Black Wolves finish with a fire, hold off Knighthawks to go to 4-1
Mohegan — The New England Black Wolves were coming off a 30-minute, 10-second drought Sunday when suddenly they gained momentum again, or rather Reilly O'Connor did.
O'Connor, a lefty forward in his third professional season after being chosen by the Calgary Roughnecks in the first round of of the 2015 National Lacrosse League draft, scored with 2:36 remaining in the third quarter and again at the 2:11 mark. Those goals gave New England a two-goal lead.
They didn't give the Wolves the lead for good, but rejuvenated the offense enough for them to outlast the Rochester Knighthawks 11-9 before 5,373 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena and to maintain first place in the NLL East Division with a record of 4-1.
The Wolves are 3-0 at home.
“It's a big confidence thing,” said O'Connor, who finished with two goals and three assists to eclipse the 100-point mark for his career (he entered the game with 96). “You just get that burst, that's what it is.”
The first goal, off a rebound from an initial shot by Shawn Evans, made him want the ball again. New England then won the faceoff and O'Connor wound up back in front of the net. He sidearmed a shot past Rochester goalie Matt Vinc to give the Black Wolves an 8-6 lead, assisted by Stephan Leblanc and Evans.
Evans finished with three goals and two assists and Kevin Crowley with three goals for New England, with Evans playing in his 200th career game. O'Connor had two goals and three assists, Leblanc two goals and two assists and David Brock added a goal.
“He's such a solid contributor,” Black Wolves coach Glenn Clark said of O'Connor. “He's a smart player. He can skin you for a couple. He does a lot of those seemingly unnoticeable things, but he does them well.”
“We got a little bit of a fire going there,” Evans said of O'Connor's goals.
Rochester came back to tie the game at 8-8, but had its next goal, seemingly scored by Cory Vitarelli, negated due to a crease violation.
Shortly thereafter, New England did take the lead for good, getting a goal from Crowley from the left side, shooting over the top off an assist from O'Connor to make it 9-8.
With 2:36 to play, Evans sprinted down the left side and dove from left to right across the goal to score the 10th goal for the Black Wolves and Crowley made it 11-8, spinning off his defender and creating his own space to launch a shot.
Rochester, having pulled its goalie for an extra man, scored with 1:15 left on a goal by Cody Jamieson for the final margin.
Clark credited the Black Wolves defense, pointing out that the focus of the offseason was to create a “good and predictable D” and that they seem to have done that. That included goalie Aaron Bold, who made 44 saves and has come up big in the clutch time after time.
“We've got a D that can shut teams down at times when we have these valleys of scoring,” Clark said. “… Then we got Crowley, Evans, Crowley to come up big in crunch time. There's something to be said for the composure at crunch time.”
The game started out feverishly, with New England leading 6-4 after the first quarter. The Wolves took a 6-3 lead after a pair of power play goals with Rochester (2-4) sustaining a five-minute major penalty for slashing on Billy Dee Smith, who flattened Evans for what was the third time to that point.
Jake Withers scored for Rochester with 2:41 left in the first, though, and the Knighthawks scored the only two goals in the second quarter, one by Brad Gillies and one by Austin Shanks, to make it 6-6 at halftime.
“We're finding different ways (to win),” Evans said of the Black Wolves, who next play at Toronto on Saturday in another East Division matchup. “We're getting saves when we need 'em. We're getting goals when we need 'em. I don't think we put a full 60 minutes together, but we're finding a way to win. We're going on runs at the right time.”
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