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Strength In Numbers: Black Wolves Host Swarm

The unbeaten New England Black Wolves (2-0) host the Minnesota Swarm (1-1) at Mohegan Sun Arena for an East Division matchup on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. Watch live on UniversalSports.com and TSN.ca as the teams get back into action after bye weekends in Week 3.

Coming off a strong come-from-behind 14-10 win over the Edmonton Rush in Week 2, the Swarm look to continue its success and build on the momentum from its last victory. The Rush seemed to have total control until the final minutes of the game, where the Swarm outscored them 11-1, which included a highlight-reel game-winning goal from rookie sensation Miles Thompson.

“Being down 9-3 in a place like Edmonton against such a great team, it was nice so see us be able to respond,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “The confidence started to build and as our defense started to slow them down, our offense picked it up which is always what you’re looking for when you’re down-and-out like that.”

A major portion of the scoring this season for Minnesota has come from forwards Shayne Jackson (5g, 6a), Callum Crawford (5g, 8a) and rookie Miles Thompson (6g, 2a). Both Crawford and Thompson recorded hat tricks against the Rush, and Thompson’s game-winning goal landed him a spot on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays.  

“He’s [Thompson] been a real pleasure to be around and to coach,” Sullivan said. “He makes everybody on the floor better and he’s everything you would expect with a player that came in with those kind of accolades.”

Heading into New England this weekend, Sullivan commented on the Black Wolves’ early successes and what he expects to see as game day continues to close in.

“I don’t think they’re surprises, I think they have some pretty great players there,” said Sullivan about the Black Wolves. “They’ve got some good things going on, they’ve got the excitement of a new venue, and they run. They play real well on both ends of the ball. Given the excitement they’ve got, some of the veterans in there and some of the impact that the coaches have made, I think they are a team to be reckoned with all year long. It’s going to be a real good game. I think it will be a fast game, and we’ll see how it goes.”

The Swarm started off the season with a loss at home and evened their record with a win on the road. With almost no real knowledge of Mohegan Sun Arena, Minnesota is entering uncharted territory this weekend. While they have not seen the Black Wolves’ home, they are going to do their best once the game begins.

“Well, I think it’s always tough when you go into any facility, especially a new one,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to put our best foot forward, and we know that we’re facing a real jazzed up team that is excited about everything that is going on around them. We’ll go out and play our game, and see how it plays out against what New England throws at us.”

Like the Swarm, the Black Wolves are coming back into the arena after a long bye week. New England had a dominant 17-7 win over the three-time defending champion Rochester Knighthawks in Week 2, and will focus on maintaining the same level of performance as before. Though the season records differ between these two teams, there are similarities that will make for an interesting matchup.

“We’re expecting it to be a pretty fast-paced, up-and-down game, because that has really been our style so far this year with our guys too,” said Black Wolves assistant general manager Rich Lisk. “With this one, I think the team matches up very well with us. There are a lot of similar strengths, and mix of veterans and young guys. I think it will be a good, fast-paced game.”

Evenly matched on all fronts, these two teams are sure to take their shots at every opportunity. However, the Black Wolves have a slight advantage in goaltender Evan Kirk. Kirk leads the league with a save percentage of .848 and a goals against average of 7.50. Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan heads into the weekend expecting the very best out of New England’s veteran goaltender.

“Evan Kirk seems to be seeing the ball real big,” Sullivan said. “I know firsthand that when he gets hot, he’s going to cause you trouble and he is going to frustrate a lot of offenses.”

Though this is the Black Wolves’ inaugural season with the National Lacrosse League, the respect between Minnesota and New England goes beyond the plays that happen on the field.

“I have a lot of respect for the Swarm, their ownership group, their philosophies, and how they run the team,” noted Lisk. “They are playing very, very well and they could very easily be 2-0 right now, and coming in at us.”

Before the move from Philadelphia, the Black Wolves had a few games against the Swarm that left a bad taste in their mouth. Focusing on Saturday’s game, history may find a way to really push the intensity up a notch as the game continues.

“They’ve gotten us in the past; last year a couple of times,” Lisk said. “It still sticks in our paws a little bit.”

Story by Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.