February 12, 2013

Dan Dawson Finding Groove with Knighthawks

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

Dan Dawson and the Knighthawks had a quite a travel adventure over the weekend dealing with the effects of a blizzard. A nine-hour travel day Friday was "a great team bonding experience," Dawson said.
© Larry Palumbo/Rochester Knighthawks

A surprise nine-hour bus ride and two road wins — it was quite the weekend for the Rochester Knighthawks.

A 20-10 win in Philadelphia last Friday and a 15-7 triumph in Buffalo on Saturday night upped their winning streak to three games, soothing the bad vibes of a 0-3 start to their season, and giving owner-GM Curt Styres sweet dreams of a second straight National Lacrosse League championship.

''It was a great weekend,'' said 'Hawks forward Dan Dawson. ''We wanted to make sure we got back to .500 after the slow start. The mentality in the room never really changed much. We lost two one-goal games and had one bad period against Toronto so we weren't that far off from where we needed to be. These two road wins really help.''

Dawson, a firefighter in Brampton, Ontario, and his younger brother Paul Dawson, a personal trainer in Toronto, had quite the travel adventure. The 'Hawks teammates drove to Buffalo and flew with a group of teammates to Philadelphia at 3:30 p.m. ET last Thursday. The next morning, before playing the Wings in a rare midday game, management informed the players that a snowstorm had forced cancellation of their afternoon flight back to Buffalo. A bus was chartered and off they went following their 20-goal binge.

''It was a nine-hour travel day,'' Dan Dawson said. ''We rolled into our hotel in Buffalo about 1:30 in the morning and were up for 9 a.m. shootaround Saturday. The guys were obviously tired but we'd had a great team bonding experience. Our team really prides itself on not worrying about the things we can't control. Those are the cards that were dealt and we just went with them.''

After the convincing win over the Bandits, the Dawsons were ready to motor back to Canada. Dan reported for fire hall duty Sunday.

The turnaround by the 'Hawks was triggered by several factors.

''The effort has always been there,'' Dawson said. ''Our decision-making has been a lot better the last three games. The big thing was our execution. Our shooting percentage in the first three games compared to the last three games, there's a big difference. Execution has been the biggest change.''

Matt Vinc's goaltending has also been a big factor, beginning with a 7-6 home win over Washington that started the winning streak.

''Anytime you hold a team to six goals, that is ridiculous,'' Dawson said. ''He single-handedly won that game. He's been our MVP so far. We'll ride him as far as he'll take us.''

Dawson took a few games to fit in with his new teammates but he now appears to have found his groove with his new team. It's his sixth NLL team. The first four — Columbus Landsharks, Arizona Sting, Portland Lumberjax and Boston Blazers — all folded. He takes a lot of kidding about that but he assures us he had nothing to do with any of it, and his 2012 stint in Philadelphia is fading fast.

He won the league MVP award in 2009 and he helped Canada win world indoor titles in 2007 and 2011 but in his 12 years in the NLL the lanky 31-year-old has never won the Champion's Cup. It's his burning desire.

Arizona got to the title game in 2005, capping a season in which Dawson scored what remains a career-best 48 goals, but lost 19-13 in Toronto. Arizona was in the final again in 2007 but lost 13-11 at home to Rochester. Portland made it in 2008 only to lose 14-13 in Buffalo.

Current teammate Mike Accursi was on the winning teams in '07 and '08.

"Mike [Accursi] is not scared to bring that card out and give me a little ribbing about what happened in Arizona and in Buffalo but I'm a big boy and I can take it."

— Rochester's Dan Dawson

''Whenever we get into a little banter while playing cards or whatever, Mike is not scared to bring that card out and give me a little ribbing about what happened in Arizona and in Buffalo but I'm a big boy and I can take it,'' says Dawson.

In 176 regular-season games, he has scored 352 goals and assisted on 546 for 898 points. He should reach the 900 milestone this weekend. He'll become the eighth player in pro indoor history to do it.

Given what he has accomplished, it is hard to believe that 67 players were selected before his name was called during the 2001 entry draft. Most of the 49 men picked after him never made it to the NLL and none of those who did are on an active roster today.

Wily vets Dawson and Casey Powell long to cap their careers with a title run and that hunger quotient will be an asset not to be underrated as the 'Hawks forge ahead.

Dawson is actually on two teams this winter: the Knighthawks and the one at the fire hall. There are 23 men on the active NLL roster and 12 on the active fire hall roster.

''Definitely, there's a direct correlation,'' he replies when asked if his weekday team is as tight a team as his lacrosse team. ''Being around the fire hall, helping each other out, everything about it translates into being part of a team and of a family — just like lacrosse.''

Big challenges lie ahead on the green carpet.

Five of Rochester's next six games are at home and they aim to win a majority of them because they're well aware of what awaits them come spring: their schedule winds up with four consecutive road games — Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Buffalo.

''We want to establish something in our home building,'' said Dawson. ''We don't get to see our fans at the tail end of the season so we want to make sure people coming into our building to see us play see the best we can give them.

''The first quarter of the season wasn't all of what we wanted. We're headed into our second quarter. We just want to continue to improve. We're back to .500 but we've got a long way to go.''

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli — a longtime Lacrosse Magazine contributor — are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame.

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