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Stories/Op-Ed

After All That Has Changed, FireWolves Are Searching For Rhythm

Future shock is the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” – Alvin Toffler.

When author and futurist Alvin Toffler wrote of this concept in his 1970 book Future Shock, he was speaking about how the rapid influx of technology could impact society.

It is an idea that, stripped away from its original technologically-focused context, can be apparent in any situation, including, hyperbolically speaking, the Albany FireWolves 16-7 loss a few weeks ago to the Rochester Knighthawks.

That late-December game was one that the team would like to forget. FireWolves Head Coach, Glenn Clark, explained that it was a night where it felt everything didn’t work out as planned.

“It was just a bad game,” Clark said. “You’re going to have one or two stinkers during the year. Unfortunately, ours was the first game in the building in Albany.”

The crushing home-opening loss put the team at 0-2 for the first time since 2017 (when the FireWolves were the New England Black Wolves). And, it was only the 9th time in the team’s 35-year history going all the way back to the original Philadelphia Wings days that one of their teams started 0-2.

Further adding to the pain of the nine-goal defeat, it was just the 6th time in Glenn Clark’s FireWolves/Black Wolves coaching era – which began in 2016 – that one of his teams lost by nine goals or more.

Finally, however, after three frustratingly long weeks following the loss, which included a holiday break and a week of games/practices postponed due to COVID-19, the FireWolves were eventually able to avenge their ‘stinker’ of a loss and notch their first win of the season, an impressive10-5 victory against the Saskatchewan Rush.

Now, a win is a win, but, how was the early-season hole that the FireWolves needed to dig themselves out of created? Future Shock seems to be one of the key reasons.

It may feel like an eternity ago, but it was less than 20 months ago in March of 2020 that the New England Black Wolves (now FireWolves) were sitting atop the NLL’s East Division while holding a league-best 8-3 record. Those were the days they played out of Uncasville, Connecticut, as the Black Wolves, led by dynamic scorer Callum Crawford. Then COVID-19 hit.

Since the league’s COVID-canceled season, The Black Wolves have packed up and moved about 150 miles northwest to a new home in Albany, with a new name and color scheme,and without Crawford on the team. There’s also the fact that other players such as Stephan Leblanc are also now competing for different teams.

If those changes weren’t jarring enough, during training camp this past November, it was difficult to arrange for the entire team (or coaches) to attend practices due to COVID-19, work commitments and injuries.

It didn’t get any less complicated for this group to gain some continuity once the seasons started. Manney and other defensemen such as Adam Bomberry and Greg Downing were on the injured reserve list and the newly aligned offense was still trying to find its way. The addition of future Hall of Famer last week, forward Ryan Benesch, will be one of those critical pieces fitting into the offense.

The FireWolves were constantly butting heads with drastic changes to their environment and their team’s strategy in a way that no other non-expansion franchise was, and it was severely impacting the team’s rhythm.

It’s hard to find your way when everything is constantly changing. It’s even more challenging to find your way when things are constantly changing and you don’t have the usual opportunities to adapt then prosper.

Coach Clark and his staff have used new and different methods to keep the players up to date with the team’s strategies. They have used video conferences throughout the season to go over game film in preparation for upcoming games, but that isn’t the same as being able to run through plays on the floor with your teammates.

This weekend’s game against the Philadelphia Wings will be the first time the FireWolves are playing on back-to-back weekends this season. Andrew Kew, one of the FireWolves elite young scorers, knows how beneficial playing on weekly basis will be to this team who is trying to find its way.

“Playing every weekend will make us more comfortable with each other and that will only help us,” Kew said. “Hopefully, once we start doing that, that’s when we can get on a roll.”

According to Clark, there were moments in the win over the Rush where it felt the team was getting into the rhythm they were feeling last season. Manney and Bomberry were back from injury, Benesch, Kew, and the other offensive pieces were figuring out each other’s tendencies and goaltender Doug Jamieson showed he can still play at NLL Goaltender the Year-form. All the pieces were coming together and were being given real-world opportunities to show what they could do as a unit.

“I think in that Saskatchewan game, we were close, at least defensively, to where we were pre-COVID,” Clark said. “We’ve got some new bodies and some changes offensively, and often times that take a little longer to gel. There have been moments where we’re playing the way we think we should offensively, but it’s taking a little longer to get that consistency.”

Manney echoed what Kew and Clark had stated about being able to regularly suit up on the floor for NLL action. For the FireWolves, now is the time to seize another day. Manney said it’s time to keep the ball rolling after their first win.

“We have to continue to build off this momentum we now have,” Manney said. “This will be the first time this season that we’ll be playing in consecutive weeks. Being able to get into a rhythm as a team will help us tremendously.”

Despite not reaching the heights they would like as a team yet, FireWolves defense coach Clem D’Orazio knows the FireWolves excelled in many ways against the Rush. Because of that performance, D’Orazio and the coaching staff are urging their players to keep building off those successes so they can challenge a formidable opponent this weekend in the Philadelphia Wings.

“We know that on both sides of the ball, we’re going to get better each game,” D’Orazio said. “I think we started to hit our stride this past weekend, but we need to be consistent to be great. We need to find our stride again in Philadelphia.”

Now, if the FireWolves come out on the wrong side of the matchup on Saturday, so be it. It does not mean their time is up, that their season is over. They have played one of the most disjointed schedules in the NLL thus far, which takes a mental toll.

The FireWolves have January 29th marked as a key date on their calendar because that begins an intense stretch of having no weeks off until mid-April. From January 29th to April 2nd, the FireWolves play 12 games, including having two weekends where they play on back-to-back nights.

This team already has a robust and budding sense of camaraderie, confidence and cohesion. The FireWolves already know that they are more balanced than in years past. They know they have a reasonable amount of depth on the roster. And, most importantly, they know that it’s possible to replicate the team’s winning ways of the 2019-20 season if they can embrace the now and focus on the goals in front of them.

With a couple of weekends until the 29th, the FireWolves hope to find a rhythm and confidence that they can ride through their rigorous mid-season schedule. If they can do that, the effects of future Shock will continue to wear off.

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