For the New England Black Wolves, the start could not be any worse than it was last season. The 0-3 start to 2017 was still fresh in the minds of returning Black Wolves players as they headed into training camp and the start of this new season.
Looking to flip that script with the defending champion Georgia Swarm coming to town, the Black Wolves came together for 13-11 victory on Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
New England came out flying with an early 5-2 lead but seemed to run out of gas as Georgia ended the 1st half with a 7-0 run and the 9-5 lead. For the Black Wolves’ and their new look defense, the halftime reset buzzer came at the perfect time.
After an active offseason the New England Black Wolves were looking to strengthen the back end while continuing their quality play on the offensive side. In a move that sent shockwaves throughout much of the National Lacrosse League, New England General Manager Rich Lisk did just that.
The blockbuster deal sent New England’s star goaltender, Evan Kirk to Saskatchewan in exchange for their championship goalie, Aaron Bold. Along with Bold, the Black Wolves received defenseman John LaFontaine who was the Rush eighth overall pick in the 2017 NLL draft, and a second round pick in the 2018 NLL draft.
After winning back-to-back NLL championships with Saskatchewan, Bold, LaFontaine and the Rush had their chances at a three-peat stopped by the high powered Georgia offense in last season’s Champion’s Cup Finals. Bold and LaFontaine turned it up a notch in the 2nd half as they looked to avenge that Finals loss with their new team.
The Black Wolves held Georgia to only 18 shots in the 2nd half as Bold stopped 15 of them. While the defense limited Georgia’s opportunities, many of the chances they did get were high quality shots from right in front of Bold. After adjusting to his new building in the 1st half, he was completely in the zone for the 2nd half.
So was the Black Wolves offense. After a scoring drought that lasted just under 22 minutes, New England came to life to score eight of the last ten goals of the game. For the Black Wolves, it was the same characters up to their old tricks. Kevin Crowley led the offensive charge with four goals and one assist while Shawn Evans and Seth Oakes added two goals apiece. Evans added seven assists for a game-high, nine point total.
Already making NLL history last season becoming the first player ever to record five straight 100 point seasons, Evans, the two-time NLL Most Valuable Player looks to be well on his way to another.
For Georgia, reigning NLL MVP Lyle Thompson (1G, 3A) was kept in check for much of the game by the reinforced Black Wolves defense. After scoring a hat trick in the 1st half of his return, Jesse King was quiet like many of the Swarm in the 2nd half. Continuing to be a thorn in the sides of New England, Randy Staats (3G, 1A) and Shayne Jackson (2G, 2A) carried the load for Georgia.
New England gets the next two weeks off before returning to action on December 23rd when they travel to Saskatchewan to face the other half of last year’s Champion’s Cup Finals. Yet another game that Bold and LaFontaine will have marked on their calendars after the Rush traded them away in the offseason.