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Stories/Op-Ed

Can The New England Black Wolves Stay Playoff-Bound Without Callum Crawford

The New England Black Wolves were dealt a major blow when it was announced last week that Callum Crawford would be suspended for striking Toronto Rock defensemen Brad Kri in the head on February 24th. The Illegal hit earned Crawford a match penalty plus an additional five games for being a repeat offender of such hits within a two-year period.

According to rule 41.4 in the league’s rulebook, “Any player who is assessed a second match penalty, a second dangerous contact to the head penalty (Rule 77), or a combination thereof within a two year period shall be assessed an additional five-game suspension.”

Since Crawford and the Professional Lacrosse Players’ Association (PLPA) have appealed the six-game suspension, the MVP-candidate was allowed to play in last weekend’s game versus the Colorado Mammoth. However, with the Black Wolves’ next game is on March 16th, it may very well have been his last game until the team’s final match on April 27th against the Rochester Knighthawks.

Once again, Crawford shined in what could one of his last games of the regular season. He posted four goals and seven assists, making it his third 10+ point game in his last five contests. On the season he has league-best 81 points for an average of 7.3 points per game.

Taking away those seven point per game is significant to say the least and begs the question: If the six-game suspension is upheld, how will the Black Wolves fare without their points-leader? Regardless of whether or not the Black Wolves can maintain their hot stride of late without Crawford, Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark understands the magnitude of losing a player of Crawford’s ability.

“There’s no way to downplay the significance of what [Crawford] means to us,” said Clark. “Offensively, he’s obviously an enormous individual talent that can create his own shots and do dynamic things, but he also fits in so well with our offensive scheme.

With the expectation that Crawford will be out of the lineup, the Black Wolves have made a handful of changes in preparation for his absence. The latest transaction is the most significant of the moves.

Earlier this week, Black Wolves general manager Rich Lisk found who he believes to be a perfect fill-in for Crawford. He acquired Rochester Knighthawks American right-hander Joe Resetarits in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2022 NLL Entry Draft and a second-round selection in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft.

The 29-year-old New York-native is coming off his best season-to-date where he set career-highs in several categories (goals (37), assists (63), points (100), power-play goals and assists (11 & 15) and loose balls (92). This year, a strong second-half surge with the Black Wolves could see him challenging those personal records.

It’s been a long term mission of Lisk’s to bring Resetarits to New England. He’s been hoping for two seasons that this move could be made, and now is an excellent time to bring in such a dynamic player.

“I think Joe not only helps us if Callum’s suspension is upheld after the appeal. But, after the suspension, Joe fits nicely into everything we want to do,” said Lisk.

Clark agreed with Lisk’s sentiment, and believes that Resetarits’ skill-set is exactly what is needed for the Black Wolves to remain one of the top teams in the East Division.

“I think [Resetarits] is the type of player that will fit in with the way we want to play offence,” said Clark. “His skill-set is conducive to how we want to play on offence. I also think he’s a good piece to fit in, with or without Callum.”

“It’s not a stop-gap measure where [Resetarits’] value diminishes when Callum comes back, I think it only enhances our team because he’s going to be a great complimentary player when Callum is back. I think the two of them are going to make each other better.”

Of course, the acquisition of Resetarits is just the latest hot news to go around the league and Uncasville, Connecticut. The team has made other moves to bolster the team’s roster such as bringing back their 2014 first round choice Quinn Powless, and trading draft picks to the Vancouver Warriors in exchange for Mackenzie Mitchell to add depth on defence.

Powless was a player that Lisk wanted to bring on board because of his natural ability to make smart decisions on the floor.

“We always wanted to bring Quinn back,” said Lisk. “We like his size and his lacrosse IQ is off the charts. He fits into how we want to play.”

Add to that, there are the steady all-pro caliber talents from players such as Stephan Leblanc and Tyler Digby, the breakout season of Riley O’Connor who has already matched his career-high in goals (18) and is only one point and one assist shy of tying bests in those categories over 11 games.

Then there’s the play of Dereck Downs who has the second-most goals among all rookies (14). Rookie Dave Emala has secured himself a spot on the floor the last five games and has proven to be a very useful talent, defensemen Greg Downing is on pace to set career-highs in caused turnovers and loose balls, and the coaching staff believes they have two goalies that can help them contend every night.

“Doug and Alexis have both played really well; neither of them has played their way out of the role,” said Clark. “We’ve had a couple of stretches where we’ve been riding the hot hand, but neither of them has really had a hiccup where they haven’t deserved to get another look.”

Veteran forward Tyler Digby subscribes to the idea that this team can rally together without Crawford. It’s fair to say, because of Crawford’s incredible figures this season, some of the team’s other point-getters may be overlooked, but it will be up to the other forwards, and the rest of the team as well to step up in while he’s out.

“It’s going be on some of the veteran guys like Stephan, Riley and myself to step up,” said Digby. It’ll be a great opportunity for some of the younger guys to step up as well, and, to be honest, we’ll probably need to rely on our defence a little bit more. I don’t know that we should expect to score 17 goals.”

With the extra week off, players who may not have been staples on the team thus far will be getting ready for a potential opportunity in Vancouver when they face the Warriors on March 16th and likely starters will be working on new offensive schemes that don’t involve Crawford.

It may be towing the party line, but this Black Wolves team is not letting the upcoming absence of Crawford affect the mood in the locker room or the belief that they can remain a contender for a home playoff game. The moves that Lisk has made and the adjustments that Clark and offensive coach Darryl Gibson are developing will help keep the team’s motor running. But, as the games come and go, we’ll see how valuable the Black Wolves are without their MVP.

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