Three minutes and 17 seconds of meaningful lacrosse remained in the Wings’ season when a standing ovation erupted in the Wells Fargo Center. On the jumbotron and public address system, proclamations of achievement brought joy to the 9,150 dotting the lower bowl’s maroon seats. Jordan Hall had notched his 700th career point. Trevor Baptiste, with his 280th faceoff win, had secured the single-season rookie record.
Moments later, the Wings offered gratitude in return. Their final home game of the season was over. They had shaken hands with Calgary. But they stayed on the floor, waving their sticks toward the stands.
“A lot of years, if you’re not having a good season, everything is down and you’re not enjoying yourself,” Wings forward Josh Currier said. “But it’s a unique experience here in Philadelphia. Even losing games, you’re still loving playing for Philadelphia.”
The memorable moments followed a forgettable game. Philadelphia did not start slow, head coach/general manager Paul Day said, pointing to the amount of shot-clock resets his team earned as evidence. But his team did not score in the first quarter. It swapped goalies thrice. It took 36 minutes and 14 seconds to find the net in five-on-five play, and the Roughnecks (8-8) were able to fend off the Wings’ (3-12) second-half surge for a 18-13 win Saturday afternoon because of that sleepy start.
“We liked our possession,” Day said. “It’s hard when (shots) don’t fall for you. … It kind of deflates you.”
The loss eliminated Philadelphia from postseason contention, but it was not solely Saturday’s letdown that sunk the Wings’ comeback campaign. Brett Hickey’s season ended in January, a key offensive piece lost to injury. Day made two blockbuster trades, shuffling an expansion roster that hardly had time to settle in the first place. Isaiah Davis-Allen got a text Friday night telling him he’d become the team’s 11th rookie and final practice squad player to see the floor this season. On Saturday, he called his NLL debut “special.”
Now, before an offseason of reassessment and field lax, the Wings will try to avoid the NLL’s worst record. They face three road games in the season’s final two weeks. A thousand miles separate the venues they will visit in an upcoming back-to-back. Where do they find motivation?
“I think two things,” said Wings captain Kiel Matisz. “From the coach’s perspective, it’s just about competing. Realistically, teams change every year in this league and most of us will be back next year. But you’re fighting for a spot already.
“For me, I think it’s that ‘be a builder’ mentality. We all signed up for this. We were all picked or wanted to be here, whether you’re a free agent or not. I think all the guys in the room want to be here. Not the results we’re very proud of but we’re making small wins week to week.”
Those tiny victories didn’t appear on the scoreboard early Saturday. Calgary’s first powerplay spanned all of 12 seconds. Their next lasted eight. By that point, as the Roughnecks’ lead reached four goals, Day yanked Doug Buchan and gave Gowah Abrams his first minutes as a Wing. Not much changed. Dane Dobbie blew by Frank Brown, beat Abrams, and gave Calgary a 5-0 lead that carried into the second quarter.
Three powerplay goals, capped by a Matisz putback, silenced early boos. Four of Currier’s five goals kept the contest respectable in the third quarter. That his brother Zach played defense for Calgary earned the Wings’ speedy forward some bragging points. Currier didn’t care.
“The goals were going in for me today,” Josh said, “but the end goal for the team is to have more points on the board to them, and that didn’t happen today.”
Three fights broke out in the second half and 52 penalty minutes were handed out in all. Philadelphia wanted to scrap their way back into the game and save their season. “To create energy,” Matisz said, “you have to create a little conflict.” But the Wings’ barrage of 59 shots could not crack Roughnecks goalie Christian Del Bianco nor keep up with the 21 points posted by Dobbie and Curtis Dickson.
It was a bitter end to a home slate that brought mixed results. The Wings won only a third of the games they played in their building. But, for the first time since 2014, they had a building to call home. They had games to play. They had fans to cheer a 700th point and a record-breaking faceoff win. They’ll have all of these things next year, too. What does that matter when the scoreboard reads as it did Saturday? The team photo distributed Saturday had the answer.
“Every guy on our team is smiling,” Matisz said. “I think that’s all that needs to be said.”