By Ray Lilley / NLL.com Correspondent
Photo Credit: Kohi Ton
After picking up their first win last Saturday the New England Black Wolves wanted to carry the momentum into Friday night’s game against Rochester. In a rematch of New England’s season opener, the Black Wolves were hoping to avenge the loss that started their early season troubles.
Now with a win under their belts the Black Wolves looked like the team that we all expected them to be at the start of the season. Setting their sights back on their lofty preseason goals, New England came out flying against a Rochester team that earlier in the day released the bad news of a season ending injury to Cody Jamieson who is 3rd on their all-time points list.
Rochester (2-3) got on the board first but left their goaltender, Matt Vinc in charge of keeping it that way as New England (2-3) threw everything at him in the first half. Vinc stopped 26 of 30 shots in the first half and even with a 4-1 deficit it could have been much worse had it not been for his strong play in net. Vinc had 47 saves in total and was the main reason why the Knighthawks even had a chance in this game.
Unlikely names scored early for New England as their top goal scorers struggled to get the ball past Vinc. As the clock ran down in the first quarter, the Black Wolves defense made a play and transitioned into the Black Wolves offense down the other end. Zac Reid found former Knighthawk, Derek Searle who was finally able to put one past Vinc with 31.6 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
Searle played four games for Rochester in 2016 before an injury caused him to miss the remainder of the season and the first three games this season for New England. His tally to open the scoring for New England was his first National Lacrosse League goal.
The goal from Searle seemed to give the Black Wolves a boost along with a great sequence where Evan Kirk stood tall in goal at the start of the second quarter. Rochester, who had a good transition game flipped the field and went hard towards Kirk’s end. Kirk stopped the first shot in transition and had to pop right back up to stonewall the rebound from a trailing Knighthawk.
The Black Wolves defense sent the ball back the other way and was able to capitalize on their own transition when Seth Oakes drove through the middle and powered a shot past Vinc for a 2-1 Black Wolves lead.
Less than a minute later Kevin Buchanan finished on a similar play as he broke through the line of defenders and buried a goal to give the Black Wolves a two goal lead. Then with just over a minute left New England’s captain, Shawn Evans put the exclamation point on a dominating first half. Speeding through the offensive zone Evans moved across the top of the crease and finished with a nifty behind the back goal that beat Zinc up high.
Zinc stoned the Black Wolves offense looking very good on the low shots but New England seemed to change up their game plan as they started shooting high in the second quarter.
The two East Division squads traded goals a couple times early in the second half before New England looked to take complete control half way through the third quarter. With a 7-3 lead already, Kevin Crowley worked to get control along the boards before powering through Rochester defender Ian Llord and beating Vinc with a high lazer.
New England’s Pat Saunders put them on top 8-3 off another behind the back play, from Evans. This time it was a pass back towards the front of the net that found Saunders for his ninth goal of the season.
Just about a minute later Dan Ball took a slashing penalty that gave Rochester a power play which helped them turn the game around.
Kyle Jackson, the Knighthawks leading scorer, beat Kirk just 23 seconds into the power play and then added another after Stephen Keogh tallied for Rochester. All of a sudden, an 8-3 Black Wolves lead with 4:14 left in the third quarter was only an 8-6 lead at the start of the fourth.
Rochester’s Cory Vitarelli put another one past Kirk early in the fourth quarter and quickly it was a one goal game.
Keogh, who had a solid game up front for Rochester, was able to outmuscle New England’s Ball and tie the game with just over 11 minutes to go in the game. New England’s five goal lead was now gone and you could feel the tension in Mohegan Sun Arena as the game clock ticked down.
But with 3:31 remaining Chad Culp was able to find a rebound in front of Vinc and slide it past him for the go ahead goal.
With the goalie pulled Rochester drew up and executed a perfect set play that found Joe Resetartis moving towards the boards and firing a bullet high to Kirk’s left side to tie the game with 38.9 seconds left.
This could have taken the air right out of the Black Wolves’ sails but just like after losing the five goal lead, they kept flying and found a way to win.
About two minutes into overtime another Evans behind the back pass found Culp in front of the net as he buried his second of the night to send the Mohegan Sun crowd home happy.
Evans finished the game with two goals and four assists to lead a resurgent Black Wolves offense that also saw Culp and Crowley pop in two goals. Kirk continued his steady play stopping 46 of 55 shots on the night.
Next weekend, New England will travel back to Georgia looking to do what they did to Rochester and get even.