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Stories/Op-Ed

Blackjack: Black Wolves Bust Up Swarm, 21-11

The New England Black Wolves (10-6) clinched a home playoff game, taking down the Georgia Swarm (7-10) by a score of 21-11 on Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Swarm continued to use their newfound momentum, but the Black Wolves were able to come back and fight hard for the much-needed victory. While the pack has secured a home playoff game for the first round, they are still in a very tight race with the Buffalo Bandits (12-5) for the number one seed in the East. With the win, the Black Wolves tied a franchise-high in wins, reaching 10 for the first time since 2008. 

“The best part for me, I mean the result was like lightning in a bottle, was we got back to what we wanted to be,” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “The first half was more indicative of the game, I think it got away from them late, but we played well. We played well in the back end, we were more active offensively, and we got back to the team we want to be and that’s the best part.”

“They were very good tonight and we weren’t,” said Swarm head coach Ed Comeau. “New England could probably say the same for last week. In this game, in this league, you’ve got to show up to play and if you don’t, that’s the outcome you get. We were down, we battled back to get it close, then we had a couple of calls that didn’t go our way. I think we lost our focus and then we couldn’t dig ourselves out of the hole we’d put ourselves in.”

“We knew we let one slide away from us last week and we weren’t our best, so we came back, we regrouped as a team, and I think we played a solid game,” stated Black Wolves forward Shawn Evans. “Besides the first three minutes where they were up 3-0 or something like that, we stuck together and defense pulled it out, offense put the ball in the net, and Kirky [Evan Kirk] made the timely saves we needed. Overall, we stuck together, put the last game behind us, and we moved on and moved forward in this game.”

In a rematch of Last Friday’s game, the tensions were running high from the start. The Black Wolves came out firing right from the first face-off, with multiple rebounds, offensive resets, and shots in transition. However, the Swarm defense held on and the offense scored the first two goals of the game. The pack’s defense worked hard and forced turnovers, but the Swarm’s offense was too much and every forward in the lineup had a hand in the team’s goals before the first quarter ended. The Swarm held a 5-3 lead after the first quarter.

“I personally think I had a bad start,” Black Wolves goalkeeper EvanKirk stated. “But the offensive and defensive guys in front of me carried us, that’s for sure. They allowed me to get going and I think I picked up in the second, third, and fourth.”

The Black Wolves offense came out very slow in the second quarter, but the Swarm were not able to capitalize on the advantage. The pack got the scoring started in the second quarter and ended up tying the game at five goals each. The Swarm answered quickly, but the back-and-forth continued and the Black Wolves tied the game at six goals shortly after. From there, the Swarm were held scoreless with key saves from the pack’s veteran goalkeeper, and the Black Wolves scored three consecutive goals to hold a 9-6 lead at halftime. 

The Swarm came out hot in the third quarter, scoring three consecutive goals to tie the game at 9. However, the Black Wolves responded immediately, taking a 10-9 lead halfway through the third quarter. The pack’s defense took over, and allowed the Swarm to score only once more in the third quarter off a power-play. On the other hand, the Black Wolves scored four goals and headed into the fourth quarter with a 14-10 lead. The sudden influx by the Black Wolves sent the Swarm into the locker room for a pep talk before the fourth quarter started.

“I think Kirky [Evan Kirk] wanted a few of those back,” Clark stated. “We were talking to him and he was having trouble with his stick or something. I think a few uncharacteristic goals went in, but the key was we didn’t get rattled, we knew what the process was, and our language is don’t get off script because if you do that it unravels. We stayed on script, stuck to the game plan, and it started rolling for us.”

“There were some special team’s goals, some 6-on-5 goals, and a couple face-off goals which are momentum goals,” Comeau said. “They gained some momentum and I thought we had some good chances. Their goaltending was really good in the second half and made a couple of big saves when the game was still in doubt that would’ve given us a spark.”

The fourth quarter was all Black Wolves, as the defense completely stunted the Swarm offense and Shawn Evans fired off four consecutive goals. The Swarm were able to get one goal in the fourth quarter, but could not get the momentum necessary to get a run going. Also, any time they seemed to get a bit of a shift going offensively, a goal was overturned or a call went against them. The offensive outing by New England in throughout the game was something they did not have in Friday’s loss to the Swarm. 

“We had some good efforts,” Clark stated. “Evvy [Evans] buried a few pinpoint shots. We had some good individual efforts, but we were also good collectively.”

For the Swarm, the defense fought hard to keep the Black Wolves at bay, but it was not enough. Goalkeeper Brodie MacDonald had a good night in goal and acted as a brick wall for the Swarm, but was replaced by backup Zach Higgins just before the fourth quarter began. MacDonald had 35 saves on 49 shots, and Higgins had 10 saves on 17 shots. Offensively, Jessie King led the way with four goals and two assists, while Shayne Jackson collected three goals and two assists. Rookie Randy Staats added two goals and three assists.

The Black Wolves’ defense kept a strong Swarm team on their toes, allowing the offense to take control. Goalkeeper Evan Kirk proved why he is one of the best in the league, making 45 saves on 56 shots with many coming on key head-to-head matchups. For the offense, Shawn Evans started off slow, but got a hot stick in the fourth quarter and set a new single-season career high in goals with 49. Evans finished with five goals and six assists, while Pat Saunders and Kevin Buchanan collected four goals and two assists. Saunders set new single-season career highs in goals, assists, points, and loose balls with his performance tonight. Kyle Buchanan added two goals and four assists, and Kevin Crowley had one goal and five assists. 

“When you’re winning games and the ball’s going in the net, it’s definitely a huge accomplishment,” Evans stated. “As a team, I think we all know we’re having a great season right now, but we need to get better heading into playoffs. We still have two games left. Our goal is to get first place and host playoffs here at the Mohegan Sun. This was a big game, so we’re going to enjoy it tonight and move forward and move on to Buffalo and Rochester.”

Three Stars of the Game:

1) Evan Kirk
2) Shawn Evans
3) Pat Saunders

The New England Black Wolves (10-6) return to action on April 30, 2016 as they hit the road to face the Buffalo Bandits (12-5) at 7 p.m. ET. The Georgia Swarm (7-10) return to action April 30, 2016 as they take on the Vancouver Stealth at 7:05 p.m. ET. 

Story by Alyssa McLaughlin for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.

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