Both teams will look to get back on track when the New England Black Wolves (2-5) visit the Minnesota Swarm (3-5) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. The matchup will be a key battle in the standings as the Swarm sit half a game in front of the Black Wolves in the East Division. Watch the game live on UniversalSports.com in the U.S. and on TSN GO in Canada.
For the Swarm, the contest on Saturday will be the first of a doubleheader weekend. The team’s previous home game was last month against the Rock and showed an uncharacteristically poor performance by the Minnesota team. This is something they have no plan of repeating.
“We typically play well at home, our last performance we didn’t perform the way we usually do,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “I know that’s on the mind as the players and the coaching staff; to really put a good performance out in front of our fans.”
Minnesota allowed 21 goals in its most recent game at Vancouver and would like to keep that performance in the past. Coming off a bye week, the Swarm have been preparing to enter the second half of the season with a renewed sense of focus and determination to get the job done.
“It’s definitely a fresh start for us, being at home and having that comfort zone for our players,” Caines said. “We’ve been banged up so the break was good for us. I think we had to refocus. We had a good practice on the weekend and really fine-tuned some things up.”
Second-year forward Logan Schuss was a high performer in their last contest with eight points (3+5) and can be expected to be a prominent factor this weekend. Forward Shayne Jackson leads the team in goals with 15 and assistant captain Callum Crawford has the most assists of the team, with his 21 on the season. Forward Miles Thompson won February NLL Rookie of the Month and has 31 points this season (13+18). Thompson is the famed rookie out of Onondaga Nation, but his success and the team’s success need to work hand-in-hand.
“For us, it’s a committee offense. When our whole offense is playing good, Miles is going to play good. If our offense is struggling, Miles is going to struggle,” Caines said. “To get him going is to get our whole offense going.”
Every pair of Swarm eyes is set on New England this Saturday night. The defense will need to step up, the transition will need to be a step ahead, and the offense will need to be unstoppable.
“It’s important to focus on one game at a time,” said Swarm defenseman Mitch Belisle. “We’ve really got to focus on the first game and getting in the groove and playing well and getting a win.”
The Swarm have recently tagged its home crowd as the “seventh man” on the team because of the advantage they get from being in front of so many energetic fans. Minnesota is going into Saturday night in the hopes of giving their deserving crowd what they want – a big win.
“It is a hard place to play for opposing teams and if we can get the crowd into it and get that energy, it’s going to help with the outcome of the game,” Caines said. “We’re going to have a lot of energy for this weekend and I know the guys are really looking forward to it.”
Meanwhile, the Black Wolves have not played since losing to the Colorado Mammoth back on February 22 in Week 8. The pack is riding a five-game losing streak and the extra time off is not something the team needed according to head coach Blane Harrison.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Harrison said. “It’s going to be our first game in three weeks. It’s hard to build on the successes that you have and your perspective about the score. We’ve strived to do a lot around the off weeks to stay focused, and focus solely on Minnesota this weekend.”
“It’s not due to lack of talent, it’s about being mentally prepared,” added Black Wolves forward Kevin Crowley. “We knew coming into the season that we were a younger team. We had a good week of practice, and we’re excited to right the ship and end this losing streak.”
During the five-game skid, the Black Wolves have fallen behind early in every game. The early deficits are easy enough to overcome, but the pack has not been able capitalize and finish the game. The closest the team has come to getting back in the win column came in losses to the Toronto Rock and Colorado Mammoth.
“The guys are staying positive,” noted Crowley. “We know a lot of those close games we had we shot ourselves in the foot. So to say, some mental errors are correctable.”
With an average of just over twelve goals a game, the pack’s adjustments lie not in scoring more, but keeping the other team from scoring. Though Mike McNamara and Bill O’Brien have been helping to build a strong defense, the Black Wolves are struggling to defend in transition, while goaltending is up in the air.
“Our offense isn’t the thing that keeps me up at night,” said Harrison. “I focus more on the defense and the goaltending. If we can mitigate some of those mental errors that we’re committing then, I don’t want to get into the would-of, could-of, should-of game, but there’s a lot of goals that we give up that we basically give up versus the opposing teams really executing it. We clean that up, we get our defense and back-end in good order.”
There is still a long, hard schedule ahead for the Black Wolves and with the announcement that rookie sensation Quinn Powless is out for the rest of the season, the pack is regrouping and making some major changes. With a record of below .500, the pack is looking on the positive side and adjusting where necessary.
“We’re 2-5, but there’s a lot of teams that are something and 5,” noted Harrison. “We don’t really feel like we’re out of it. There’s a lot of lacrosse ahead of us, and this weekend is our first step in that rebirth. Quinn leaving was a bit of a blow because of what he did unselfishly without the ball. He created a lot of room on the right side, but when a door closes, a window opens. Brett Bucktooth coming back and all of a sudden he’s contributing on offense and kind of taking a little bit of the role that Quinn had.”
This is the second meeting between the Swarm and Black Wolves this season. Back on January 24th, Minnesota won 19-13 and started the losing streak that the Black Wolves are looking to finally bring to an end. However, beating Minnesota and ending the losing streak is not going to be an easy task for the Black Wolves.
“Minnesota is a dangerous team for us,” stated Harrison. “They’ve very explosive if you let them be explosive. We’ve got to do what we can to limit that exposure to what they like to do. We think we started to address that last weekend.”
The matchup between the New England Black Wolves and Minnesota Swarm is more than just a rematch. With the battle for the East Division continuing to heat up, the winner of this game could really help its chances to get back in the fight.
Story by Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) & Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.