The New England Black Wolves (2-2) host the Rochester Knighthawks (3-3) for the second time this season at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. The Black Wolves look to end a two-game skid after starting the season with dominant wins over the Buffalo Bandits and Knighthawks. Catch the game live on WatchESPN in the U.S. and TSN.ca in Canada.
“We came out with two strong games,” said Black Wolves forward Jamie Lincoln. “We got back to the basics. We want to be a blue collar team, play tough, grind out wins, do whatever we have to do. The last two games we didn’t put 60 minutes together and that’s what you have to do in this league.”
In their first game against the Knighthawks, the Black Wolves dominated the entire game, winning with a score of 17-7. New England forward Kevin Crowley was a major force for the offense, leading the team with six goals and four assists in the win. Crowley is the team leader with 11 goals and 13 assists, and the Black Wolves’ offense may look to him to lead the way in Sunday’s rematch. However, the team on the floor may be a bit different than anyone has seen so far as injuries continue to plague the Black Wolves.
“We’ve been hit by the injury bug a little bit,” said Black Wolves assistant general manager Rich Lisk. “We’re a little banged up, so the bye week gives some of those guys a chance to recover a little bit more and regroup.”
The Black Wolves are returning to action after a long bye week once again. After their first bye week, the Wolves struggled offensively and defensively, losing to Minnesota at home and losing to Edmonton on the road. However, they used this bye week to get back to basics and focus on overall goals moving toward Sunday’s rematch with the Knighthawks.
“We went back to Toronto and had a good two days of practice, to refocus and get some things done,” Lisk said. “We started off pretty quickly and faltered a little bit. I think the bye week helped us to regroup and get back to what got us there the first two games.”
Going into Sunday’s game, the Black Wolves are looking to readjust their game and fix the mistakes they have made of late. With injuries plaguing key players in the roster, that is not going to be an easy task.
“You have to make sure you cover the floor and cut off transition; we’ve been focusing a lot on that,” noted Lincoln. “We just have to put all the pieces together for a full game.”
As the fight for the East Division continues, the Black Wolves have a chance to get back into the fight. It’s not going to be easy though, as the Knighthawks are three-time defending NLL champions for a reason.
“This is going to be a very tough game,” Lisk said. “We know they’re the best in the league. They’re the champs, they have been for three years in a row. They’re the standard that we hold ourselves to. We feel it’s going to be a good game and we’re looking forward to it.”
For the Knighthawks, it will be a short turnaround after defeating the Bandits 15-10 in Buffalo on Saturday night. The team quickly got on the road it to Connecticut for a rematch with the Black Wolves on Sunday.
“The last time we were there, they took it to us and they took it to us very, very good,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “It’s never an easy place to get to, but we’ll get there and we’ll be focused and we’ll be ready.”
“This game will be in the back of the mind Saturday night when we play Buffalo,” said Knighthawks defenseman Mike Kirk. “They beat us in every facet of the game last time we played down there. Loose balls, faceoffs, just those little things. I think that’s where we have to be better in order to compete with these guys on Sunday afternoon.”
The quick turnaround is something all teams in the NLL have to deal with during the regular season and the Knighthawks are well aware of the challenges it presents on Sunday. However, with challenges come opportunities as well.
“In this league, the back-to-backs are going to take that toll on the body,” Kirk said. “It’s a rough game and you’re going to be travelling the day after, so I think that’s where you’re going to feel it. After the first five minutes of the game, you’ll forget about the game you played the day before and you’ll be totally invested in that next one. But these are the games you want to play. You’re with your team for three days, you’re on the road, you’re bonding. You’ve got lots of lacrosse. You can’t ask for more than that.”
“You play Saturday night against Buffalo and you get to look and refocus right away and get back on the floor the next night against New England,” Hasen said. “It gives the guys a good opportunity to get a better feel and keep that mojo working the next night.”
The team’s biggest offseason addition, forward Jordan Hall, does not get to practice midweek with the Knighthawks, so getting that much playing time in a weekend will definitely help bring the offense together as a unit. Even with that lack of practice, Hall has left his mark so far with 14 points (6+8) during his homecoming to the Rochester franchise where he experienced success early in his career.
With Rochester two games back of the East Division lead heading into the weekend, the back-to-back against divisional opponents does offer a good chance for the Knighthawks to climb right back into the thick of the race. However, the focus for Rochester is on improving play, not the playoff picture right now.
“You worry about wins and losses, but our mindset going into every game is just making sure that we’re better than the last time we were on the floor,” Hasen said. “Results come from that hard work and doing things right. Each and every day, that’s our focus. And what happens, happens.”
By Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) and Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Larry Palumbo.