The New England Black Wolves (3-1) came out of its bye week strong with a convincing 15-11 win over the Buffalo Bandits (2-2) on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Bandits kept pace with the pack throughout the game, but the Black Wolves used good looks on goal and a strong defensive outing to close out the game. With the East Division as tight as it is, this was a key win for the Black Wolves as they clinch a half game division lead.
“It is a big win, it’s a division game,” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “I think they’re one of the stronger teams in the league, so it was a great litmus test for us to see where we’re at.”
“We were good in the first half offensively, but we couldn’t score,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “[Evan Kirk] played real well for them, then during the second half, we totally got away from our game plan. Their work ethic and will to beat us was much more than ours. Bottom line is, you’re not going to win when another team is going to outwork you.”
The atmosphere was established early, with a broken stick dropping to the floor within the first two minutes of the game. Defense was strong and very physical for both sides, and the first goal of the night didn’t come until almost five minutes of play. Tensions were running high throughout the game, and the officials were constantly separating Black Wolves players from Bandits players after rough shoves and cheap shots.
For the Bandits, the offense fired shots off whenever possible and outshot the Black Wolves throughout the game, but struggled to find the back of the net. They did well on special teams, with two power play goals, but defensively there were passing windows left open that cost them the game. Goalkeeper Anthony Cosmo was pulled towards the end of the third quarter and finished the night with 29 saves on 39 shots against. Forward Ryan Benesch had three goals and two assists, while Dhane Smith had four goals and four assists.
“They’re an excellent team, they’re running on all cylinders, and they’re finding a pretty good groove themselves,” said Black Wolves goalkeeper Evan Kirk. “It’s who comes out to play that night, and who’s stopping those runs. There’s going to be ups and downs in that game. We came out on top tonight, but that doesn’t mean anything in this league.”
The Black Wolves were firing on all cylinders during the game. Defensively, they forced numerous shot clock violations and clogged up the front of the goal. Goalkeeper Evan Kirk continued his career season, setting a new career high with 56 saves on 67 shots against. Offensively, the pack spread the love with every single forward in the Black Wolves lineup getting involved in a goal. Forward Kevin Crowley led the way with six goals and one assist, while Shawn Evans had two goals and seven assists and Kevin Buchanan collected two goals and five assists.
“Coming off those offensive outings I’ve had the past couple of games, it’s always nice to put the ball in the back of the net,” Crowley said. “Kirk played unbelievable back there, and all this gives us the chance to put the ball on my stick. Shawn Evans goes off last week for five, and then that opens it up for me because they’ve keyed up on him today. When I put up six, it really is a team effort, so I’ve got to give it those guys credit.”
“The good thing about this group is we’re always saying ‘stay calm, stay the course, stay the course,’ and we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” Clark stated. “We’ve won three games, but what I tell them is that we’ll celebrate when we’re holding that trophy over our heads. Until then, it’s all business.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Evan Kirk
2) Kevin Crowley
3) Shawn Evans
The New England Black Wolves (3-1) return to action on Saturday February 6, 2016 as they hit the road for a rematch against the Buffalo Bandits (2-2) at 7:30 PM E.T.
Story by Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.