Relocation is never an easy transition. It’s not like an expansion team filled with new possibilities and a clean slate, it’s moving one operation elsewhere and seeing which pieces transition. We saw the roster turnover with the old Rochester Knighthawks when they relocated to Halifax..
Albany, New York is just a few hours’ drive from Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. The majority of the roster, based locally in New England, doesn’t have to venture much farther to get to the central New York location.
There will be noticeable changes on the floor and behind the scenes in the front office in Albany. It’s going to be different ownership and a soon-to-be-named Albany NLL crest on the front of the jersey. Head coach Glenn Clark, who has been coaching this team since 2015, last saw his squad take the floor in 2020 as the top team in the league with an 8-3 record, leading the league in goals against average and goal differential. He will have to make adjustments to a new-feel club without the benefit of knowing what he’s had for nearly two years.
“You always see a lot of development with younger guys in those second and third seasons,” said Clark. “And now it’s essentially two years removed. Two years where they’re not able to play so it’s more difficult to chart that progress. We haven’t seen them at the professional level in actual years.”
For a relatively young team, that lack of development could hurt, especially since they didn’t have a place to play summer box in Canada in 2020, either. For younger guys like Nick Chaykowsky or Jackson Nishimura, or more traditional field players like Joe Nardella and John Uppgren, that could make it a rockier transition on the return to playing on a consistent basis, now with a new city to adjust to as well.
Andrew Kew had a solid rookie campaign (42 points, 27 goals) and signed a four-year extension with the team in December, Veterans Joe Resetarits (44 points, 24 goals) and Reilly O’Connor (35 points, 19 goals) produced in the way they are expected to. Goalie Doug Jamieson won the league’s Goaltender of the Year award with a league leading .829 save percentage and 8.77 goals against average in the shortened season.
Losing leading scorer Callum Crawford (76 points) is a blow, but with the young talent in place, there was going to have to be a transition at some point anyways. The team brought in forwards Jacob Ruest from Colorado in a draft night trade and Jean-Luc Chetner from New York as a free agent to help bolster their offense. During the entry draft, Clark drafted NCAA greats, Grant Ament (all-time leading scorer at Penn State) and Michael Sowers (all-time leading scorer at Princeton and currently a grad-transfer at Duke).
“There’s always at least five teams in any given season that’s going to contend for a championship,” said Clark. “And when those playoffs start it’s a one game showdown. There’s always a lot of people in the mix. We’re going to be in the mix.”
The Black Wolves were on a roll in 2020 when everything came to a pause. That pause went on long enough when they try to attempt another run, it’ll be in a different city, under a different moniker altogether.
That transition can be difficult for players and everyone involved in normal times. Luckily for them, they don’t have to move all too far away, or for some, at all.
It’s not like expanding where a team has to be built from scratch. If all contracts stay the same, they’re still returning the bulk of the club that brought them to a first-place campaign in 2019-20. Having the backbone of the team still essentially in place is sure to make things easier. It will also help bring fans through the gates with a great product and high expectations from the start.
The expectations for this squad, even in a new city, stay the same; trying to become an NLL champion.
Clark himself was a five-time NLL champion with the Toronto Rock in his playing days. One of those titles came at the expense of the old-school Albany Attack in 2002.
The 2016 Coach of the Year wants to bring a title-contending club back to Albany, nearly 20 years after they appeared in the NLL Finals. The 8-3 Black Wolves of 2020 will look a bit different and will expect to lose a couple of pieces in the expansion draft for Panther City, but the same culture that created a competing club is going to be instilled in the program, just a bit further north and west.
“It’s all going to be a bit of a change,” said Clark. “The discussions we’ve had, the way things are set up in Albany, it’s going to be really nice and they’re working very hard to make it feel like our home venue. It’s gonna be really welcoming for the players and everybody else. I think the community is going to embrace it.”