Swarm goaltender Mike Poulin and Black Wolves goaltender Alex Buque put on clinics Friday night in Infinite Energy Arena, but Poulin emerged the victor as the Georgia Swarm (6-2) took the season series against the New England Black Wolves (3-3) with a 10-8 home win.
“I thought it was a relatively even game,” Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark said. Obviously, you’re never happy when you lose, but I thought we played well. With a couple of breaks one way or the other, it could have been a different outcome.”
“New England’s well coached,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “They’ve got some really good players, dynamic players down there. Every game we’ve played this year has been kind of a nail biter, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think that’s going to change going forward.”
Once again, Lyle Thompson helped lead the charge as the Swarm celebrated School Spirit Night. He finished the night with seven points (3G, 4A) to tie for the team lead with Randy Staats. Both sit at 45 points, Lyle with 23 goals and 22 assists and Staats with 15 goals and 30 assists.
“We (Staats and I) work well together,” Lyle said. “We’ve played together for a long time, and our pick and roll game – we’ve played together long enough and especially with the Swarm that we understand each other’s game. We understand each other’s strengths, and he can bury the ball, and it’s easy to give him the ball and get an assist without really doing too much work. That’s a huge part of it.”
The Swarm took a while to heat up in the first quarter. The Black Wolves scored the first two goals of the contest before Shayne Jackson and Jordan MacIntosh tied things up. Then Chad Tutton made the play of the game, using aggressive defense to cause a turnover and making a long-distance shot for the empty net goal. The Swarm were up 3-2 at the end of the first quarter.
The defensive battle escalated in the second quarter. Staats made an over-the-shoulder pass to an open Lyle for the Swarm’s lone goal, and Callum Crawford rushed his way into the Swarm defense to score stickside. When both teams went to their locker rooms, the Swarm were still up, 4-3.
Poulin and Buque continued to stand on their heads into the third quarter. Dereck Downs scored unassisted within the first 14 seconds of the quarter, followed closely by Crawford’s hat trick. Lyle then scored unassisted, and Staats capped the quarter’s scoring with a farside bouncer after receiving a behind-the-back feed from Lyle. Georgia had a 6-5 lead with 15 minutes left in the game.
The Black Wolves tied things up thanks to Tyler Digby before the Swarm went on their second three-goal run of the night. Holden Cattoni scored an extra attacker goal, followed by a twister shot from Jerome Thompson, and capped with another Lyle to Staats goal.
Now up 9-6, the Swarm were trying to kill the clock. Reilly O’Connor would put the Black Wolves back within a goal thanks to back-to-back goals. Lyle used his hat trick to widen the lead back to two with 4:30 min. left.
A brawl broke out with 3:06 min. left. Staats was assessed with double minors and went to the penalty box with Zed Williams and John Ranagan. Brett Manney and Joel Coyle went to the box for New England. On the penalty kill, the Swarm ran out the two minutes, and spent the rest of the game killing the clock for their sixth win of the season, a 10-8 season series win against the Black Wolves.
“I think when you see a team three times really early – we’ve played eight games; we’ve seen them three times – you’re going to get a little bad blood going between the two of you,” Poulin said. “The chippiness was both ways. I thought the refs lets us play, let us play hard. It’s just one of those things that I think in a physical sport that might happen. We need to be smarter than that.”
O’Connor led the Black Wolves with six points (3G, 3A), followed by Crawford with five points (3G, 2A). Buque missed all but a second of the game and made 41 saves on 50 SOG, an .820 SV%.
“They (the Swarm) have a lot of really good shooters,” Clark said about Buque’s play against the Swarm. “He (Buque) plays his angles well, he fills a lot of the net, and he’s pretty patient back there. He’s not very jumpy, so he stays in position well, and he’s strong on his stick when they try to go low, and he makes a lot of good saves around his feet. He’s just good positionally, and he’s an experienced guy. He understands how to position himself, how to set shooters up, and he’s been doing a good job.”
After Lyle’s seven points, Cattoni (1G, 3A) and Staats (2G, 2A) both recorded four points. Poulin faced 46 SOG and saved 38 of them to finish the night with an .826 SV%.
“Mike’s been awesome this year,” Comeau said. “I think our defense has been really good, and Mike Poulin’s a huge part of that. The great thing about a goalie is being able to kind of bail you out when you have a defensive miscue, and he’s done that a lot for us. We’ve got some young guys back there that make some mistakes defensively, but Mike’s been answering the bell and making those big saves. From what I’ve seen, he’s been the best and most consistent goalie in the league this year and a huge part of our success.”
The Swarm do not get to enjoy Friday’s victory for long. The team travels to New York to face the Rochester Knighthawks (2-4). The Knighthawks are returning to Blue Cross Arena for their second game of the weekend after dropping Friday’s contest in overtime to the Philadelphia Wings. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
“We’re going to go there tomorrow with urgency, but we’re going to play with confidence, and that’s a big factor for us,” Comeau said.
The Black Wolves return home to Mohegan Sun Arena on Saturday, Feb. 9 to take on the Rochester Knighthawks. Faceoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.
Fans can catch both games on the B/R Live app available through iTunes, Google Play, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire.