The New England Black Wolves completed the weekend sweep of the Rochester Knighthawks with a 10-8 win Saturday night in front of 7,582 fans at the Blue Cross Arena. The Black Wolves (7-4) defeated the Knighthawks (6-7) by a score of 16-13 Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
The mood after the sweep was notably different for the Black Wolves from two weeks ago when they lost a hard-fought game in the very same arena.
“Looking at where we are, as opposed to where we could have been after this weekend, it’s obviously big,” said Black Wolves forward and former Knighthawk Jordan Hall who finished the night with six points (2+4). “A couple of guys stepped up. I thought (Kevin) Crowley in the second half was awesome. Our defense, honestly stepped up big time. If you look at how they scored, it was a lot of transition which kind of looks bad on our ‘O’ guys, as well as power play stuff. Our ‘D’ guys locked them up pretty good.”
“It was really big,” said Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark. “It’s in division. You just allow yourself to keep yourself in that second-place spot, keep yourself in a playoff spot. More for our psyche, too. I thought they really gave it to us the first time we were here and outplayed us in a lot of ways. To come back and respond the way we did, it’s just good for our mental makeup.”
The Black Wolves may not have put up the same numbers offensively as they did Friday night but used a balanced attack to score the goals when they needed them. Former league MVP Shawn Evans finished the night with seven points (3+4), Kevin Crowley had five points (2+3), Kyle Buchanan had five assists, and Pat Saunders had two goals in the fourth quarter including the final goal with just over 20 seconds to play.
“That’s the nice thing that we like about our ‘O’ right now,” Clark said. “It’s pretty level. They can all put the ball in the net. Even Kevin Buchanan has been scoring a lot for us and making good plays. Just getting loose balls and being responsible. It’s a good group and they’re really clicking right now as an offense.”
At the other end of the tunnel, the mood was much more somber for the Knighthawks who had a chance to make a real statement in the playoff race this weekend.
“It was a hard-fought battle by both teams,” said Knighthawks defenseman Brad Self, who had three points (2+1) while pulling double duty with the offense at times. “Nobody likes losing, that’s for sure. We obviously weren’t too happy with the two losses. We were really unhappy with last night’s effort. Tonight was a whole lot better, so we have to build off that.”
“This is a tough weekend,” said Knighthawks forward Dan Dawson who had a four-point night (2+2). “Going into a bye week, you never want to give up two games like that. They out-played us this weekend. There’s nothing more to it. They out-executed us, they out-worked us, and it showed in the result.”
“It’s a good time to have this bye week,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “We’re pretty banged-up. It’s a good time to get refreshed and healthy. We still control a lot of things. We’ve got Buffalo two more times, we’ve got these guys one more time, and we’ve got Georgia. All divisional games that we control and we’ve got a lot of lacrosse left to play.”
The bye week was a major theme for the Knighthawks after playing the back-to-back games versus the Black Wolves. Forward Cory Vitarelli was not on the active roster, along with defenseman Mike Manley who came over from the Black Wolves in the Hall trade.
“We’ve got some time, but we’re definitely a hurting group with injuries and sicknesses,” Dawson said. “We’re going to use this bye week to get better and to get healthy. It’s the right time as far as getting healthy and getting better. As far as timing and coming off two losses, it’s not really good timing. We’re definitely going to have to use these two weeks to get the sticks in our hands and get better, but right now, this one’s going to sting for a while. You’ve got two weeks to let this sink in.”
“We’ll see how healthy we get,” Self said. “We have some bodies banged up, and time will tell. Even for the guys that are healthy right now have some bumps and bruises. It will be nice to just take a week off and regroup then get back to work in a couple of weeks.”
For the Knighthawks, the weekend series with the Black Wolves continued a trend of slow offensive starts in 2016. In both games, the Knighthawks failed to score in the first quarter. The Knighthawks trailed 3-0 only 23 seconds into the second quarter before taking a lead keyed by defensemen Brad Self, Ian Llord, and Scott Self.
“You see what our defense does with the lead,” Dawson said. “We’ve never really gave them a huge lead to start off this season, to start off the year. That last couple of games we’ve played, we’ve come from behind in almost every single game. It’s going to come back to bite you. Especially with how good teams are, you need to play a full 60 and we just haven’t done that recently. It’s something we’ve got to address.”
“I think a couple of times, we’ve been panicking really early in the game,” said Knighthawks forward Stephen Keogh. “We just need to calm down and spread the offense. Move the ball and move our feet. Just get back to Knighthawks lacrosse where everyone’s contributing. We’re a great team, but we can’t be spotting everyone a lead early in a game. Hopefully we can fix it for the rest of the season.”
With the season heading towards the stretch run, the Black Wolves trail the Eastern Division-leading Buffalo Bandits by half a game. The Knighthawks trail the Bandits by 2.5 games but are still in the final playoff spot in the East. The Black Wolves return home to face the Colorado Mammoth on April 2 while the Knighthawks get the bye week.
Three Stars of the Game:
1) Shawn Evans
2) Dan Dawson
3) Brad Self
By Jeremy Pike for NLL.com. Photo by Micheline Veluvolu.