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GAME RECAP: Swarm Defense Too Much for the Wings

On Saturday night the Georgia Swarm hosted the Philadelphia Wings for their home opener, intent on erasing the bad taste from consecutive home defeats to close the 2019 season; a playoff loss to the Toronto Rock and a stunning defeat to close the regular season at the hands of these very Wings.

Fresh off a dominating defensive performance over a first-year franchise in the Rochester Knighthawks, the Swarm (2-0) continued stifling opposing offenses on Saturday night with their performance over the second-year Wings (0-1) in an 12-6 victory. Other than a brief stretch in the final period, the Swarm defense controlled the game and made life miserable for the Wings’ deep group of forwards.

All told, the Wings turned the ball over 27 times as opposed to just 15 for the Swarm, a critical difference in a game where the loose balls and shots on goal were similar for both teams.

The game started as a defensive struggle as both clubs struggled to get quality shots on goal until Bryan Cole managed to drive the game’s first goal home with 7:40 left in the first period, his second on the young season.

The Wings responded a little over four minutes later with Cory Vitarelli, the newly acquired forward who totaled 40 points a year ago while splitting time between Rochester and Colorado, getting one past Swarm goalie Mike Poulin.

However, the Swarm responded almost immediately as Randy Staats picked up his second point of the night by scoring his first goal of the season to take a 2-1 lead after the first quarter.

Not even :30 into the second frame, the Swarm scored again, Jordan Hall had yet another assist, this time it was to Shayne Jackson with a physical run through the Wings defense. Barely a minute later Lyle Thompson joined the fun with his 5th goal of the year and the Swarm looked poised to break the game open at 4-1.

The size of the Wings had been of concern to Swarm coach Ed Comeau coming in, but in the opening half, the Swarm were the more physical team, both offensively and defensively. The Swarm defense helped out Poulin my leaving very few open creases and clean looks on the net.

Connor Sellars in particular was critical on the back end for the Swarm, coming up with a dozen loose balls, four more than any other player on the floor while also forcing a turnover.

With the defense in control, a Lyle Thompson power play goal with just under 9:00 left in the half put the Swarm up 5-1.

With 7:07 remaining in the half, Thompson committed a crease violation creating a collision between Wings teammates that resulted in goalie Zach Higgins, who played with the Swarm in 2016, being shaken up. Higgins however did remain in the game.

Kevin Crowley and Matt Rambo helped get the Wings back into the game with a pair of goals in the second quarter and the lead was cut to just 5-3.

The physicality of the match began boiling over, particularly among the Swarm’s Chad Tutton and the Wings’ Brett Hickey. Hickey picked up a penalty late in the half, and the Swarm turned it into yet another power play goal that pushed the lead back to 6-3 at the halftime break. This time it was Jordan Hall finding the back of the net, his first goal but fourth point of the evening.

The third quarter started exactly like the second quarter began, the Swarm jumping on the Wings with a goal in each of the period’s first two minutes. This time it was Shayne Jackson putting both into the net, running his season total to six and putting him in double figures in total points scored as the lead stretched back out to 8-3.

Following a Kevin Crowley goal for the Wings, things began to get even chippier between the two teams as Jackson and Crowley barked at each other as they approached their respective benches. Crowley, while trying to burrow through the Swarm defense was denied by Poulin who lobbed a perfect outlet pass to a wide-open Lyle Thompson down the left side. Thompson easily beat the goalie in the one on one situation and joined Jackson in the hat trick club while providing a 9-4 lead after three quarters.

Any hope of a Wings comeback was squelched just under 4 minutes into the final quarter after they failed to convert on a powerplay and then turned the ball over in their own zone leading directly to a Miles Thompson goal on Staats’s fourth assist of the night. The 10th goal of the night for the Swarm pushed Wings coach Paul Day to begin pulling the goalie in an attempt to find some offense and somehow get back into the game.

The failed power play was the fourth such failure of the night for the Wings, as they failed to convert on any. The Swarm however took advantage of five power plays to the tune of three man advantage goals.

That didn’t exactly work as planned and Lyle Thompson scored his 8th goal of the 2020 season making it 11-4.

The Wings did not quit, and the previously dominant Swarm defense started to become more vulnerable allowing two goals in :22, including a beautiful behind the back goal by Kiel Matisz that pulled the Wings back to within five at 11-6. Matisz also assisted on the goal just moments before, which was his third assist of the game.

Matisz either scored or assisted on four of the six Wings goals.

Crowley was the other main contributor for the Wings, posting four points on two goals and two assists.

The Swarm steadied the course and would put the final nail in the coffin with 1:38 remaining in the contest as Zed Williams picked up his third assist of the night, feeding Adam Wiedemann on his first goal of the season.

The 12-6 victory was particularly special as it was Ed Comeau’s 100th career win, an accomplishment achieved by only four other coaches in NLL history.

Shayne Jackson with his three goals and two assists was the third star and after stopping 42-of-48 shots, Mike Poulin the second. The first star of course was Lyle Thompson after posting four goals and three assists for the second straight game.