Team member Josh Currier were also on-hand to pose for photographs and meet the team’s draft selections.
For Shanks, it was reassuring to receive such a warm welcome from the Knighthawks players. It was a surreal moment for the 23-year-old as he met two of his childhood idols: Cody Jamieson and Dan Dawson.
“I know Currier and Jackson pretty well, but going there and being able to shake Cody Jamieson’s hand (was unforgettable),” he said. “He pretty much is the face of Rochester and I have only played against him and watched his highlight videos. Dan Dawson is a righty just like me who I always watched. Those guys are what I see the NLL as after growing up watching them play my whole life. To get to shake their hands was pretty cool and special.”
Rochester also had a full complement of lacrosse staff at the draft table, which included Styres, Accursi, head scout Stuart Brown, head coach Mike Hasen, VP of Player Personnel Jody Gage, and alternate governor Gewas Schindler. The Knighthawks also received support and input from assistant coaches Pat O’Toole and Jason Johnson.
For Hasen, having his teenage son, Austin, at the draft exemplified how the Knighthawks embody a family-first mentality.
“We all have a vested interest in the game and the organization, and Curt allows our families to be a part of it,” said Hasen. “They are a big part of our success and allow us to do what we do to make the organization strong.
“For my son to be there, be around the table, and experience it was awesome. I think for the young guys to see that hopefully registers that it’s not just about lacrosse. It’s about so much more than the game itself.”