The Georgia Swarm (7-7) and New England Black Wolves (6-7) played the very definition of a game of two halves on Saturday, March 24 at Infinite Energy Arena.
Georgia outscored New England 10-3 in the first half, but the Black Wolves refused to go away quietly and scored nine goals in the second half to make things closer than anyone would have believed after the first 30 min.
“(Georgia’s) fast, they play fast offensively,” Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “We were a step behind the first half for sure … The positive takeaway was we were better in the second half. But the first half, we let the gap get too big, and one of the keys in this league is making it manageable so that you can come back, and we almost did.”
Joel Coyle’s boarding penalty on Bryan Cole late in the fourth quarter killed any chance of the Black Wolves coming back, and Georgia was able to string together two straight wins with a 17-12 victory.
“We built on it from last week, especially early where our spacing was good,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said about the offense. “We moved the ball. We played aggressive on picks and had some really good looks. I thought their goalie made a lot of good saves, and we had a lot of shots. The key for us offensively is we’re not going to rely on one guy and our spacing and our speed need to be real good.”
The Swarm kicked things off with a transition goal from Jordan MacIntosh. New England’s Kevin Crowley retaliated to tie things up, but Georgia rattled off five more goals to close out the quarter with a 6-1 lead.
Georgia continued its six-goal run with a transition goal from Cole before Brett Manney managed to break up the Swarm’s run, 8-2. Joel White answered with a goal that was similar to Cole’s before Callum Crawford scored the first goal in his hat trick. Shayne Jackson and Miles Thompson netted their respective second goals, putting Georgia up 10-3 at halftime.
“We did some specific adjustments defensively in terms of how we wanted to play in the two-man game and ways we wanted to make our reads that way, so we were a little better that way,” Clark said. “Offensively, we needed to play with more speed. We needed to move the ball more.”
Back from the Injured List, Randy Staats opened up the second half by overpowering his defender and scoring to give Georgia an eight-goal lead. Crawford scored again to shorten the gap before Lyle Thompson and Staats gave the Swarm a nine-goal lead, its largest of the night. New England rattled off a three-goal string to climb back within six goals. Scoring his first career NLL goal, Leo Stouros netted the ball in transition, and Crowley closed out the half with 24 seconds left. Georgia still had the lead, 14-8.
The Black Wolves refused to be put down as Adam Bomberry and Crawford got New England to double digits in goals. Jackson got his hat trick with a falling goal to widen the lead to five, but the Black Wolves crept close again with two more goals. Lyle followed suit and recorded his hat trick, putting the home team up 16-12
New England did not seem out of the game until Coyle hit Cole into the boards and was ejected. Man-up for five minutes, the Swarm used a Jesse King power play goal to seal the deal and ran the clock out. Georgia held on to get back to .500 with a 17-12 victory.
“We have a lot to learn after that win, especially being that we were up by so much and kind of gave up a little bit in the third,” Stouros said. “We kind of had a little bit of a lull, and they came back. I think if we stay out of the penalty box and stuff like that, we wouldn’t give up that lull, but other than that, we came back and battled and took out the win.”
Kiel Matisz led the Swarm in points with seven assists, and Lyle (3G, 3A), Jackson (3G, 3A) and Staats (3G, 1A) each had a hat trick. King followed with five points (2G, 3A), and on his bobblehead night, Miles finished with four points (2G, 2A). Goaltender Mike Poulin earned the win after making 30 saves on 42 SOG, good for a .714 SV%.
New England was led by Crawford with six points (3G, 3A), his best game since being traded to the Black Wolves. Crowley added an assist to his hat trick. In addition to his four assists, goaltender Aaron Bold finished with 46 saves on 63 SOG, a .730 SV%.
“Teams slump, I guess,” Crawford said. “We’re not at the right time of year to have a slump. We need to get out of it, and the only way to get out of it is by scoring goals. So, we as an offense need to start filling the net.”
After dropping its last two games and being outscored by 18 goals over the doubleheader, New England continues its road trip with a visit to KeyBank Center to take on the Buffalo Bandits (7-7) on Saturday, March 31. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Georgia takes next week off before finishing up its three-game homestand with a matchup with the Toronto Rock (7-6) on Sunday, April 8. Faceoff is set for 4:05 p.m. ET.
Fans can catch both games LIVE on NLLTV.com.