The Philadelphia Wings opened the 2014 season and the Blane Harrison era with a convincing road victory, running over the Buffalo Bandits by a score of 17-13 before a crowd of 13,564 at First Niagara Center.
Jordan Hall led the game with five goals and two assists, including a run of four straight goals in a 5:12 span in the second quarter, earning him first star honors.
“It’s a nice start,” said Philadelphia head coach Blaine Harrison, making his debut behind the Wings bench. “They’re a solid team and we wanted to get out to a fast start [this season].”
Former Bandit Tracey Kelusky made Buffalo pay for his off-season release, scoring six points (2+4) and earning second star in his first action as a Wing.
“The boys were really happy that [Kelusky] was able to come back and contribute the way he did,” Harrison said.
Another Philadelphia newcomer, goalkeeper Evan Kirk was stellar in his first appearance, making 39 saves on 52 shots.
On the other end, Bandits starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo looked uncomfortable from the outset, allowing 13 goals on 51 shots before being replaced in the third quarter by Kurtis Wagar. Cosmo allowed four goals on only 11 shots in the third quarter before head coach Troy Cordingley finally pulled the plug.
It was also Cordingley’s first game as Bandits head coach and it did not go as he had drawn it up.
“We were taught a lesson. We were out-worked. We were out-played. We were out-willed,” Cordingley plainly stated. “Our talk was cheap; talk doesn’t win games.”
Ryan Benesch was impressive in his Bandits debut, scoring 2 goals and adding 1 assist, earning him third star honors.
Benesch appeared uninterested in discussing his own individual performance.
“Individual stats mean nothing,” he said. “This is a team game. We came out flat and we lost that game as a team. There’s no other way to put it.”
There were scant moments when the Bandits seemed to be in sync, but for the majority of the game the team looked outmatched.
“The [passing] was way off,” Cordingley said. “We had a plan and we didn’t stick to the plan; not even in the first quarter – we were out of it. We had guys on different pages.
“We looked like we played together for the first time tonight.”
Philadelphia has now won its last two opening games, both against Buffalo, after they had lost the previous four. They last one an opener on the road in 2006, defeating Colorado 13-11.
The first half saw the teams trading goals, before Hall went his four-goal run.
Undisciplined play from the Bandits, including three penalties in a 22 second span resulted in a Philadelphia penalty shot, which Hall converted for his fourth goal of the half.
Hall was the difference maker on offense for the Wings in a game he’ll not soon forget.
“I think I’ve only got one game in the NLL where I’ve got four goals,” Hall said of his five-goal performance. “I was getting the ball from the right side, which is always nice. Especially when playing with a bunch of new guys like [Ward], Kelusky and [Kevin] Crowley.”
Hall’s new head coach was impressed with what he saw from his veteran forward.
“Jordan [Hall] has been an interesting individual,” Harrison said. “He’s a tremendous talent, I was [there] when we drafted him first overall a number of years ago, I’ve always enjoyed his game. He’s a consummate leader.”
The game marked the first time in NLL history that four former first-overall picks suited up for the same team (Hall, Kelusky, Brodie Merrill and Crowley).
It seemed the Wings could run away with the game early, leading 9-4 late in the first half, but penalty trouble soon bit them, giving the Bandits a two-man advantage of their own.
Buffalo converted on both power plays, followed by an outstanding individual effort from second-year player Kevin Brownell to pull within two at halftime.
“I thought Kevin was our best player tonight,” Cordingley said. “I was real happy with his game tonight.”
The Wings pulled away in the second half, as Cosmo struggled to stop Philadelphia’s outside shots.
Buffalo scored some late goals to make it appear a bit closer than it was.
“We were totally out worked tonight; it wasn’t even close,” Cordingley said. “We’re going to be busy [over the next two weeks], we’ve got lots of work to do. We’ve got to get guys on the same page here, because if not, there are going to be a few guys watching from the crowd.”
For Philadelphia, the challenge will be to continue their strong play as the early season moves on.
“Now we’re back to square one, we’ve got to do it again in a couple weeks,” Harrison said.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Jordan Hall
2) Tracey Kelusky
3) Ryan Benesch