The New England Black Wolves (4-2) kept a lock on a share of first place in the East Division with a 17-16 overtime home win over the Toronto Rock (0-6) on Sunday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena. While the return of Josh Sanderson gave the Rock’s offense new life, strong defense and great ball movement on offense sealed the deal for the Black Wolves. The rivalry between the pack and the Buffalo Bandits (4-2) is heating up as the teams fight for sole possession of first place with playoffs down the line.
“Everyone was saying [Toronto’s] 0-5, but that’s not what they are,” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “That’s essentially the same offense that went 14-4 last year and pretty much the same team. I know they’re good, I know the personnel there, and I know they’re dangerous. I didn’t expect to finish like that, but I thought it was going to be a tight game all the way. I told these guys it’s going to be a battle of attrition, and it’s going to be ‘last goal wins.’ It really turned out to be.”
“Another tough loss, not the start we expected,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “To be honest, we haven’t played well enough for the full 60 minutes to win games. I think tonight was another example, we did a lot of great things, but we also did things that shot us in the foot whether it’s bad penalties here or there or an unfortunate call against us. This game, we weathered a lot of runs against us and hung in there and gave ourselves a chance. We should’ve won that game before it went into overtime.”
“I think it was a good win, but I think we outplayed them the entire game,” stated Black Wolves forward Shawn Evans. We had runs we should’ve stopped for them, I think after the first half it should’ve been 8-4. Overall we had no quit; this team didn’t quit. We bared down and got the job done. It wasn’t the way we wanted to get it done, but we got it done.”
Tensions ran high throughout the game, with moments of pushing and shoving with each goal or foul. The referees seemed to sense the tone and maintained a very clean, tight game. Many of the calls were booed by fans, but overall there was a general balance of penalty minutes for each side. The game was close and both teams played extremely well, regardless of the result. However, the final eighteen seconds proved to be the turning point of the game, as Shawn Evans tied the game at 16 and sent the game into sudden death.
“We pulled the goalie, it worked out, we got the ball, and we got the time out and I turned it over to Tracey [Kelusky] and the offense and became a fan,” Clark stated. “A few people were looking like ‘what are you doing?’ when we pulled the goalie, but my mindset was if we don’t get the ball the game is over.”
“It was just one of those things,” Evans said. “Eighteen seconds left in the game, the ball got on my stick, [Kevin] Crowley set a great pick, and guys were moving. I put an underhanded shot on the far side and it bounced right over [Brandon] Miller’s glove. He’s a good goalie; thank God it went in and right now we’re on the other side of things.”
“He’s so dynamic, he just gets it done,” Clark added. “It’s a little unorthodox, it’s a little unscripted at times, but you let the horses run a little bit because they are that dynamic and they can do stuff like that. I don’t know how he does it, I couldn’t do it when I was a player, but he does it.”
For the Rock, the offense finally seemed to come together with Sanderson helping to pass the ball around, but it was more a game of catch-up than anything else. Goalkeeper Brandon Miller had 41 saves on 58 shots, and the defense was very physical when going one-on-one with Shawn Evans and Kevin Buchanan. Forward Stephan Leblanc led the team with four goals and four assists, while Rob Hellyer collected three goals and six assists and Brett Hickey had three goals and one assist. Sanderson added one goal and two assists in his season debut.
“Their offense was good,” Clark said. “We had a couple of breakdowns, a few mistakes we need to correct, but they make you make some of those mistakes. I knew it was going to be tough, they’re a good team with a bad record.”
The Black Wolves offense got started early with a goal less than two minutes into the game. The pack scored well in transition and had three power play goals, while the defense worked hard to keep the Rock at bay offensively. Goalkeeper Evan Kirk continued to prove why he is the best in the league, finishing the game with 38 saves on 54 shots. Shawn Evans led the way with six goals and six assists, while Kevin Crowley collected four goals and two assists and Pat Saunders had four goals and two assists. New acquisition Jordan Hall added one goal and three assists in his debut.
Evans’ 12 points in tonight’s game gives him 830 points in his career, passing Black Wolves offensive coordinator Tracey Kelusky for 12th all-time. Also, his six goals tonight give him 299 in his career, passing Dan Teat for 22nd on the all-time list.
“Every team is good in this league,” Evans stated. “We just have to make sure we have chances to win games, we come to play and stay focused. We’re just trying to set ourselves up in a good spot to make playoffs. This team hasn’t made playoffs yet, and that’s what we’re trying to build on, that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Shawn Evans
2) Stephan Leblanc
3) Kevin Crowley
The New England Black Wolves return to action on February 28 against the Georgia Swarm (3-4) at Mohegan Sun Arena at 3 p.m. ET. The Toronto Rock return to action February 19 against the Buffalo Bandits (4-2) at 8:00 p.m. ET.
By Alyssa McLaughlin for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.