ROCHESTER — The Rochester Knighthawks announced that they have signed goalie Chase Martin to a one-year deal and have also signed veteran defenseman Billy Dee Smith to a one-year deal.
Martin comes to the Knighthawks after helping the Senior “B” Six Nations Rivermen reach the President’s Cup Finals.
“Chase had a really good summer and played well in the President’s Cup when given the opportunity,” said Knighthawks scout Stuart Brown. “He has steadily improved each year since he graduated juniors. We felt like now was a good time to give him an opportunity to show us what he’s capable of at the next level.”
Martin finished the tournament with a 4-1 record and led all goaltenders with a 6.18 goals-against average. The Rivermen took home a silver medal, to go along with their Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) Senior “B” Men’s Lacrosse title.
“That was a long tournament and a grind,” said the 24-year-old about playing nine games in seven days. “It seemed like you had a game every day, and you didn’t have a chance to sit still. By Thursday or Friday, I think I was running on instinct and will.”
It has been quite the year for Martin, who also reached the 2017 Arena Lacrosse League (ALL) Semifinals with the Six Nations Snipers. Once again, he posted impressive numbers as he earned five wins, a 9.41 goals-against average and an .807 save percentage during the regular season.
This past summer marked the third time that Martin has played professional lacrosse, having previously appeared in the Canadian Lacrosse League (CLax). Martin suited up for the Ohsweken Demons from 2015 to 2016. In both seasons, the Demons reached the Creator’s Cup Finals. In 2015, he also played Senior “B” lacrosse with the Six Nations Rivermen and collected a 5-2 record and a 5.72 goals-against average. That season, the Rivermen earned an OLA and President’s Cup championship.
Martin, who is a product of Six Nations, has become accustomed to playing for winning teams. From 2012 to 2014, he helped the Six Nations Rebels rule the Junior “B” circuit, capturing three straight Founders’ Cup championships. He also earned three consecutive Co-goaltender of the Year honours along the way.
“It’s a pretty high standard,” said Martin. “Not a lot of people can go to a final every year in every league they play in. That’s always the end goal. I am lucky that I have been a part of some good teams that I helped get there.”
With years of success behind him, Martin will now take his first shot at playing in the National Lacrosse League. He was beyond words as he described signing his first pro contract.
“It sounds cliché, but it’s my childhood dream,” he said. “It’s what every lacrosse player thinks about when their growing up. Now that it’s happened, it is unreal.
Veteran defenseman Billy Dee Smith was also signed to a one-year deal.
“Billy Dee has established himself as a top-notch defender in the NLL,” said Knighthawks scout Stuart Brown. “We are excited to bring him to camp and give him a shot at competing for a roster spot.”
The 35-year-old Smith played all of his 15 seasons in Buffalo after being selected third overall in the 2002 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft. In 192 games, which was the fourth most in Bandits’ history, he posted 32 goals, 35 assists and 512 loose balls. Smith even holds a place of distinction in league history. By playing his physical, hard-nosed brand of lacrosse, he racked up the most penalty minutes in NLL history with 634.
The 2008 season was the highlight of Smith’s career as he helped the Bandits win the Champion’s Cup. During the Cup run, he set career highs in playoff points (four), goals (four) and loose balls (16). The following season, he was honoured as the NLL Defensive Player of the Year. In 2016, Smith joined select company as he was named Buffalo’s team captain. Last season, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound defenseman appeared in 14 games and collected 25 loose balls.
For Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson, who enters his 17th year in the NLL, it’s nice to have Smith on his side of the floor for the first time in his pro career.
“Billy is a proven winner at every level, dating back to junior,” said Dawson. “He is the ultimate competitor and will do anything to help his team win. He is the kind of teammate you love having on your team and hate playing against.”
After spending his entire career in Buffalo, Smith said he relishes the chance to get a fresh start in Rochester.
“It feels good and is a relief,” he said. “I am really excited for the opportunity to play for Rochester and (Owner) Curt (Styres). I have a lot of buddies on the team. It will be familiar and I think that’s a good thing.”
By coming to Rochester, Smith is reunited with over a dozen former teammates from past junior, senior, professional and international teams. One player in particular, however, that Smith looks forward to playing with again is fellow St. Catharines, Ontario native Matt Vinc. The two lacrosse veterans have played together from ages 13 to 29, but this will be their first chance to play on the same team in the NLL.
“It has been something we have always talked about since I came into the league,” said Vinc, who broke into the NLL in 2006. “I am excited because he is one of my closest friends and because he is a huge defensive presence on the floor and one of the best ‘D’ guys in the world.”
On the international stage, Smith has earned three trips to the world championships with Team Canada. He won gold in 2006 and silver in 2010 at the FIL World Lacrosse Championship. In 2015, Smith played in his first FIL World Indoor Lacrosse Championship and won a gold medal.
On Oct. 21, Smith will once again don the maple leaf as he plays for Team Canada in an international exhibition against Team USA. Shortly after playing for Canada in the Heritage Cup, Smith will attend Knighthawks training camp.
When asked about playing for his former rival, he was squarely focused on the task at hand: making the Knighthawks’ 2017-18 roster.
“I am planning on getting in the best shape of my life,” he said. “‘Vno’ (Matt Vinc) is one of my best friends and lives right around the corner from me. I’ll be meeting him at the gym in the mornings.
“I haven’t been this excited in a while. It’s a chance to prove myself all over again. Ultimately, I know I can make an impact in Rochester and hopefully help them get back to a championship.”