You would have never guessed that the two teams battling it out Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena were struggling to get out of the National Lacrosse League cellar. New England (1-3), finally playing in front of their home crowd, was just trying to find a win while Buffalo (1-3) wanted to build on a dominating first victory over Vancouver last week.
There is an intense rivalry building between the Black Wolves and Bandits. This game proved to be all that and more. It was physical and intense throughout the whole 60 minutes, but that is what you would expect from two teams that contended for the East Division crown last year.
The two teams went back and forth the whole way, but the Black Wolves eventually prevailed behind solid goaltending and clutch scoring from their leaders. Reigning NLL Goaltender of the Year, Evan Kirk stopped 35 of 47 shots from the Bandits while veterans Shawn Evans and Kevin Crowley both scored hat tricks for New England.
Buffalo’s Ryan Benesch opened the scoring but Black Wolves captain, Evans quickly tied it only 47 seconds later. The Bandits then popped in a couple goals ten seconds apart for their only two goal lead of the game and a 4-1 lead.
Following the quick offensive burst from Buffalo there was a stoppage for the measurement of goaltender Davide DiRuscio’s gear and that seemed to be the breather that Glenn Clark’s team needed.
New England scored the next three goals to take a 4-3 lead early in the 2nd quarter. Two of those goals were scored by former Bandit, Chad Culp who looked to be playing with something to prove to his old mates. Culp, who now has five goals and nine assists, signed as a free agent with New England after spending the last five seasons in Buffalo.
Pat Saunders scored two more for New England in the 2nd quarter as they took a 6-5 lead into halftime.
Early on Buffalo looked to be trying to get under the skin of the Black Wolves skilled players, especially the two time NLL Most Valuable Player, Shawn Evans. In the second half Troy Cordingley’s Bandits did not do as much of it as Evans and the Black Wolves offense opened up and played with a little more freedom.
After Buffalo tied it four minutes into the 2nd half, Crowley was able to beat a defender out of the corner and drive to the net where he beat DiRuscio low to the far side to retake the lead. As the seesaw battle continued Crowley was able to do it again as he looked off a defender and opened a clear lane to beat DiRuscio and tieD the game at 8.
It looked like the game was going to be tied heading to the last quarter but a long shot from Crowley resulted in a juicy rebound off the chest of DiRuscio. A diving Kyle Buchanan found the rebound and reached past DiRuscio while in the air to give the Black Wolves the lead with 3.2 seconds to go.
Buffalo’s Craig England and Mitch Wilde scored two quick goals in the 4th quarter to take the lead right back but they were not able to hold the momentum.
That was where Evans came through and showed everyone why he wears that ‘C’ on his jersey. Evans slowed the pace and backed his defender in tight to DiRuscio then stepped out, turned and fired a low shot past the big Buffalo netminder to tie the score yet again.
He was not done there. After Kirk stood tall and stopped a shot in close from Justin Martin, Evans got the ball down the other end and zipped a low laser in the net for a hat trick and another New England lead.
With nine minutes remaining and Kirk to the bench on a delayed penalty, The Black Wolves offense moved the ball around for a while before Kyle Buchanan saw an opening and jumped from behind the net to bury his 5th goal of the season past an unsuspected DiRuscio.
Even a two goal lead late in the game was not safe as the Bandits tied it yet again behind goals from England and David Brock.
A furious, end to end final three minutes ensued in front of a sellout crowd at Mohegan Sun Arena. The 7,074 attendance was the first ever sellout in New England Black Wolves history. And this game certainly did not disappoint.
This incredible game could only finish with an even more dramatic finish. As the final minute began ticking down Crowley found a bit of a gift after Saunders missed the net and the rebound off the boards landed in his stick. DiRuscio, who played his angles great all night, lost the ball as it ricocheted off the end boards to Crowley and he put it in the open net for what proved to be the game winning goal with 53 seconds remaining.
DiRuscio played a stellar game in goal for Buffalo stopping 48 of 61 shots in the tough luck loss. The Bandits had four players score two goals (England, Mitch Jones, Steve Pirolo, and Mark Steenhuis) while Benesch led the team with four assists.
Evans added five assists to his three goals while Saunders and Crowley each picked up four assists on the night.
The win was New England’s first of the season and what they hope helps turn their season around after a 0-3 start. They are back at Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday, February 3 at 7:30 p.m. EST facing off against Rochester (1-2).