Black Wolves begin sixth season looking for their fifth straight playoff bid

Among notable offseason happenings, the New England Black Wolves selected former University of Tampa All-American Andrew Kew with the third overall pick in the National Lacrosse League’s Entry Draft, the Wolves’ highest draft selection since arriving in Connecticut.

The NLL grew by two, adding expansion teams in New York and Rochester, while a third team relocated to Halifax. The league added a division, too, with the Black Wolves remaining in the East alongside the Georgia Swarm, New York Riptide and Philadelphia Wings.

And fifth-year Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark retired from his career as a teacher at Bayview Secondary School in Richmond Hill, Ontario, leaving him with more free time for … lacrosse. Clark was recently hired as head coach of the Burnaby Lakers of the Western Lacrosse Association and will spend the summer months from now on across the continent in British Columbia.

And yet the more things change ...

The Black Wolves, beginning their sixth season, will vie for their fifth straight playoff bid starting Saturday with their season opener at the Toronto Rock (7 p.m., Scotiabank Arena).

“I think it’s gone well,” Clark said in a phone call this week, asked for a recap of the preseason. “We haven’t gotten the results in the exhibition games, but they’re exhibition games. The real test comes this weekend. I like the feel. When we get to our group … I think we’re improved.”

The Black Wolves return their top three scorers in Callum Crawford (NLL-best 48 goals, 61 assists, 109 points), Stephan Leblanc (27 goals, 66 assists, 93 points) and Reilly O’Connor (27 goals, 49 assists, 76 points) and five of their top six overall.

Add to that Kew, who was expected to go first in the draft to New York, but dropped to No. 3 to ecstatic Black Wolves general manager Rich Lisk, who in an ensuing story on NLL.com said Kew “was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for us.”

Kew, a 6-foot-3 lefty forward from Oakville, Ontario, where Clark coached against him as a Junior A player, finished his career at Division II Tampa with 259 goals and 75 assists, leading the Spartans in goals for four straight seasons.

“I didn’t know him personally (before this), but he’s a nice, respectful, hardworking player,” Clark said of Kew. “He’s a great addition in terms of the personality and work ethic we’re looking for.

“… He’s a little snake-bitten in training camp in terms of putting up goals, but he’s still getting acclimated with his teammates. He’s an offensively gifted weapon.”

Crawford, meanwhile, stands at 973 points, continuing his path to the 1,000-point mark.

Defender Brett Manney will once again serve as captain, joined by assistant captains Leblanc and transition player John LaFontaine. Manney has played in 85 of 90 regular season games in the history of the Black Wolves.

New England was 9-9 in the regular season a year ago and lost its playoff opener to Buffalo.

Clark said a deeper playoff run is something the franchise has been moving toward.

“We’ve established ourselves as a consistent franchise,” he said. “Now you want to start getting deeper into the playoffs. You want to start having a better regular season because now you’re in the playoffs and you’re running into some pretty strong teams (in the opening round). We haven’t won a road playoff game. We’ve won at home. We want to put ourselves in that position: get a home playoff game, engage the fans.”

The fight starts right away. With the season opening last weekend, Georgia, Calgary and Saskatchewan already have bragging rights with victories.

“It’s OK. We’re behind the eight ball (already), but it’s the nature of what we do,” Clark said. “Guys get that. You prep and you get ready. Everybody’s ready to roll.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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