“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”
The New England Black Wolves start every home game at Mohegan Sun Arena with this quote. For those who do not know, this is part of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Law of the Jungle” from The Jungle Book. In the Black Wolves’ case, the pack is a mixture of the old and the new, seasoned veterans teaching the young rookies how to work hard and contribute to the team as a whole. Moving from their old home in Philadelphia to New England gave the team a chance to reinvent themselves and transform into a stronger unit.
“So far, the guys have really melded together,” said assistant general manager Rich Lisk. “There was a chance for them, not only when we moved from Philadelphia to New England; we brought some of that tradition and history with us, but it was a chance for the guys on this team to really stamp this team as their own. The growing process from the start of training camp to where we are today has shown that.”
The most notable of the Black Wolves veterans are transition Joel White, forward Kevin Crowley, and goaltender Evan Kirk. Crowley has been a strong force offensively throughout his career, and continues that same success this year. White is a silent, yet strong leader that has confidence in the team’s ability to come together when it matters most. Kirk began the season leading the league in save percentage and goals allowed average, but has been challenged a lot since the Week 3 bye. These three form the core at the heart of the Black Wolves roster, and when they are unstoppable, the rest of the roster follows suit.
“To be honest, we just try to do everything together,” said forward Jamie Lincoln. “We have a system that we want to do.”
Many of the younger players on the Black Wolves roster are making their way through their first year in the National Lacrosse League. To some, that means inexperience and a greater risk of rookie mistakes. However, they have a few players who, while it is their first official year at the professional level, have a few years of experience playing lacrosse. The best example of this is defenseman Bill O’Brien. A former football star from Sacred Heart University, O’Brien is already making an impact both on and off the field
“I would say that Bill has been a surprise,” stated Lisk. “He came to our free agent camp and really impressed us. We put him into our system for training camp and he did really well. He’s adding a different element to our team, which I don’t think we’ve really had in the past couple of years. The thing I like about Bill, that has been tremendous so far, is working with the Thompsons. He’s very humble, he wants to learn the game, and he knows he still has a lot to learn in the game, but he has melded himself into this team as a rookie. As a guy who hasn’t played a lot of lacrosse in life compared with some other people. He has really molded himself into this team and into the fabric, and really brings that persona that we’ve been playing off of.”
Other impressive youthful Black Wolves include rookie forward Quinn Powless and forward Kevin Buchanan. According to head coach Blane Harrison, Powless is likely to miss the rest of the season with a lower body injury. While his rookie season was cut short, Powless’ impact was clear as he averaged two assists a game and collected 3 points in his first two games as a member of the pack.
Kevin Buchanan is a bit of a different story. With a lot of NLL experience under his belt, Buchanan took a couple of years off and has come back better than ever.
“Kevin Buchanan is someone we had with us a couple of years ago, and through very publicized reasons, he decided to take last year off,” said Harrison. “I reached out to Kevin to see if he wanted to come back and he did, and we’re glad that he did. As much as he wants to put into this game down the road, he can just get better and better. Certainly, as a team there is no definitive number leftie.”
Defensively, the Black Wolves have a lot of height on their side with all of their defensemen ranging from 6’1” to 6’3”. With strong personalities all around, Mike McNamara and Bill O’Brien have both received one-game suspensions, and both have appealed (though McNamara’s appeal is still ongoing) with O’Brien’s suspension being overturned. Offensively, the pack is firing from all sides, with 15 players from the roster credited with at least one assist, and 10 players credited with at least one goal.
“I said this a couple of weeks ago,” stated Harrison. “I’m okay with three guys scoring two. I don’t need to have one guy scoring six, but if one guy does, the more the better.”
Though they started off the season hot with a 2-0 record, the Black Wolves have cooled off quickly. Going into their second bye week of the season, the pack is 2-2 on the season and return home to defend their turf on February 15th. With a couple of key injuries and tough losses, the team has a lot to improve upon as they get ready for their next game. The overall team chemistry, however, is definitely not one of them.
“We’re the Black Wolves,” Lisk said. “And no one is stronger than the team, than the pack.”
By Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.