The Philadelphia Wings, led by one of last year's top rookies in Kevin Crowley, will host the Buffalo Bandits on Friday night to open their 2013 NLL regular season. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The Philadelphia Wings will begin their 27th season of play when they host the Buffalo Bandits for their 2013 National Lacrosse League regular season home opener on Friday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m. at Wells Fargo Center. The revamped Wings hope to challenge for a record-seventh NLL title after making the playoffs in 2012 for the first time in three seasons. Watch the game live on the NLL on YouTube on The Lacrosse Network.
The Wings had a busy offseason by adding 13 new players to the roster. Philadelphia acquired seven of those players through trades, including one of the sport’s biggest stars, transition player Paul Rabil. The December trade that sent shockwaves through the league between the Wings and the Rochester Knighthawks, sent Dan and Paul Dawson to Rochester for Rabil, Jordan Hall, Joel White and Robbie Campbell.
Those additions were preceded by three trade acquisitions, Kyle Hartzell from the Washington Stealth, Kevin Ross from the Minnesota Swarm and Kevin Buchanan, who will play his former team right away when the Wings take on the Bandits this weekend.
“There have been a lot of changes to this team with 13 new players and seven rookies but we are ready to compete,” said Wings head coach Johnny Mouradian. “We made a conscious effort to build a roster centered around young, talented U.S. players and our goal is to get back to winning championships.”
The starting lineup for the Wings on opening night will have a different look than just one year ago. Out of the original starting six who were on the floor for the opening faceoff in 2013, only faceoff specialist Jeff Reynolds and goalie Brandon Miller remain.
Philadelphia returns two All-Stars in captain Brodie Merrill and Max Seibald, who will miss some time with an injury, along with last season’s runner-up for NLL Rookie of the Year Kevin Crowley, their top pick in the 2011 NLL Entry Draft, and forward Drew Westervelt, who led the team with 36 goals last season.
"We've made a lot of improvements," Merrill said. "With change, there is a little bit of uncertainty. We don't quite know what we have yet, but we will find Friday night and begin the process of coming together and growing as a team."
Rookie draft picks, Michael Manley and C.J. Costabile, both from Duke, will play in their first professional game Friday night along with Campbell, Ethan Farrell and Brian Teuber.
“We are looking forward to the matchup with Buffalo," Mouradian said. "I think we match up well against them. They have a lot of young new talent and so do we.”
This game will mark the first of three contests between the Wings and their long-time East Division foe this season. In addition to opening the 2013 season against the Bandits, the team will play two road games later this year in Buffalo at First Niagara Center.
For Buffalo, it’s the first game for newly-appointed captain John Tavares. It’s Tavares' 22nd season with the Bandits, but the first with him as captain. Tavares has led Buffalo in scoring in 17 of 21 seasons.
Both teams are historically weak in season openers. The Wings have an 11-15 record in openers (.423 win percentage) and haven’t won on opening day since 2008. The Bandits are slightly above .500 with a 12-9 record (.571 win percentage), but have only won two of their last six openers.
Adding to the Wings home opener festivities, Philadelphia 76ers star center Spencer Hawes will participate in a ceremonial faceoff prior to the game
Hawes has attended several games at Wells Fargo Center since joining the Sixers in 2010. The 7’1” center was a lacrosse standout in high school at the prestigious Seattle Prep in Washington and continues to follow the sport he grew up playing.
“I’ve really enjoyed going to Wings games over the past few seasons and I love the sport,” Hawes said. “I can’t wait to see this year’s Wings team take on Buffalo and I’m thrilled to be participating in the faceoff.”
Dave Walls contributed to this report for NLL.com.