Black Wolves Biggest Surprise of NLL's First Month
Everybody accepted that New England was going to be better when it traded for Shawn Evans but few dared to imagine it could go from last to first in the NLL East.
It is not just the fact that the Black Wolves have won three of their first four games that most pleases the coaching staff but it is the way they are winning that has creative such a positive vibe around the team.
"We're being systematic, following the game plan, and the guys are playing with composure," says head coach Glenn Clark. "It's good to see."
An impressive 15-11 win Saturday over the visiting Bandits lifted the 3-1 Back Wolves, who were a dismal 4-14 last season, to the top of the East standings.
"Buffalo is a strong team so it was a nice win," says Clark. "Bit by bit, we're proving we're a team that can play with the top teams in the league. We've got a good four-game assessment but we won't get too excited yet because there's a long way to go."
A lot of the credit has to go to goaltender Evan Kirk and the defense.
The Black Wolves have a league-best 8.25 goals-against average and Kirk has played every second so his GAA is 8.25, too. Kirk made a career-best 56 saves against the Bandits and he now has a spectacular save percentage of .844. No other goalie in the league comes close.
"The good thing is that when we have breakdowns he's been able to make timely saves," says Clark. "He's stopped runs and he bales us out when we've had breakdowns. He's having a great start to the season.''
Five of the back-end runners in the lineup for the latest win are from the United States and the way they are playing renders mythical the Canadian-held notion that D-men are unworthy unless they learned the indoor form of lacrosse in Canada from the time they were tots.
"They are all very, very good athletes with terrific footwork and speed and recovery," says Clark. "They are also very willing to learn. They ask questions. It's been a good marriage (of athleticism and inquisitiveness)."
It helps to have coaches — Clark and assistant Jim Veltman — who played defense in the NLL and can pass on their knowledge.
"Jimmy and I have had a long relationship," says Clark. "We're very like-minded in terms of philosophy and principles regarding what we want to do back there. We are constantly bouncing ideas off one another, looking for ways to improve. We've got a great canvas to work with because they are such good athletes. The more experience they get, they certainly are every bit as effective as the good Canadian guys."
The offense is No. 3 in the league with 12.75 goals for per game. Evans, the 2015 league MVP with Calgary, leads the team in goals, 12, and points, 24.
"He's got an engine that doesn't stop," says Clark. "He is so creative, and such a competitor."
Assistant coach Tracey Kelusky, a good friend of Evans as both learned to play lacrosse in Peterborough, Ontario, starting from when they were barely out of diapers, is responsible for the offense.
"Tracey is a real student of the game," says Clark. "The three (coaches) are in sync."
What they appreciated most Saturday were the 11 5-on-5 goals the team scored.
"That was our best offensive game in terms of ball movement and being dangerous throughout the game," says Clark. "The guys were crisp and got some beautiful goals on east-west ball movement and by being active."
Kevin Crowley broke loose for six goals.
"Kevin is setting big screens for Evans and doing all the little subtle things that make your offense better," says Clark. "He's a complete offensive player. I really like his game."
Patience has paid off for the entire offense, especially against the Bandits, who they outscored 5-1 in the third quarter.
"Coming out at halftime, it was important for us to use the whole 30-second clock," Crowley said. "They're a great transition team so the more we could keep them on defense the better for us. It's sticking to our game plan and having a belief that it will be successful and then executing."
New England is at Buffalo on Saturday.
RICHARDS ATTEMPTING COMEBACK
Tyler Richards, who packed up his goaltending gear and announced his retirement from the Vancouver Stealth last spring, is attempting a comeback. He has been activated and can participate in two practises to determine if it'll work out. Concerns over several concussions led to his retirement.
The Stealth are last in the West Division so will seriously consider inserting Richards into the lineup if he can show he's fit to play. He's only 29. Five years ago, he was a member of Canada's team that won gold at the 2011 world indoor championship and his 50-save heroics helped the team win the 2010 NLL title game when it was based outside Seattle. A check of 2016 goaltending stats shows Vancouver's Eric Penney with a 13.7 goals-against average, which places him ninth among the nine who have played more than 100 minutes.
SANDERSON MIGHT RETURN
Josh Sanderson, who led Toronto in points last season and who was unprepared to return to action when the season began a month ago, was added to the active roster on Tuesday for evaluation. The designation means, like Richards, he can participate in as many as two practices before a final determination of his status is made.
The 0-5 Rock relieved assistant coach Dan Ladouceur of his duties Monday and this is another step owner-GM Jamie Dawick is taking to try and turn around the fortunes of the 2015 NL East champions. Whether a 38-year-old forward is the answer will remain to be seen.
"When Josh stepped away, I told him to give me a call if and when he was ready to come back and play," says Dawick. "That call came this week. He said he was ready to play and I told him I would see him at practise Tuesday."
Sanderson participated in practice Tuesday. The Rock did not play this weekend. They return to action the following Sunday at New England, where Sanderson could make his season's debut.
Colorado forward Adam Jones scored one goal in his team's 12-10 loss in Saskatoon last Saturday and it extended to 52 games his NLL-best streak of goals in consecutive regular-season play. Jones and teammate Callum Crawford each have 31 points to lead the scoring race. Teammate John Grant and Buffalo's Dhane Smith are a point behind. Smith has a game in hand over the three Mammoth players.
BY THE NUMBERS
Georgia rookie Randy Staats wore 88 when he played minor lacrosse in the Six Nations community in southern Ontario because that was the number worn by an older player he admired, the Six Nations Jr. A team's Cody Jamieson. When Staats became Jamieson's junior teammate, he had to select a different number and had an idea: use the first 8 and one-half of the second 8, as in 3. So, he started wearing 83 in his teens. He wore 45 in the NCAA at Syracuse but has gone back to 83 with the Swarm.
Georgia rookie Jesse King wears 19 to honor a boyhood idol, too.
"I started wearing number 19 when I was a kid," he explains. "Paul Gait was a guy I looked up to when I was younger and that was his number. I was fortunate to wear 19 at (Ohio State). I wore a different number (92) back home with the Victoria Shamrocks. I decided to wear 19 with the Swarm. It felt right."
FIRST NLL GOALS FOR OCC TEAMMATES
Calgary rookie Tyson Bell barged into the middle of Vancouver's zone on a fast transition rush in the third quarter, positioned his stick for a sidearm shot, and bounced a ball past Vancouver goaltender Eric Penney for his first NLL goal. It gave the Roughnecks an 11-9 lead and they would go on to win 15-13 Saturday.
Bell, 21, was drafted 24th overall out of the St. Catharines Athletics Jr. A program in southern Ontario via Onondaga Community College in the Syracuse, N.Y., region. The six-foot-two defenseman known as Beller to his teammates has quite the following at a Twitter address @UnrealFlow44 that has something to do with his hair. He is wearing 94 with the Roughnecks.
Bell's OCC teammate Adam Bomberry, 21, also scored his first NLL goal the same night. The Rochester Knighthawks rookie outraced two checkers on a breakaway to get to the front edge of the Georgia crease and take an overhand shot that sent the ball over goalie Brodie MacDonald's left shoulder and into the top corner of the net. The second-quarter goal was his team's first of the night in a game they would lose 13-9.
The lanky defenseman was drafted 16th overall. He's from the Akwesasne community near Potsdam, N.Y., and helped the Six Nations Arrows win two Canadian junior championships. He also was a member of the Iroquois Nationals teams that won world field bronze in 2014 and world indoor silver in 2015. He is wearing 51 with the Knighthawks.
DAN LINTNER GETS HIS FIRST
Toronto rookie Dan Lintner scored his first NLL goal last Friday but a 20-17 home loss to Georgia spoiled his night. His was the 11th and last goal of a wild first period and it gave the Rock a 6-5 lead.
"It's always good to get the first one," he said. "I'm just trying to get a win with the team here."
Lintner was knocked into the crease as he shot.
"I just tried to get the ball into the net before I landed," he said. "Sometimes you've got to get the ball in and out of your stick quickly."
Lintner played junior box lacrosse in Whitby, Ontario, and NCAA field lacrosse at Cornell. He was the eighth player selected, by New England, in the 2015 draft. The Black Wolves traded him to Toronto for veteran forward Kevin Crowley. The biggest adjustment he's had to make is to the speed of play.
"It's a fast pace. Keeping up with these guys is a challenge."
He preferred to wear 14 previous to stepping up to the NLL but veteran defenseman Rob Marshall has 14 with the Rock so Lintner reversed the digits in settling on 41 as his number.
THIS AND THAT
Largest crowd of the weekend was in Calgary, where 13,769 watched the Roughnecks edge Vancouver 15-13. Even though only a handful of players have come out of Alberta to play in the NLL, Calgary was the No. 1 Canadian city in NLL attendance in 2015 — third overall behind Colorado and Buffalo — and is topping Toronto again this year despite southern Ontario being the main source of lacrosse talent . . . Rochester captain Sid Smith missed the home loss to Georgia after being placed on injured reserve . . . Colorado captain Dan Coates was able to play last weekend despite being suspended for two games for a high-sticking incident against Vancouver on Jan. 23 because the PLPA appealed . . . Shawn Evans of the Black Wolves and Turner Evans of the Rock are cousins. Dylan Evans of the Knighthawks is not related . . . D Jamie Batson was signed by the Rock after he was released by Buffalo last Thursday. The Bandits then filled a practice roster vacancy by signing D Craig England.
There are four games on the schedule. Calgary plays twice and Toronto (0-5) and Rochester (2-2) have byes. All times EST:
CALGARY (2-2) AT SASKATCHEWAN (2-1), 8:30 p.m.
This is the second of four meetings. Saskatchewan spoiled Calgary's home opener 10-8 on Jan. 2.
Calgary is coming off a 15-13 home win over Vancouver last Saturday. It was a four-goal night for Curtis Dickson.
Saskatchewan won at home, 12-10 over Colorado, last Friday. Mark Matthews broke loose for four goals.
NEW ENGLAND (3-1) AT BUFFALO (2-2), 7:30 p.m.
These teams met in Connecticut last Saturday and the Black Wolves won 15-11. Kevin Crowley scored six goals and Evan Kirk made 56 saves.
GEORGIA (3-2) AT CALGARY (2-2 before Friday game in Saskatoon), 9 p.m.
Calgary won all five meetings during the previous three seasons. The last time the Swarm beat the Roughnecks was on March 3, 2012, in Calgary. They were the Minnesota Swarm then and they won 15-11.
Georgia won twice last weekend, 20-17 in Toronto and 13-9 in Rochester. Johnny Powless had a 13-point weekend.
Frankie Scigliano's goaltending was a key to that 15-13 Calgary win over Vancouver.
COLORADO (4-1) AT VANCOUVER (1-3), 10 p.m.
In the first meeting, on Jan. 23, Colorado routed the Stealth 14-5 in Langley.
Both teams lost close ones last Saturday as the Mammoth dropped a 12-10 squeaker in Saskatoon and the Stealth fell 15-13 in Calgary.
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