By Ray Lilley / NLL.com Correspondent
Photo Kohi Ton
A .500 record has been something that has eluded the New England Black Wolves since the start of the season. That all changed on Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
In their 12th game of the 2017 season, New England (6-6) finally filled in the hole that they dug for themselves with a 0-3 start to the season. The Rochester Knighthawks (4-8) started the Black Wolves season with 15-8 win in upstate New York and tonight the slate was finally wiped clean.
In their green, St. Patrick’s Day jerseys, New England was looking to make three their lucky number. Friday night was the Black Wolves’ third chance at getting back to .500 and by doing so they would put their winning streak at three games. This was also their third meeting of the season with East Division foe, Rochester.
Rochester had managed to keep their opponent below 10 goals in each of their four wins on the season. With that said, the Knighthawks were looking to keep this game low scoring and did not want to get into a shootout with New England.
It looked good early for Rochester as they came out flying with a 2-0 lead. It probably looked the opposite of what was expected as New England was riding a two game winning streak and Rochester was coming off a two week layoff. New England was flat and Rochester was all over the box.
The tides turned quickly towards the end of the first quarter when Black Wolves’ captain, Shawn Evans provided the much needed wake up call for his team.
With six-time National Lacrosse League Goaltender of the Year, Matt Vinc playing his angles well and doing all the right things, it looked like every New England shot was just hitting him even if he did not see it. The Black Wolves outshot the Knighthawks 65-45 in the game, 39 of those were in the first half alone.
Continuing their trend of dominating the resets, the Black Wolves were able to keep control and keep finding the looks that they wanted. With three minutes left in the first quarter, Evan deked his defender and ripped a shot past Vinc which seemed to wake his comrades up.
From that point on the Black Wolves carried the play and with 9.2 seconds left after winning a strong battle along the boards, Evans faked twice before shooting through a screen to tie the game at two going into the second quarter.
Kevin Buchanan gave New England their first lead less than a minute into the second quarter before Rochester’s Corey Vitarelli tied the game back up. Kyle Jackson’s second goal of the game put Rochester back on top soon after that but New England was not going away.
Reilly O’Connor and Kevin Crowley put together goals about a minute apart to give New England a 5-4 lead at halftime.
There were some fireworks at the end of the first half as two fights broke out. Back in the lineup off a two game suspension, defenseman Bill O’Brien went toe-to-toe with Rochester’s fourth leading scorer, Dan Dawson. The trade-off was a clear win for the Black Wolves as the game remained close in Dawson’s absence until the final buzzer.
Most intriguing was the fight to follow which included former Black Wolves’ captain, Andrew Suitor who handled the youngster that he was traded for, Derek Searle. The Suitor-for-Searle trade occurred during this past offseason and their scrap on Friday night looked to show the frustration and disappointment that Suitor had following the trade.
Both fights left New England without two key defenseman for the second half and Rochester without one of their best offensive players.
Rochester rookie, Kyle Jackson did his best to make up for the vacancy that Dawson’s game misconduct left behind, scoring five goals in the loss. Not to be outdone, New England’s Kyle Buchanan put four goals past Vinc while assisting on two more. Somewhat hidden in the craziness was Shawn Evans’ hat trick and eight total points (3 goals, 5 assists), only one game off his absence due to an ankle injury.
A crazy game like this one could only end one way. A last second, potential buzzer beating goal review was what we saw to finish the game. As the clock ran out, Jarret Davis put a long shot past Evan Kirk but after a quick review it was deemed no goal and New England was able to hold on.
The win brought New England back to the .500 mark on the season and continued their winning streak, which now stands at three games. It also puts them one half game behind Toronto for second place and a playoff spot and two and a half game out of first place.
Next week, the Black Wolves look to jump over .500 for the first time all season in Calgary. They will look to follow that up with two home contests in five days against the top two teams in the East, Toronto and Georgia.