It was not exactly a ‘must have’ game for the New England Black Wolves, but it was an important one.
For the Black Wolves (6-4) who were opening the second half of their season, they needed to start building a foundation for their run to the playoffs and what better way to start than at home against the National Lacrosse League’s East Division leading Toronto Rock.
The Rock (7-2) came in riding a six game winning streak, but they also have not played in nine days. It showed early on Sunday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena as the Black Wolves started fast and ended faster to defeat the Rock by a 13-11 score.
It was the Dereck Downs show early as he scored 27 and 48 seconds into the game to give the Black Wolves a 2-0 lead less than a minute in. After that, this matchup of East Division rivals was up and down and all over the place, often leaving players and fans gasping for a breath during the rare breaks in play.
New England got caught running around midway through the opening quarter and thanks to six big saves by Doug Jamieson over a three minute span they were able to hold on to their 2-0 lead. However, too much running around eventually caused New England rookie Jackson Nishimura to take a holding penalty which put the hottest power play in the NLL to work.
On that man advantage Dan Craig got Toronto on the board shortly after start of power play for his 10th goal of the season. Toronto was 4 for 6 on the man advantage last weekend against San Diego and 11 for their last 18 coming in.
Jamieson stopped 14 of 16 shots in 1st quarter to keep this one in New England’s grasp as this one got a little hairy in the 2nd quarter when Toronto threw everything at them. Adam Jones tied the game 1:03 into the 2nd quarter and Dan Lintner followed that up to give the Rock their first lead of the game 2:29 later.
After a 3-0 Toronto run gave them the lead, Tyler Digby used a Callum Crawford screen to send a laser past Nick Rose who did not even move. The tie game did not last long as a slashing penalty to Greg Downing sent the Toronto power play back to work. Toronto’s leading scorer Tom Schreiber made them pay as he put a low shot past Jamieson putting the Rock back on top 5-4.
David Brock tied the score at 5-5 and if you have been following the Black Wolves this season you know that coming into today’s game they were undefeated when at least three defenders or transition players score in a game. Brock was the first and as New England took over this game late they picked up goals from two more with Colton Watkinson and Adam Bomberry scoring clutch, and much needed goals late.
Another key to New England’s success this season has been their two stars Callum Crawford and Stephan Leblanc. It took them both a little while to get going but they led the way yet again for the Black Wolves who desperately needed it after the Rock scored seven goals in the 2nd quarter to take a 9-7 lead into halftime.
The only goal of the 3rd quarter came late when Schreiber finished off his hat trick to give Toronto a three goal lead and it looked like New England was struggling to put anything together. Nevertheless, soon after that goal, Reilly O’Connor dropped a huge hit on Brad Kri in the offensive zone and it completely turned this game around putting all the momentum in New England’s favor as they headed into the final frame.
The Black Wolves were shut out in the 3rd quarter but they came on strong in the finishing quarter with five goals before the five minute mark to take a 12-10 lead. Getting started by Leblanc, the five goal stretch ended a 17 minute drought where the Black Wolves were held scoreless.
Crawford scored his 30th goal of the season and took over both, the NLL’s goals and points lead as he ended the day with three goals and five assists to lead all players. Leblanc also had another big game picking up two goals and four assists. Crawford kept his impressive goal streak going to 27 games and Leblanc stretched his point streak to 40 games. Downs picked up his second hat trick in the last three games. The rookie has scored seven goals total in those three games. Digby also kept his strong play going as he added a goal and five helpers to the Black Wolves offense.
With 4:50 left in the game, Crawford was handed a five minute major for his hit on Kri and the Black Wolves were tasked with preserving their two goal lead while killing off the remaining time a man down. New England killed off that late penalty and after giving up goals on Toronto’s first two power plays, they were able to cool off the Rock power play on their final three, man advantages. Jamieson had a handful of big saves down the stretch to add to his huge game in net and mark a new career high with 46 saves on 57 shots.
Toronto’s Schreiber did all he could as he put away three goals and dished out three assists. Rob Hellyer and Adam Jones added two goals each for five and four point games, respectively. Kieran McArdle also contributed with four assists on the afternoon.
The New England Black Wolves will be back in action at Mohegan Sun Arena next Sunday, March 3 for a 1 p.m. face-off when they take on the Colorado Mammoth.