October 26, 2012

Longtime Knighthawks Fan Among Tryout Field

by Travis Larner | Knighthawks.com

Mike Matteo has had season tickets for the Rochester Knighthawks since the team began playing in the National Lacrosse League in 1995. This weekend, the diehard fan will have a chance to fulfill one of his childhood dreams.

Matteo is one of over 20 players who will be fighting for a spot on the Knighthawks at the team's Open Tryouts on Friday, October 26th and Saturday, October 27th at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena in Hagersville, Ontario.

Playing for the Rochester Greywolves of the Senior "B" Can-Am League, Matteo played a pivotal role the team's success. For the first time in team history, the Greywolves finished with a winning record at 9-8-1. At the start of the season, he wasn't even guaranteed the starting job.

"I came back and they were like, 'If we're going to have you, you're going to be third string.' Whatever I got to do to be on the team, I just want to get back in and get acclimated. The first goalie had family obligations and couldn't come out. The second goalie didn't like to travel. Before they knew it, they were stuck with me," said Matteo, who was in his first season back with the Greywolves after some time off.

Lacrosse was foreign to Matteo until the Knighthawks arrived in Rochester in 1995. He has come a long way from being a young fan to actually playing the sport he grew up watching at The Blue Cross Arena.

"I didn't know anything about the game until they came here. It was a few years later when I started playing in seventh grade and gave up baseball," he said. He was a member of Eastridge High School's first varsity team as a sophomore.

"Through matters that were beyond my control, I eventually got into the cage and started playing goalie," said Matteo. He then went to St. John Fisher and served as a backup goaltender as a freshman.

"When I played at Fisher, I told coach (John) Johnson that I was going to start playing box as a goalie, which is obviously unheard of in America. He said best of luck to me he hopes everything works out. I've been working hard at it since then. Win, lose, or draw, that's a dream come true to be able to play with these guys in the next couple days," said the 25-year-old.

When the Greywolves were formed in 2008, he took the chance to tryout, ultimately making the team and beginning his dream to be an American-born box lacrosse goalie.

Matteo, who ironically won a Knighthawks goalie jersey in a Twitter contest last month, knows he has a tall hill to climb. Rochester starting goaltender Matt Vinc is one of the best in the game, and Jake Henhawk won his second consecutive Ontario Lacrosse Association Senior "B" Championship with the St. Catharines Saints this summer.

Two Knighthawks players have made the team by impressing the coaching staff at Open Tryouts. Tyler Burton and Jamie Batson both went undrafted, which gives Matteo confidence that his dream is possible.

"To have the opportunity to have a jersey with my name on it and to represent Americans taking what little opportunities we have and turn it into playing professionally, it would mean the world," he said. "I've seen the success stories from the guys before from the past couple of years being picked up. It gives you some hope."

If it doesn't work out this weekend, Matteo will continue refereeing Section V lacrosse, coaching youth players, and sitting in his season seats, cheering on the team he loves as they defend their 2012 Champion's Cup.

"The tickets are booked. There's no way that I'm going to miss that. If it doesn't work out, that's fine. I'm still young and I got a lot of years left. I'll keep coming out every year you guys have them," said Matteo.

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