Black Wolves don't wait so long this time, win opener vs. Swarm
Mohegan — The first win last season didn't come until Jan. 28 after the New England Black Wolves were already 0-3, a hole from which the team was never really able to lift itself.
On Friday, the Wolves started the National Lacrosse League season with about as much gusto as you can get, just barely outside the first week of December.
New England came from down four goals to beat the defending NLL champion Georgia Swarm 13-11 in front of 5,489 fans at Mohegan Sun Arena, righting itself after allowing the Swarm to take over with seven straight goals, a run that lasted from the first quarter to the third.
“It's great. The home-opener. You can't write a better story,” said Black Wolves forward Kevin Crowley, who led the team with four goals and added an assist. “We went 0-3 last season. We made that a focus during training camp.”
“We made a lot of changes, obviously,” New England coach Glenn Clark said of an offseason trade that dealt goalie Evan Kirk to Saskatchewan in exchange for several pieces, including transition player John LaFontaine, who assisted the season-opening goal against the Swarm and scored the next one. “People were waiting around, waiting to see what that looked like. Some people were critical. … I thought we were a pretty good team in the second half.”
The Black Wolves trailed 8-5 at halftime and 9-5 when Johnny Powless scored 59 seconds into the third quarter.
“That was for the fans,” Crowley said with a smile. “I wanted a lull right before we won the game. … Really, it was part of the growth process.”
There was 10:59 to play in the third, making it 21 minutes, 59 seconds since New England's last goal, when Seth Oakes broke the drought, scoring his second of two goals in the game, assisted by Crowley and Shawn Evans.
Kevin Buchanan scored from the right side to pull within 9-7 and Evans scored standing right in front of Georgia goalie Mike Poulin on a ball that got behind Poulin. Georgia made it 10-8 on a goal by Randy Staats, but Crowley scored twice for the Wolves in the final 2:22 of the third quarter to tie the game 10-10 headed to the final 15 minutes.
The score was 11-11 with 11:48 to play on a Georgia goal when Jay Thorimbert won the faceoff for the Black Wolves and dished it quickly to Evans for a goal just 12 seconds later, giving New England the lead for good.
Crowley made it 13-11 with 5:32 to play, using his 6-foot-4 frame to get off a shot one-on-one with a defender and goalie Aaron Bold, who also came over from Saskatchewan, went into lock-down mode for the remainder of the game. Bold finished with 33 saves in his first game with the Black Wolves.
“He was good. He was our player of the game tonight,” Clark said of Bold. “… Managing a game is important. You're down 9-5, but you don't want to be down 10-5, 11-15, 12-5. Then it runs away from you.”
“(At the beginning), we had home game kind of jitters,” Bold said. “They were sticking some shots. … I have a few things I try to do. One is be ahead of the ball. The defense made it easier. The defense bailed me out and I bailed them out.”
Evans had two goals and seven assists to lead the Wolves with nine points. Buchanan had a goal and three assists.
Staats and Jesse King scored three goals each for Georgia, which swept Saskatchewan to win last year's Champion's Cup.
Crowley joked that he might as well use his size to help him score in one-on-one matchups, saying he's been using 7-foot Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid as an example. Crowley resides in the Philadelphia area.
“You definitely get a couple of moves that work and hone them in,” Crowley said. “To be on an island (with a defender), as we say, and be able to score. I'm lucky to play with some of the best lacrosse players in the world. I'm lucky enough they can keep their guys busy long enough for me to score.”
The Black Wolves play their next game Dec. 23 at Saskatchewan before returning home Dec. 29 vs. Vancouver.
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