Even after a disappointing loss to open the 2018-2019 National Lacrosse League season, the New England Black Wolves saw a silver lining in the way that they finished the game in Georgia on December 15th. New England carried a strong fourth quarter finish into their home opener to knock of the defending champion, Saskatchewan Rush on Friday night in a close 12-11 matchup.
The Black Wolves entered the fourth quarter against the Swarm with a steep hill to climb, down 11-6. Led by Reilly O’Connor, the Black Wolves doubled their three quarter goal count to put away six in the final frame. O’Connor accounted for three goals in the fourth quarter to complete a five point effort. Tyler Digby also had three goals and two assists while Callum Crawford led the Black Wolves with six points (2G, 4A) in the season opener.
O’Connor and Crawford kept their hot sticks going in the home opener at Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday as they hosted the Saskatchewan Rush, who were opening their 2018-2019 title defense.
If the NLL.com Game Picks for Week 3 told us anything, it was that no one was giving the Black Wolves a chance in this game against the Rush. Perhaps this was some bulletin board material for the gritty group of Black Wolves as they jumped on the Rush early and put three quick goals past the former Black Wolves backstop, Evan Kirk, and ended the first quarter with a 4-1 lead.
However, New England had some mid-game struggles and let the Rush back into a game that they could have easily run away with. Saskatchewan went on a 9-6 run in the second and third quarters to knot the game at 10, entering the closing quarter.
Reigning NLL Most Valuable Player, Mark Matthews continued to dominate the Black Wolves as he followed up his unbelievable 13 point (6G, 7A) performance last season with a game high eight points (2G, 6A). Ryan Keenan (7A), Ben McIntosh (3G, 3A), and Robert Church (3G, A) also had strong offensive performances for last season’s highest scoring team. Kirk Had 41 saves in his return to New England.
Just 1:34 into the fourth quarter, Stephan Leblanc found the back of the net to give the Black Wolves a lead that they would hold on to until the final buzzer. O’Connor added an insurance goal a few minutes later to finish off a four goal, six point night. The Rush put one past Black Wolves goalie, Alex Buque with just over a minute remaining to cut the New England lead back to one, but the defense held strong and secured the victory.
Making his Black Wolves debut, Buque stopped 38 of 49 shots. Crawford (3G, 3A) and Leblanc (2G, A) also contributed to the New England offense and rookie Dereck Downs scored his first professional goal.
New England will look to ride the momentum from this win into their next game against another West Division team as they travel to Calgary to face the Roughnecks on January 12, 2019. The Black Wolves will be back home at Mohegan Sun Arena on January 19, 2019 when they welcome the Swarm looking to avenge their opening night loss.