Aug 3, 2018

97ADB2E5-DB32-47DF-9C59-54784495AEBD.jpeg(August 3, 2018)… For the second time in his career, Rochester Knighthawks’ Curt Styres has been named the National Lacrosse League General Manager of the Year. The award is the fourth won by the Knighthawks this offseason after an incredible run to the 2018 NLL Finals.

“I am honored to win the General Manager of the Year,” said Styres. “There are so many great organizations out there that it’s tough to say who’s better, who’s luckier. I think we are all good at what we do. But as the old cliché says, ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get.’”

Styres completed his ninth season as the team’s general manager in 2017-18. During his tenure, the Knighthawks have advanced to the playoffs six times, reached the Finals on four occasions and won a league-record three straight championships from 2012-14. In 2011, he was named the winner of the General Manager of the Year and Executive of the Year awards.

Styres admitted that this year’s honor was again the result of the hard work and dedication of the Knighthawks’ lacrosse operations staff.

“The General Manager of the Year award is more of a team recognition because of the success we had this year,” he said. “We have the biggest staff in the league because being a GM requires you to wear so many hats. 

“Being surrounded by so many good people makes the job a lot easier. Sometimes you have to be at seven arenas in one night. No one person can do that and watch all the potential players and do assessments on them. I would like to thank Duane Jacobs, Jeremy Henhawk, Stu Brown, Gewas Schindler, Kevin Hill, Bruce Clark, Jody Gage, Tom Cincebox, Tracy Johnson, Paul Gait and Brian Hobart.”

The Knighthawks owner and general manager especially recognized the behind-the-scenes work of Hill and Clark, who are two of the veterans of the group. Although often out of the spotlight, they have worked together since 2012 to provide the Knighthawks with detailed, up-to-date information on players out west. More importantly, they both played a major role in the team’s run to three straight titles. 

Hill, who hails from Six Nations, enters his ninth season with Rochester in 2018-19. The Knighthawks have benefitted from his vast knowledge of the game. Since first playing lacrosse when he was 5 years old, he has been involved with the game for over three decades as a player, coach and executive. The former goalie’s playing career spanned 19 seasons and ended in 2017 with the Ladner Pioneers of the West Coast Senior Lacrosse Association.

This past season, the 39-year-old was hired as the general manager of the Burnaby Lakers Senior “A” lacrosse club. His resume also includes coaching the Burnaby Junior Lakers and working as an assistant coach for the Junior Adanacs. Hill has also held the assistant GM job for the Senior “A” Coquitlam Adanacs before taking over as team general manager. In 2011, Hill was brought on board as one of the Knighthawks’ western scouts. The experience has since changed his perspective on scouting and evaluating talent.

“My time working with Curt has taught me a different approach to the game,” he said. “If you surround yourself with positive and good-hearted people then good fortune will follow. He taught me to look at players as a whole and to be invested in them as a person, not just a lacrosse player.”

Clark, like Hill, has a lifelong connection to the game of lacrosse as the son of Judge Sid and Lu Clark. Bruce, who began playing when he was 8 years old in his hometown of Nanaimo, BC, was taught the box game by his dad and his friends from the 1956 Mann Cup championship Nanaimo Timbermen. Bruce Clark ended his playing career when he was 15 years old due to injuries, but returned to the game as a field player in his 20s. 

For the past several decades, the 60-year-old Clark has worked in leadership roles with clubs at the intermediate, junior and senior levels. In 1992, he joined the Senior “B” board as the VP of Lacrosse Operations and twice helped send teams to the President’s Cup. He then went on to coach in minor lacrosse and sat on the minor board as the VP of Lacrosse. Clark eventually moved up to coach the Intermediate “A” club and started his 13-year tenure as governor. He even helped secure a bid for the local Junior “A” franchise and was the VP of Lacrosse for two years. His resume also includes taking over the same role with the Senior “A” team and serving as the Chair of the WLA for one year.

“I am most proud that covered box that I started working on in 2005 that was finally built and opened this spring,” said Clark. 

In 2012, he made a move to the professional lacrosse ranks as he accepted a scouting job with the Knighthawks. It was the right time to join the team, which was poised for an incredible string of success. In his first three years in Rochester, Clark was a member of three championship teams. He continues to promote the Knighthawks out west and even has the ink to prove it.

“In short, I am a lifelong lover of the game, and I love saying I'm a Knighthawk,” said Clark. “It’s even tattooed on my leg.”

With such passionate members of the Knighthawks organization, it’s not hard to believe what Rochester accomplished in 2017-18. This past season, which was Styres’ 10th as the team’s owner, was one of the most exciting and successful in the 24-year history of the franchise. Rochester shocked the lacrosse establishment by rallying from a 2-6 start to finish just one win short of capturing its record-tying sixth NLL title. The Knighthawks won 11 of their last 15 games, which included postseason victories over New England, Georgia, and Saskatchewan. 

The Knighthawks showed their mettle in the playoffs as they defeated the defending champion Georgia Swarm 9-8 to advance to their first NLL Championship in four seasons. In the NLL Finals, Rochester staved off elimination by knocking off the Saskatchewan Rush in Game Two to force a decisive third game.

39075287791_e9c19b83ef_o.jpgIt was a fantastic turnaround over a two-year period for the Knighthawks, who returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Styres rebuilt his roster through trades and free agent signings, but, more importantly, through the draft. In the past three drafts, Rochester has taken impact players like Graeme Hossack, Brad Gillies, Josh Currier, Kyle Jackson, Jake Withers, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell in the first round.

“He is exceptionally deserving of the award,” said Knighthawks VP of Lacrosse Paul Gait. “It’s not easy transforming a team and getting younger. He did a great job bringing in fresh, new blood and creating a good team atmosphere.”

Styres was honored with the NLL General Manager of the Year award because he has been the man behind-the-scenes orchestrating moves at every level of the organization.

“I am really happy for Curt because he’s done an amazing job, not only putting a great staff of coaches and scouts together but retooling our whole team,” said Knighthawks VP of Player Personnel Jody Gage. “He loves this game and loves the players, so it’s nice to see all the hard work rewarded with this honor.”

“Curt Styres is more than deserving of this General Manager of the Year award,” said Knighthawks Alternative Governor Gewas Schindler. “He put together an amazing staff and an amazing draft. It all started at this time last year when we were preparing for the draft. It was a team effort with the group; they did all the work, and it paid off. Curt did a great job of being the leader of that group and putting all the pieces together.”

When learning that he was receiving the award, Styres also pointed out that the coaches – which included head coach Mike Hasen, and assistants Mike Accursi, Pat O’Toole, Jason Johnson and Marshall Abrams – did an incredible job getting production from their young core of players.

“The whole coaching staff last year trained the younger guys to play like veterans, even though they were first-year guys,” said Styres. “They got a lot out of them. That had a lot to do with their teaching methods and how they set high expectations.”

It’s important to note that Styres bolstered the coaching staff by welcoming back Knighthawks legends like Abrams and Accursi. 

Abrams, who was a rugged defenseman with the Knighthawks during his playing days, was brought in to add his expertise to the offensive side of the ball. During his playing career, he was a fixture on the Rochester defense for eight seasons (2002-08, 2010), appearing in 96 games and collecting seven goals, 40 assists and 413 loose balls. One of his finest seasons was in 2007 when he was a member of the Knighthawks’ NLL championship team. 

The Onondaga Nation product broke into the NLL in 2001 with the Columbus Landsharks following an incredible collegiate career at Syracuse University. From 1997-2000, Abrams was a three-time All-American and the 2000 Defenseman of the Year. He played in four Final Fours and helped the Orange capture the 2000 Division I National Championship. Abrams has experienced similar success as a coach, guiding the Six Nations Arrows to Minto Cup championships in 2007 and 2014.

Last season Abrams returned to the NLL and made his professional coaching debut with his former team. It was a learning experience for the lacrosse veteran, as he was introduced to Styres’ unique approach to handling the players and staff.

“It was great working with Curt,” said Abrams. “He’s always thinking outside the box to get the guys to work together or understand concepts better. He makes it more like a team environment, not only with the guys on the floor but with the coaching staff and management team. Curt is really strong at getting people to work together. You can tell he comes from a sports background, playing hockey and lacrosse as a young guy.”

“Everyone has a say when you are working with Curt, no matter what your title is,” added Abrams. “He wants to hear what you are thinking. I learned a lot being around him by just listening to what he had to say.”

Like Abrams, Accursi was given the opportunity to join the coaching staff in 2017-18. Promoting the former 17-year pro to the Knighthawks bench proved to be the most significant move of the offseason for Styres. The St. Catharines, Ontario product instantly had the respect of his peers and the players. In fact, he is one of the most decorated NLL veterans, winning five championships and appearing in seven Finals. He won four of his Cups in Rochester. 

Accursi and Curt Styres.jpgKnown as “No Mercy,” he played seven seasons with the teal and purple and was a three-time team assistant captain. He was a driving force on the floor during the 2007, 2012 and 2013 NLL title runs and was working in the front office when the Knighthawks won in 2014. In his NLL career, Accursi posted 391 goals and 436 assists for 827 points in 237 games. In 2018, he was inducted into the Knighthawks Hall of Fame.

This season, with Accursi and Abrams coordinating the offense, Rochester scored 61 more goals compared to the previous season. The Knighthawks’ power play also went from ninth to second, as this year’s team scored 40 times and converted over 59 percent of their chances. Rochester also had two players in the Top 10 in scoring: Joe Resetarits, who finished fourth with 100 points, and Cody Jamieson, who was tied for eighth with 89 points.

40360683672_d8ce0054eb_o (1).jpgAfter adding two young minds to the bench staff, Styres expanded his scouting department by hiring Jacobs and Henhawk. 

Henhawk joined the Knighthawks after four successful seasons with the Junior “A” Six Nations Arrows. As the general manager, the Arrows won three of the last four Ontario championships and captured Minto Cups in 2014, 2015 and 2017. Over that time, Six Nations posted an impressive 68-12 regular season record and a 52-11 postseason mark. In 2017, he also served as the GM of the Six Nations Snipers of the Arena Lacrosse League (ALL). That season, the Snipers finished second in the league with an 8-4 record and advanced to the ALL Semifinals. 

At the pro level, Henhawk served as the head scout for the Vancouver Stealth from 2015-17. After having success with the West Division franchise, he moved east before the start of the 2017-18 season.

“It was an incredible honor to finally come on board and work alongside Curt and the Knighthawks,” he said. “He is very cerebral. I think his biggest attribute for this franchise's success is his heart and passion for the game and his team. He goes the extra mile when most do not.”

After having the chance to work with Styres for the first time, it was also clear to Jacobs why the Knighthawks were again among the elite teams in the NLL.

“It was great working with Curt this year,” said Jacobs. “He always asks for input from me as well as the other staff members because he is very big on communication. Curt is also very passionate about the game, and he cares about the players. I believe that quality in Curt shows and other people around the league see that. It’s one of the reasons why he was voted the GM of the Year and the reason the team was so successful this year.”
Jacobs rejoined the Knighthawks on July 24, 2017, after a Hall of Fame playing career and following successful coaching stints at the professional, junior and youth levels. “Dewey” played eight of his 11 seasons with the Knighthawks and was a founding member of the franchise in 1995. In 1997, he played a crucial role in helping the Knighthawks win their first NLL championship. With Rochester, the two-time team MVP recorded 169 goals and 185 assists for 354 points in 93 games. In 2009, he was inducted into the inaugural class of the Knighthawks Hall of Fame. 

Following his playing career, Jacobs has continued to experience success as the general manager of the Six Nations Chiefs. Over a four-year span, he helped build a team that won three Mann Cup championships (2013, 2014 and 2016). 

This year, Jacobs had a hand in restocking the team’s roster, which began at the 2017 NLL Entry Draft. Styres, with the help of his seasoned coaching and lacrosse staffs, made league history by becoming the first team to pick three players from the same university in the opening round of the draft. 

37201591771_aacf0d9fa3_o.jpgRochester used its first-round selections to take three players from Ohio State University. All three of the former Buckeyes made a seamless transition to the pro game and had an immediate impact. Jake Withers (second overall) finished first in the NLL in faceoff wins (279) and faceoff winning percentage (67 percent). Shanks, who was picked fifth overall, was second in points among rookies (52) and fourth on the Knighthawks in that category. Fannell (sixth overall) finished third in points among rookies with 37.

Rochester also drafted Adam Perroni in the second round and signed free agents Eric Shewell, Frank Brown and Billy Dee Smith. During the postseason, the Knighthawks signed defenseman Brandon Robinson, who they acquired in August of 2017. 

Styres also secured additional draft picks by pulling off one of the most significant trades of the season by dealing veteran Dan Dawson to the Saskatchewan Rush for a second rounder (Vancouver’s pick) in the 2018 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft and the Rush’s third-round choice in 2020. 

The move allowed rookies like Shanks and Fannell to solidify their places in the lineup and they responded, especially in the postseason. Shanks finished tied for third in goals (nine) and tied for fourth in points (18) in the NLL. Meanwhile, Fannell scored six goals and added five assists in five postseason games. Resetarits also moved into the No. 1 righty spot and reached the 100-point plateau for the first time in his career, setting the record for points in a season by an American-born player. 

Jamieson was not surprised that Styres was able to transform the Knighthawks back into a winner. His track record of selecting the right players and coaches speaks for itself.

“Curt has put his heart and soul into the Knighthawks team,” said Jamieson. “He has almost been able to predict the future and consistently does what is necessary to help improve our team.”

Stuart Brown, who works as the head scout for the Knighthawks, said Styres used all the resources at his disposal when bolstering the roster this season. 

“I think Curt would be the first to say that we have a lot of good people and a good process when evaluating talent and collaborating to identify and develop the best players for our organization,” said Brown. “It starts with our coaching staff and understanding what they need to be successful and what type of players they like. It is important that we balance the needs of our coaches and the desire to win now with the needs and goals of our organization long-term and how we can best achieve both. Our scouting staff gets out and watches a lot of lacrosse 12 months a year. They do a great job building out a deep talent pool for our coaches and staff to evaluate further.”

28699753068_248a8a7d57_k.jpgOne of the beneficiaries of the high-profile draft picks and shrewd free agent signings was Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen, who took his new-look team back to the NLL Finals. 

“Curt was able to add young, valuable pieces to the roster, which allowed us to learn, develop and grow together as a team,” he said. “It was a team that wanted to battle for each other night in, night out.”

O’Toole echoed that statement when asked about the support Styres provided the coaches with this past season.

“Curt's passion for lacrosse, and giving the coaching staff all the tools to be successful, is second to none,” he said. “His belief in the players and staff, and only making tweaks when needed, helped our team become a serious contender again as we gained the confidence in each other and our play throughout the year.”

The Knighthawks players executed Styres’ plan to perfection in 2017-18 as they finished third in goals scored (236) and third in goals against (210). Goalie Matt Vinc was recognized for his efforts by winning his record sixth NLL Goaltender of the Year Award, while Graeme Hossack was presented his first NLL Defensive Player of the Year award. Better yet, defenseman Jake Withers became only the second player in franchise history to win NLL Rookie of the Year. Fellow rookie Austin Shanks was a finalist for the award, as well. 

“The players deserve a lot of credit this season as they bought into the plan and trusted each other and the coaching staff,” said Styres. “We had a special group of players this past season, and we are only going to be that much stronger with a year of experience under our belts.”

31226494690_1b554c23e8_k.jpgDan Noble, who works as the Knighthawks Athlete Performance Coach, has been entrusted with helping the players realize their world-class potential. As the athletic development coach at The Hill Academy and owner of Noble Sports & Performance, he is one of the best in the industry. On a yearly basis, he trains players who have gone on to compete in the National Hockey League, National Lacrosse League, Ontario Hockey League and the NCAA.

Since arriving in Rochester in 2017, the Toronto native has developed training plans for each player to help them best utilize their strengths. In his first year with the Knighthawks, he was named the winner of the Seventh Man award, which recognizes the person who has gone above and beyond the call of duty. It’s his relationship with Styres that has allowed him to have success in Rochester.

“I think it’s just about empowering and allowing me to do my job even when at times it has been a pretty radical change, considering how traditional our league is,” said Noble. “It’s him trusting me and believing in the process and what it takes to develop athletes and keep developing at this level.”

Like Noble, Tom Cincebox and Tracy Johnson are responsible for making sure the players are taken care of during home and road games. Johnson spends hours behind a computer, booking rooms and flights and arranging buses for road trips. She also oversees the operations at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena (ILA), which serves as the practice facility for the Knighthawks and several NLL teams, while also hosting games from the youth to the Senior “A” level. It is indeed a family affair at the ILA as Tracy works down the hall from her husband, Jason, who is a Knighthawks assistant coach. Their daughters and grandkids also spend time in the office before games and practices.

For over a decade Tracy has worked with the players to make them feel like a part of the Knighthawks family. During games, she is the one greeting parents, spouses, kids and alumni as they enter The Blue Cross Arena. It’s a labor of love as she enjoys every minute of working for Styres and a first-class organization like the Knighthawks. 

Cincebox has seen it all during his 23 years with the Knighthawks, doing everything for the organization but play in a game. For the past nine seasons, he has worked as the team’s director of player relations. For 13 seasons, he was one of the Knighthawks’ assistant coaches, joining the team in 1996, its second year of existence. On February 28, 1998, he even served as the head coach and guided Rochester to an improbable 15-14 win over the Baltimore Thunder. 

Cincebox holds a special place in franchise history as only one of two men who have worked for all five Knighthawks championship teams (1997, 2007, 2012-14). Tom has shared his success with his son, Thomas, who works as one of the equipment assistants. On game nights, the father and son duo serve as the liaison between the Knighthawks and the visiting teams. 

“It has been an absolute pleasure to be a part of the Knighthawks’ and Curt’s management team,” said Tom. “His devotion to his players, staff, the sport of lacrosse, and the city of Rochester is second to none. It’s great that the NLL recognizes all he does as this award could not go to a more deserving person.”

Styres has made sure to share the NLL General Manager of the Year award with every member of the organization, which includes the front office staff. It’s the 11-member team in Rochester that puts in the time and effort to make the game-day experience a memorable one for the fans. They are also the people who send players to schools and lacrosse practices to grow the game and expand the Knighthawks' footprint in western New York.

In his acceptance speech, the Knighthawks owner and GM made sure to thank another special group: the fans. The seventh man, as he calls them, are the folks that fill the seats, buy the jerseys and bring their passion to the arena each night. It's only fitting that he saved the best for last.

With gratitude, he said, “Thank you Rochester Knighthawks fans for making this all possible.”

Over the past decade, all the victories on and off the turf have been a result of Styres’ unfettered love and passion for the game. He has tirelessly poured his heart into the organization. This season was no different as his hands-on approach helped mold a team and front office into one of the most successful in the National Lacrosse League.

“Curt is a man who does his homework,” said Accursi. “He utilizes his staff of coaches, scouts and administrative staff to help him make educated, informed decisions. He is not afraid to make tough choices to improve his team. He wants to win and always does his best to put the right guys on the floor each and every year.”

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