Photo Credit Kohi Ton
By Ray Lilley / NLL.com Correspondent
The month of March usually carries its fair share of upsets, but those usually come on the basketball court. This afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena, the New England Black Wolves (5-6) produced an upset of their own against Georgia (7-3), beating the first place Swarm 13-8.
On this Selection Sunday, the Black Wolves knew that they had some work to do if they wanted to make a playoff push. Facing the top team in the East Division and the highest scoring club in the National Lacrosse League, New England needed to get off to a quick start and continue the pressure throughout the game.
The Black Wolves came into Sunday’s game outscoring their opponents 29-23 in the first quarter while the Swarm have been outscored 33-26 in the opening frame. In contrast, New England has lost the last three quarters by a 105-84 count with Georgia taking control and outscoring their opponents 104-80 the rest of the way. Sunday afternoon told a different story for the two teams.
New England stayed true to form, carrying the majority of the play early and got on the board first with a goal just over three minutes in. It was evident early that New England was looking to stretch the field and open the game up in transition, something that Head Coach Glenn Clark said they have been looking to do all season.
“We always want to push pace. That’s something we always want to do is stretch the floor because it does a bunch of things. It gets guys on their heels, gets offensive guys stuck, and creates confusion in transition so that is something we are always looking for.”
A bit of an unlikely source provided that first tally for New England as the league leader in faceoffs, Jay Thorimbert took a stretch pass from Sheldon Burns in transition and moved into the offensive zone firing a shot past Georgia goaltender, Mike Poulin. The goal was Thorimbert’s fourth of the year and first in the last four games. He would later add another to enjoy his first multi-goal game of the season.
Just over a minute later Georgia’s Jordan Hall tied the score while diving through the crease off a great pass from Shayne Jackson. To this point, Hall had been a thorn in the side of the Black Wolves, scoring seven goals and 13 points in the first two matchups between these teams in Georgia.
The Swarm would rattle off two more goals for a 3-1 lead before the Black Wolves not only battled back to tie it, but take the lead and never look back. New England put together a string of four goals in a row, the first of two such streaks of that length on the afternoon. It gave them a 4-3 lead early in the second quarter.
New England’s Reilly O’Connor answered the Swarm’s third goal after only 26 seconds and that was followed by Kyle Buchanan’s tying goal only 19 seconds after that. New England answered the Swarm’s only lead of the game with two goals in 45 seconds. This was the first of a number of quick responses following a Swarm goal, stopping their momentum before they could get rolling.
“They’re a team that can run on you quickly,” Clark said. “They got one and I don’t know if it was 11-8 or 11-7, whatever it was then boom, it was 12-7 and we kept that comfort zone. You’re going into the fourth quarter with a five goal lead and that’s not comfortable against that group. You don’t relax because they can put five up on you real quick.”
Perhaps the biggest boost that the Black Wolves received all day was before the game even started. New England captain, Shawn Evans was cleared to play following an ankle sprain that caused him to miss the previous contest in Toronto last week.
“The toughest thing to do as a player is watch your team battle and do it when you’re not out on the floor,” New England’s captain said. “If I’m hurt or not hurt, I got one mode and it’s to go hard and leave it all on the floor. That’s all I do.”
Evans was already on the scoresheet with two assists before joining in on the goal scoring at 10:12 of the second quarter. His turnaround laser powered its way through the pads of Poulin for a two goal Black Wolves lead.
As the clock ran down on the first half Evans was able to bury his second goal of the game, not showing any ill effects from that ankle injury. Evans’ 21st of the year capped off a seven goal second quarter, helping to turn the page on New England’s previous struggles in the final three quarters. On the goal, Kyle Buchanan registered his 150th career assist on his way to a seven point afternoon.
Four minutes into the second half New England put in another set of quick back-to-back goals. Evans completed his hat trick followed by Thorimbert’s second of the game off the ensuing faceoff only six seconds later.
The second of New England’s three hat tricks came at the seven minute mark of the third quarter when Kyle Buchanan found a rebound and put it into the open cage. The hat trick of hat tricks was completed when Kevin Crowley sandwiched a Georgia goal with two of his own to give New England a six goal lead two separate times at 12-6 and 13-7. The six goal leads were the biggest of the game for New England and the hat trick was Crowley’s sixth of the year.
Crowley, the only player ever to be drafted first overall in both, the indoor and outdoor lacrosse drafts, now has 28 goals and 27 assists on the season. His 55 points puts him in seventh place in the NLL, seven points behind Evans who is in sixth despite missing a game last weekend.
Even with the dominant offensive performance by New England, which made it feel like the field was tilted at times, Evan Kirk faced 52 shots from the Swarm. The reigning NLL Goaltender of the Year stopped 44 of those 52 shots, including ten from the second leading scorer in the league, Lyle Thompson. Stellar play throughout the game from Kirk not only kept Lyle Thompson out of the goal column but it only allowed him to register one point total on the afternoon.
“We worked hard as a team. Offense had a lot of resets, defense was out there blocking shots and pressuring,” Kirk said after the game. “You know what to expect. It’s just that you have to work harder than them. They are a young, feisty team. Whoever works harder that night is going to come out on top.”
The win gave New England a 5-4 record against the rest of the East Division and proved that they can beat any team in the East.
“We dug a hole. It was 0-3 and then 3-6,” Clark recalled. “It’s a grind. As I say to you guys all the time, you can win every game or you can lose every game in this league. The margins are that tight. It got ourselves back in striking distance so it was a big win. Georgia is a good team. They are where they are for a reason. To have that effort and to climb back in through them is significant.”
Next up for the Black Wolves is Rochester, as they look to get back to .500 for the third time this season. The St. Patrick’s Day faceoff is set for 7:30 P.M. at Mohegan Sun Arena.