By Ray Lilley / NLL.com Correspondent
The New England Black Wolves were missing a lot more than a few key players on Sunday afternoon at Mohegan Sun Arena. New England (3-6) finished out a disappointing first half to the season with a 14-9 loss to the Colorado Mammoth (5-4).
New England had their struggles early and often against Colorado on Sunday. They looked to lack the energy and intensity that we have been seeing from them ever since their frustrating 0-3 start to the season.
“Actually that was probably the key, the key to why we didn’t get the W today,” second year forward Reilly O’Connor said following the loss. “We just didn’t have that spark, that jam that we normally do. To be honest I don’t know what it was, we just didn’t have it and I feel like it was our downfall today.”
To make matters worse, New England who was already without their fifth and sixth leading point getters, lost their captain and leading scorer, Shawn Evans, with a minute to go in the first half. Evans went down with control of the ball and limped off the field and all the way to the locker room. Following the game, Head Coach Glenn Clark said that it looked like an ankle injury but he was being evaluated and they will know more on Monday.
The Black Wolves were also without veterans Chad Culp (short term injured reserve) and Pat Saunders (healthy scratch) so the younger players were called upon to step up and play a more vital role in the offense. Reilly O’Connor and Seth Oakes were the two who impressed the most combining for four goals and seven points in Sunday’s game.
“It was almost too little too late in terms of that urgency and that spark,” O’Connor explained after the game. “We were pressing there which was nice but it was too little too late. That start really killed us.”
Another young guy that made his mark was rookie Joel Coyle who was playing in his first National Lacrosse League game after being selected by New England in the 3rd round of the 2016 NLL Draft. Coyle got the Black Wolves on the board with his first career goal after his team went down 2-0 early on.
Colorado outscored New England 5-2 from then until the end of the first half and took a 7-3 lead into the break.
“You’ve got to find a way. We didn’t. We had opportunities but we just didn’t find a way to make them drop. And that’s disappointing,” Clark said of his team after the game.
New England battled back in the second half and made it interesting, at least giving another good crowd at Mohegan Sun some hope down the stretch.
“The fans, it’s been awesome. The crowds have been great and the fans have been supporting us. We owe them more and it’s tough to see when we didn’t really have that jump tonight,” O’Connor said about the 5,069 fans that packed Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The biggest struggle for the Black Wolves was probably finishing their chances. They outshot Colorado 55-54 but a hot goalie, Dillon Ward frustrated their shorthanded offense and really looked to be the difference in the game. A 14-9 game could look bad on the scoreboard but it really was not as bad as it looked. They had their opportunities but could not capitalize. The most frustrating part for the Black Wolves was the Mammoth’s ability to stop New England’s momentum before they could really start rolling and get back in the game.
“We had the opportunities but I think we let them slip by,” O’Connor said. “Especially myself, we had a ton of good looks in front and just, simply just didn’t get the job done. I think we just have to take a look in the mirror and it’s just on ourselves to be better Friday night in Toronto.”
An even second half was helped along by the growth and maturity of the Black Wolves new, young offense. Especially O’Connor and Oakes who were scratched a combined eight times so far this season. The growing comfort and familiarity was evident as their ball movement became more fluid and efficient throughout the second half.
O’Connor pumped in his second straight two goal game while Oakes contributed with his first career multi goal game. O’Connor also led the game with 13 shots.
“I wouldn’t say it’s do or die because we don’t want to put that pressure on ourselves but we need wins,” O’Connor said. “Like Coach Clark always says, we are process driven but everything is based off results in this league and two loses in a row, we need to get back in the win column. And that just starts with every guy kind of taking a look in the mirror.”
Safe to say a lot of adjustments and work lies ahead for the New England Black Wolves in the second half. New England starts the second half with a very important game against the second place Rock on Friday in Toronto.
“We’re not where we want to be, record wise. So we are hovering on the outside looking in on the playoffs,” Clark emphasized following the game. “That’s not where we anticipated we would be, and that’s not where we want to be. It’s an uncomfortable area right now. But that’s sports. You either pick yourself up and find a way or you don’t get to play in the big boy box. So you know, we’ve got to find a way to win.”