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12/13/2012 - 12:57pm

By Travis Larner, -- This weekend, the Rochester Knighthawks will travel north to take on their divisional rivals, the Toronto Rock. The game will be played at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Saturday, December 15th at 7:30 p.m.

In 2001, professional lacrosse expanded to Montreal with the birth of the Montreal Express. The Express competed in the National Lacrosse League’s Central Division, alongside the Knighthawks, Albany Attack, Buffalo Bandits and Columbus Landsharks. Success in Montreal was short-lived, however. Despite setting an NLL record with 32 goals in their season opening win over Calgary, the Express only lasted one season.

Knighthawks Head Coach Mike Hasen was a defenseman for Rochester in 2001-02 and played twice against Montreal. Rochester swept its two-game series against Montreal, defeating the Express at home and on the road. On February 17, 2002, Hasen and the Knighthawks beat the Express 21-16 at the Bell Centre.

“I remember just walking into that arena. It was very eye-opening. They had a very good crowd and a good following. It was pretty loud. It was a good atmosphere to play in from what I remember,” said Hasen.

Veteran forward Mike Accursi is now entering his 16th season in the NLL. Back in 2001-02, he was playing for the Buffalo Bandits. The Express defeated the Bandits twice that season. On February 1, 2002, the Bandits fell 10-7 to the Express in Montreal.
“They had a great team,” said Accursi. “They had a real good young goalie in Curtis Palidwor. They had Tracey Kelusky. They had some real quality players. It was a shame that the franchise didn’t stay their longer because I’m sure they would have been successful on the floor. They gave us a licking a couple of times.”

Being avid fans of the Montreal Canadiens, playing in the Bell Centre was a memorable experience for both Accursi and Hasen.

“I think I was a little bit awestruck. The Montreal Canadiens are my favorite hockey team, so for me, it’s like going to the hockey shrine of Canada. I was very, very excited to be in that building on the floor level, in behind the scenes and seeing all of the Montreal Canadiens stuff. For me, it was a dream come true,” said Accursi.

“I’m a Canadiens fan too,” said Hasen. “It was pretty remarkable. I had a great time going there and seeing the arena and stepping on that floor.”

Accursi was surprised and saddened to see the Express folded following their lone season. His teammates were impressed by the rowdiness of the crowd, which he estimated “was around 9,000 when we played there.”

He thinks the Bandits and Express could have developed a rivalry similar to the Canadiens and Sabres in the National Hockey League, and is excited to be part of an exhibition game that will bring lacrosse back to Quebec.

“Montreal is arguably one of the best sports cities in Canada. This is the place that you want to be, this is a fan base that you want access to. Lacrosse has grown exponentially in Quebec since the time that the Montreal Express were there. I think fans will be a lot more aware of lacrosse and the rules of the game. It would be exciting to see the Montreal fans back in the NLL,” said Accursi.

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