The Minnesota Swarm (5-8) handed the New England Black Wolves (3-8) its third-straight loss with a 12-8 win on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center in front of a crowd of 7,599. The game was the first test of the altered rosters for both teams due to recent transactions, including the swap of former Swarm captain Andrew Suitor with former Black Wolves captain Joel White.
“It was a great win. These guys are awesome; I can’t say enough about them and the coaches and the organization, about how they’ve accepted me,” White said. “Little crazy, little surprised, but it’s a new chapter and I was excited to turn the page. To get the ‘W’ today is huge.”
Minnesota took the season series against the Black Wolves 3-1 with the single loss coming from the last Swarm home game a few weeks ago. Since then, the Swarm have dedicated practices and roster moves to strengthening its defense and unifying the offense, and it’s starting to pay off.
“We lived and learned. We had a tight game with them early in the year and then they came into our barn and caught us off guard with some real slick play,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “I think our defense has stepped up in the last 2-3 games to really start to improve and have a little bit of faith in each other and come together. So, it’s a little later than we would have liked, but just the same, we’re getting the results we need now.”
Swarm assistant captain Callum Crawford (3+3) opened the game with a goal that was quickly followed up with another by Corbyn Tao (3+0). The pair went on to each secure a hat trick in the leading charge of an offensive effort.
“The flow in practice has been great. It’s on us as an offense to keep doing that. If we can keep doing that, we can play and beat anybody in this league,” Crawford said. “So, it’s on us to commit ourselves to team ball instead of individual lacrosse.”
Assistant captain Jordan MacIntosh (1+2), forward Miles Thompson (1+2), forward Shayne Jackson (1+3), and forward Dean Hill (1+0) each notched a goal in the team effort. Forward Johnny Powless (1+3) and transition Joel White (1+1) both made a significant impact in their first appearances with the Swarm.
“Johnny Powless came in and really electrified our offense. He didn’t find the back of the net as much as he would’ve liked, but he made other players better on the floor so it’s a great feeling for him,” said Sullivan. “Joel White came in and it seemed like anything that hit the turf he picked up in his stick and was able to clear the ball safely and securely. And then, (White) put a great shot in from far out. That was just incredible.”
“These are my brothers now. I’m a Minnesota Swarm and that’s how I went into it,” said White.
Zach Higgins was a significant factor in the win for the Swarm. He had 30 saves on 38 shots in his defensive prowess and continues to be a force between the posts.
“When Higgins plays like that, we win lacrosse games,” Crawford said. “I think that goes for any team in this league. If you have a really good goaltender, it gives you an opportunity to win every night, and that’s what Higgins has given us.”
After falling behind in the first quarter, the Black Wolves fought their way back to tie the game in the third quarter, but were unable to secure a lead.
“They got up on us early. We put it together there mid-game and then kind of lost some steam at the end,” said Black Wolves assistant coach James Milligan. “Once they got a lead on us, we kept fighting back, but they just kept protecting the lead.”
Brett Bucktooth (3+2) led New England on offense with his hat trick. Pat Saunders (2+4), Kyle Buchanan (1+1) and Kevin Buchanan (1+1) each contributed out the front. Garrett Billings (1+3), who joined the Black Wolves by way of trade just before the deadline on Monday, scored his first goal with his new team in the third quarter.
“We had a different game plan tonight with them and Garrett’s coming off not playing 2014, so he’s a little rusty. He’ll get the rust off and I think he did a great job of doing that,” Milligan said. “Andrew (Suitor) brings a lot of energy and I think he did that tonight. So, we’ve just got to find out how to play with the new guys in the lineup and work those kinks out.”
Black Wolves goalie Evan Kirk saved 38 of 50 shots. Although the Black Wolves couldn’t put it together tonight, the addition of new faces could combine into a powerful force for the remainder of the season.
“They got some great results out of guys like Buchanan and Saunders and then they added Billings and we knew that would be a tough one,” Sullivan said. “But he’s still a little bit away from being 100%. So when he gets there, they’re going to be a real dynamic offense.”
The Swarm have their eyes on a final playoff push and will go for the third-consecutive win focused on that goal.
“We just need to worry about what we can control and that’s winning every game we play to give ourselves a chance to get back in the playoffs,” said Crawford. “We can’t rely on other teams at the end of the season. If we went out and do what we have to do we’re confident that, it’ll be good enough to get us in and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Callum Crawford
2) Zach Higgins
3) Brett Bucktooth
Both teams will need to recuperate quickly as they head into their next contests tomorrow night. The Swarm head to Rochester to challenge the Knighthawks at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch it live on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and on TSN GO in Canada. The Black Wolves will head to Buffalo for a 7:30 pm. ET game against the Bandits. Watch it live in UniversalSports in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.
“Rochester won tonight, so that puts us in a tough hole. But that’s what you get when you accept mediocrity for a little while and didn’t execute the way we should’ve. If you want to do anything in this league, you’ve got to beat Rochester. That’s the team to beat,” Sullivan said. “We had luck with them early on in the season and I would suspect that if we go in there and play as tough as we can and stay out of the penalty box and don’t give their offense as many chances as we can, we’ll have some luck with them.”