The New England Black Wolves (2-3) continue to cool off as the Rochester Knighthawks (4-3) moved into second place in the East Division with a 15-10 road win on Sunday night at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Black Wolves practiced all weekend during their second bye week, but practice did not make perfect against the three-time defending champions. New England is now on a three-game slide as the battle for the East continues to heat up.
“Rochester is a good team,” said Black Wolves head coach Blane Harrison. “But we lose Billy early on in the game and we’re down a player. All of a sudden, you’re down a defender and over the course of a game, I think it wore on us a little bit.”
Tempers flared throughout the game, with multiple penalties being handed out during each and every play. Black Wolves defenseman Bill O’Brien was ejected early on in the first half for two major penalties for a fist fight with Rochester forward Stephen Keogh.
“That’s what tough players do,” noted Harrison. “Keogh is a tough guy. He comes in and wants his space and he’s going to go after it. He doesn’t shrink back, he’s fought basically his entire career. He thought he could go after Billy and Billy obliged him.”
“I think it was a bang-bang play,” O’Brien said. “A player dove into their crease and I went to hit them. He must not have liked that, we popped up, and he ripped my helmet off. Basically, in the league, that’s go time. I had to stand up for myself and for my team.”
“That’s the way that lacrosse goes,” said Keogh. “There’s emotions involved, then there’s a hit, and we kind of scrimmaged. It was a good fight, he’s a real tough kid, but I think it benefited them.”
It was clear that both teams had a lot to lose tonight, and the victor would really have to earn it. Strong defense and key goals allowed the Knighthawks to pull away in the second half. With most of Rochester’s goals coming from the lefties and the left side of the goal, the pattern ended up being New England’s demise.
“That’s the scouting report,” said Harrison. “That’s the frustrating part about everything. Cody Jamieson, Jordan Hall, Cory Vitarelli, you know all these guys are going to shoot. You know where these guys are going to shoot. We spent a lot of time cutting film on them. They executed and we didn’t.”
The Black Wolves trailed all through the first half, and were able to tie it up multiple times before the Knighthawks regained the lead. The most important goal of the half came from Kyle Buchanan in the final seconds of the second quarter to swing the momentum in New England’s favor.
“They came out on the power play and they scored a couple of goals,” Keogh said. “Overall, I think we did a good job battling back. They’re a good team, they kept coming, but our goalie made some good saves at the end.”
However, the Knighthawks maintained total control in the second half, and the Black Wolves were not able to take the lead at any point during the game. The pack is clearly feeling the loss of forward Quinn Powless, as the offense continued to struggle for the third straight game.
“Quinn Powless was a big part of our offense,” said Black Wolves forward Brett Bucktooth. “He cleared the middle a lot for the shooters and Buchanan and Crowley. Obviously we’ve got to adjust our offense a little bit and build the chemistry.”
The main story for the Black Wolves was the debut of Brett Bucktooth who was unleashed for the New England offense. Bucktooth had four goals in his first game and gave life to a quiet offense for New England.
“Any time someone can put up four goals, it’s always good,” said Harrison. “I think he moved his body around, and for a guy who hasn’t played in a long time, it was certainly a nice shot in the arm. I still think we need to have some of our offensive guys being a little more aggressive as opposed to perimeter players, which I think we were tonight.”
With a tough schedule of three games packed into an eight-day window, the Black Wolves have a lot to work on as they prepare for Friday night’s away game against the Toronto Rock.
“We’ll have to take the lessons learned from tonight and step forward,” said Bucktooth.
Rochester’s Cody Jamieson and Cory Vitarelli both had a hat trick with five points (3+2) while Dan Dawson and Jordan Hall led the way with six points (2+4) each. Knighthawks netminder Matt Vinc had 38 saves on 48 shots while Black Wolves goalie Evan Kirk had 32 stops on 46 shots in the losing effort.
The Black Wolves get a few days to rest and practice before they return to action against the Rock on February 20 in Toronto. The Knighthawks return home to face off against the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday, February 21.
Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:
1) Matt Vinc
2) Craig Point
3) Brett Bucktooth
Story by Alyssa McLaughlin for NLL.com (@BlackWolvesBeat). Photo by Khoi Ton.