The New England Black Wolves (4-8) are back home after two road games to take on the Vancouver Stealth (4-10) on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET at Mohegan Sun Arena. Last weekend, the Black Wolves lost to the Minnesota Swarm 12-8 on Friday night, but bounced back Saturday night to beat the Buffalo Bandits, 12-11. The pack looks to keep the momentum going as a hungry Stealth team rolls into town live on NLL LIVE (U.S.) and TSN GO (Canada).
“Both team are and should be playing with some desperation and urgency, I know we certainly are,” said Black Wolves head coach Blane Harrison. “We consider every game from this point forward a must-win game.”
The pack seemed to be out of the playoff race, but a lot of things have changed since they lost to the Minnesota Swarm in Week 13. With the Swarm and the Black Wolves splitting their doubleheader weekends in Week 14, the playoff race in the East Division heated right back up again. Though the pack still has a long way to go, major roster changes have brought some fresh legs and constant shifts to the Black Wolves’ lineup.
“We’re into a heavy stretch of our schedule, which we’re happy with,” said Harrison. “I think the more we play, the better we get. We do have a bunch of games in April and the first weekend in May, so it is to keep some guys fresh.”
“We do have some new faces in the locker room and we do need to get a little bit of rust off of Garrett [Billings]. Get Suitor into the fold and how we want to do things defensively. Even Drew Petkoff, get him in, he’s had some time off as well. It’s really a combination of keeping guys fresh and folding the new guys into how we’re doing things so we can be as effective and efficient as possible,” added Harrison.
One of those new faces is former Toronto Rock forward Garrett Billings. After almost a year off the turf due to an injury, Billings is already making some much needed contributions to the Black Wolves offense. In his first weekend in a Black Wolves uniform, Billings scored two goals and collected seven assists.
“I’m just happy to be back, and it’s only been a week so far,” Billings said. “I’m just getting my feet wet. I’m trying to get back in the groove of things with the guys and meeting everybody. There’s a lot of new names and new faces, so it’s kind of been a whirlwind. My goal was just to get out there and get a little bit of the rust off. Working with new teammates can sometimes be a challenge, but I thought it went pretty well the first weekend, especially the second game.”
Sunday’s matchup could be a turning point for either one of these teams. If the Black Wolves win, they continue their run at a possible playoff berth, and the same goes for the Stealth. Both teams have new faces in the lineup and will need to rebuild the team chemistry quickly. Having a cohesive unit will be key to overall performance for this weekend’s game.
“We’re certainly going to go into this weekend and hope we build off the game we had last Saturday in Buffalo,” noted Harrison. “Get on a bit of a run here and put some pressure on the teams ahead of us.”
“It’s a big challenge for us,” added Billings. “A lot of new faces, a lot of new guys playing together so we have to find chemistry pretty quick otherwise we don’t have a shot at making playoffs.”
The Stealth are coming off a Friday night loss to Toronto where the team was doubled up 14-7 on the road. With four games remaining – their last against Calgary – Vancouver still controls their own destiny. A win in each of those games guarantees playoff spot.
“It’s honestly lucky that our destiny is still in our own hands,” Duch told NLL.com’s Justin Millerson postgame. “If we win, we’re in, that’s got to be our main focus right now and not hoping a praying for something to happen outside our room.”
Vancouver will get a chance to quickly forget about Friday night’s loss and shift focus to their game this Sunday night in Connecticut against the Black Wolves. The two teams, each carrying four wins thus far, have yet to meet this season.
“We got another game moving forward on Sunday, we don’t have to let [Friday night’s] game linger in our head,” Duch said. “The word in the room is to understand what we did wrong and make sure we respond on Sunday.”
By Alyssa McLaughlin for NLL.com. Photo by Adam Borgstahl.