By Ty Merrow / Georgia Swarm
The Georgia Swarm played its most physical game of the year so far and emerged victorious over rival New England to the tune of 14-9. Friday’s game at Harrah’s Cherokee Field at Infinite Energy Arena featured plenty of fantastic defense from both teams and plenty of rough hits.
Georgia (3-0) prevented New England (0-3) from collecting their first win of the season on Friday. A relatively low scoring game for the Swarm (Georgia averaged 18 goals per game entering the contest), their defense stepped up and countered the offenses’ “coolness.”
“It started with our offense,” John Ranagan – who played for New England last year – said about the defense’s success. “They were sprinting off which got us (defense) on. Just started being aggressive. I think the whole team did a great job on (New England’s) Shawn Evans, but particularly Jason Noble was on him all game. He really neutralized an overly great player in this league.”
Georgia’s defense managed to hold the 2013 and 2015 NLL MVP Evans to only four points (1G, 3A) in the game before his ejection in the third quarter. The team saw veterans and rookies alike step up and neutralize the physical Black Wolves’ offense.
Players credited the coach’s plan to keep New England shooting from outside as part of the reason for their success. Even though the Black Wolves had 60 shots on goal, they were predominantly from outside and away, a fact that Swarm goalie Mike Poulin attributes to his 51 blocked shots.
Both Georgia and New England came out of the gate running but were matched for most of the quarter. The two teams went back-and-forth with Poulin and New England’s Evan Kirk making a plethora of highlight reel-worthy saves. Finally, the No. 4 pick in the 2016 NLL Draft, Bryan Cole, broke the ice nine minutes in by scoring his third goal of the season for the Swarm. Georgia would rack up three more goals – one of them from Mitch Belisle, who played in his first game of the season. Poulin blocked 15 shots and held the Black Wolves scoreless.
New England seemed to kick the aggressiveness up another notch in the second quarter, knocking over Georgia players whenever they could get away with it. Georgia responded, and a more defensive game evolved from there. The Black Wolves finally scored two goals to get on the board, but the Swarm went to the locker rooms having widened the lead to 5-2.
In the third quarter, New England’s offense started to gain some traction. But for every goal they scored, Georgia’s offense would respond with two more. Led by the team points’ leaders Lyle Thompson and Jordan Hall, the Swarm widened the lead further, ending the quarter up 10-5.
A clearly frustrated Black Wolves team lost composure and garnered most of their penalties in the fourth quarter. Throughout the whole game, New England garnered 38 penalty minutes on 11 infractions, but 30 of those minutes came in the final quarter. New England’s Evans vigorously earned 24 of those after he scored when Poulin accidentally knocked a blocked shot in on the rebound.
“We really pushed the line, but we don’t go over it,” Poulin said. “I think that’s been key all three games. We haven’t taken a lot of penalties because we’re a disciplined team. We play hard, we play clean, we’re not a dirty team, and that drives other teams nuts. That’s why we’ve had so many power plays. When you play clean, you work hard, you go about your way, other teams might get a little frustrated about it when it’s working for us.”
While true for most of the game, the Black Wolves managed to string together four unanswered goals starting with Evans’ before his ejection. Rookie Connor Sellars would not let New England have the last word, however. New England pulled goaltender Doug Jamieson to go man-up on the Swarm during the final minutes. Sellars won his faceoff against Jay Thorimbert, broke away, and scored his first goal of the career.
“They’ve stepped in,” head coach Ed Comeau said about his Swarm rookies. “This is a tough league to step in and make an impact. Each one of them has made an impact in their own way. I think we just try to give them their roles and play within their roles. We’ve been very happy with what they’ve brought to the team.”
On the offensive side, Lyle Thompson (4G, 2A) continued his rampage in the NLL with his partner in crime Jordan Hall (3G, 4A). Jerome Thompson recorded four assists, and both Kiel Matisz and Randy Staats recorded three points (both 1G, 2A). Even with a slow start, Georgia continued its unselfish streak by having nine different players score a goal in the game.
“We were getting our opportunities, but defense was stepping up on their end,” Lyle Thompson said. “We said our goals were going to come, we’re getting good shots. Keep taking them, eventually they’ll fall.”
The Black Wolves did indeed fall to a stellar all-around performance from Georgia. 3-0 for the first time since 2008, the Swarm now turns its attention towards the west coast and the West Division’s Vancouver Stealth (2-1). The matchup will take place at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday, January 28. Faceoff is set for 10:00 p.m. EST.
Georgia returns home to Harrah’s Cherokee Field at Infinite Energy Arena on Saturday, February 11 for a rematch against the New England Black Wolves at 7:05 p.m. EST. For only $27, fans can purchase a lower level ticket and Swarm scarf package for the game. Visit GeorgiaSwarm.com/scarf for tickets.
Fans can catch the game LIVE via NLL.com. Subscriptions can be purchased at tv.nlltv.com. An all-access 2017 season pass costs $34.95 (US) and $39.95 (Canada), while an individual team pass for the year costs $24.95 (US) and $29.95 (Canada).