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Season Preview: New England Black Wolves

There are plenty of new faces that the New England Black Wolves are counting on to help the franchise get the 2015 National Lacrosse League season off to the right start. Can they do it? Plenty of questions, for sure, so let’s take a look.

2014 record/playoffs: 6-12 record/no playoffs.

Top 3 returning scorers: Kevin Crowley (33 goals, 42 assists for 75 points), Kyle Buchanan (23-45, 68), Pat Saunders (25-14, 39).

Key additions: Ryan Hotaling (T, free agent), Brett Bucktooth (F, free agent), Tye Belanger (G, trade), Mark Cockerton (F, draft), Quinn Powless (F, draft), Craig England (D, trade).

Key losses: Jordan Hall (T, trade), Ryan Ward (F, retired), Brodie Merrill (T, trade), Tracey Kelusky (F, retired), Garrett Thul (F, military service), Kevin Ross (D, free agent).

Outlook: With just 9 players returning from last year’s Philadelphia Wings team, it looks like the Black Wolves may have their work cut out as they break in a new roster in a new home. To an extent, that is true, but it’s not as though the new sticks are new lacrosse players. At least 8 of the new names have prior NLL experience, so finding a way to get everything clicking is just one of the many challenges for coach Blaine Harrison and his staff.

Up front, the Black Wolves have just 2 of their top 5 scorers back in Kevin Crowley and Kyle Buchanan. Crowley, a left-hander entering his fourth NLL season, has proven himself a reliable producer with more than 30 goals in each of his first 3 seasons. How he responds without the help of Jordan Hall, Ryan Ward and Tracey Kelusky remains to be seen, but it’s clear that Crowley is the No. 1 option and he needs to lead by example. Buchanan is back on the right side after an impressive 2014 season that saw him score 68 points (23-45).

Also gone is Garrett Thul, who scored 21 goals as a rookie from the left side, but Army Ranger training will keep him away from the NLL this season. That leaves lefty Pat Saunders as the only forward left with measurable experience in Harrison’s system. Free agents Brett Bucktooth(right) and Jamie Lincoln (left) can produce and New England will definitely need it as the rest of the offense is comprised of rookie free agents and draft picks.

In transition, the leadership of Brodie Merrill can’t be overstated and it will be missed. Joel White has the tools with his quickness and creativity to be an elite tranny and will be counted on to take on the top role. He’ll have help in Jesse Fehr, who came up through the Edmonton system, free agent Ryan Hotaling and trade acquisition Craig England, who had a solid rookie season in Toronto last year. It’s a young unit, but eager, and they’ll need to keep that exuberance in check to make good decisions once they get the ball up top.

On the back end, there’s a solid group of young defenders starting with goalie Evan Kirk. He’s paid his dues and finally comes into a season knowing he’s the No. 1 option. He’s fully capable of holding down the fort and a trade for Tye Belanger gives the Black Wolves a solid No. 2 option.

As for the runners, Michael Manley has developed into a stout defender whose stay-at-home style resembles that of former Wings greatShawn Nadelen. He’ll be the anchor of the unit that includes familiar names in Michael Diehl, Brett Manney, Brian Megill and England. Depth could be an issue here, though, as the rest of the unit lacks experience at the NLL level.

There are many unknowns about the New England roster for 2015, and that could be good and/or not good. Will the Black Wolves surprise teams? Or will the inexperience hurt them? It’s impossible to know today, of course, but what the Black Wolves do know is that they need to win and win early if they want to get their new era in Connecticut started correctly. Playing Buffalo, Rochester and Edmonton in the first 4 weeks of the season presents a mighty challenge, and a lot of questions will be answered early for this team.

Playing in the East Division certainly is another challenge facing the Black Wolves, and they’re going to need to play great lacrosse from the get-go, while also getting some breaks, if they’re going to compete for an invitation to the postseason.

Story courtesy of ILIndoor.com.