UNCASVILLE, Conn. – The New England Black Wolves have a lot to prove as the team’s inaugural National Lacrosse League season gets underway on Friday, Jan. 2 to kick off NLL Face Off Weekend 2015 presented by New Era. Previously known as the Philadelphia Wings, the Black Wolves are redefining themselves this season. And after a 6-12 record in 2014, a change in venue to Mohegan Sun could be just the thing to revitalize head coach Blane Harrison’s pack.
“The 6-12 record sounds a lot worse than what actually happened last season,” Harrison said. “Out of all those losses, five of them were by just one goal. Realistically, we were not that far from making playoffs.”
The new team name is not the only thing that is different about the Black Wolves. Forwards Tracey Kelusky and Ryan Ward retired this offseason, and veteran transition stars Brodie Merrill and Jordan Hall were traded to make room for new talent, young and old. Though the new captain has yet to be named, veteran forward Kevin Crowley leads the team by example and is helping the newcomers adjust to life as a member of the Black Wolves.
Among the newcomers, the most notable are free agent William O’Brien and Tye Belanger from the Colorado Mammoth. O’Brien is a former Sacred Heart football captain and at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, he will compete for the chance to add depth defensively. Belanger helps solidify the strong defense on goal, and while he is listed as a back-up goalie, he is already challenging Evan Kirk for the starting position.
“It’s a mix of the old and the new,” states Harrison. “It feels like a new team and a new venture. It’s refreshing, it’s exciting, and Mohegan Sun Arena is a spectacular venue. This is going to be a lot of fun.”
The Black Wolves have had some ups and downs this preseason. Though they have shown offensive strength with 19 goals in 2 scrimmages against the Buffalo Bandits, it is clear their defense could use some major improvements. While they lost their first scrimmage against the Bandits 10-9, battling for control the whole game, they struggled a bit more in their second scrimmage, falling 17-10.
The Black Wolves’ last chance to show their teeth before the regular season came on December 20 against the Toronto Rock. There was a constant battle for shots on goal and the game felt more like a regular season game than an exhibition game. As one team scored, the other team would answer back within seconds, and tempers flared as the level of intensity continued to rise. Unfortunately, New England could not keep up with Toronto’s pace and dominant performance in the 18-10 loss.
With the regular season beginning in just a few days, the Black Wolves will have a lot of work to do. After going 0-3 in preseason play, the team is working on refocusing and rebuilding the team chemistry as the regular season looms. With a home opener on January 2 against the Buffalo Bandits, the Black Wolves are fighting for redemption and the chance to make a lasting impression for the rest of the regular season.
“This is a very young and inexperienced team,” admits Coach Harrison. “We’re on a bit of a rollercoaster right now and we hope to iron out the bumps along the way.”
Story by Alyssa McLaughlin, Black Wolves Team Beat Writer for NLL.com.