The Albany FireWolves are finishing up a brutally demanding 5-game stretch that might end up defining their season. Their upset win two weekends ago against the Western Conference’s best team, the San Diego Seals, proves they are up to the challenge.
It is a schedule that you would only wish upon your most bitter rivals. When the 5-game, 21-day stretch of games between February 18th to March 11th comes to an end, the FireWolves will have faced the Buffalo Bandits twice (once at home and once on the road), the Toronto Rock, the San Diego Seals on the road (nearly 3,000 miles from home) and the Halifax Thunderbirds on the road. As of today, those teams have combined for a 31-8 (.795 win percentage) record heading into Week 15.
This past Saturday night, the FireWolves played their 4th game in that stretch, this, the second of their matches against the Eastern Conference’s top dogs, the Buffalo Bandits, trying to avenge their heartbreaking loss to them in February.
The Bandits, who needed a 7-0 scoring surge in the 4th quarter to win the last back-and-forth battle between these two, played the role of spoiler once more in the contentious, gritty affair. Much like their game versus the Seals, the defense hunkered down against the Bandits but were outplayed in the contest’s final moments.
While a defensive and goaltending clinic was needed to shut down the Seals in the 2nd half of the game a few weeks ago and was used to slow down the offensively bullish Bandits, it’s been the offense that has stepped up for this team. The team scored 13 goals on four occasions in February and went 2-2 in the games they scored that many goals.
In particular, the play of Joe Resetarits and Ryan Benesch has kept the FireWolves in many closely contested battles during those games. In February, these two combined for 13.8 points per game – Resetarits had 48 points in the past month alone in six games.
For perspective, as of March 7th, 2022, only 13 players have had more than 48 points, and that’s throughout this entire NLL season. Again, Resetarits did that in one month.
And since his slow start with the FireWolves, Benesch seems to be finding his groove. In his first three games with his new team after being traded from Panther City Lacrosse Club back in early January, Benesch had a combined 8 points (2.66 points per game). Not only did he have an equal total of 8 points last week alone versus San Diego, but he’s averaged 5.83 points per game or more than double that 3-game average following his move.
Yet, as Benesch will tell you, the success he or Resetarits has had wouldn’t even be a possibility if it were for the continuous effort their teammates have put together every night they’ve gone on the floor.
“That’s a product of what everyone else is doing,” Benesch said. “That’s the product of our coaching staff’s gameplan. That’s the product of how all of our teammates are playing like by getting loose balls, setting picks, and all those little things that have allowed Joe and I to be that successful over the last month.”
Further to that point, as the FireWolves try and navigate their way through this treacherous patch of games they’re in the middle of, Benesch added that it requires a complete group effort to be resilient through these tough stretches.
“We’re an offense built on handwork and unselfishness,” Benesch said. “We pride ourselves on being able to play any role that is asked of us. Our coaching staff puts together a great gameplan, and when we follow those gameplans, we’re pretty successful. It seems like now everyone is buying into the system and playing for each other.”
The levels of offensive production that we’ve seen from the FireWolves this past month should be a frightening thought for opposing teams. Anyone on the team will tell you this team is built from the back-end, starting with Doug Jamieson in between the pipes.
As Head Coach, Glenn Clark said, if this team can score at the rate they have been while also putting in the impressive efforts on defensive we grew accustomed to last season, you will see a more relaxed and potentially more potent team.
“I’m impressed and happy,” Clark said. “When you can score yourself out of some mistakes on the defensive end, that’s huge. When you get those guys clicked in – Joe [Resetarits] has been Mr. Consistent, Ryan [Benesch] has been a very nice addition, and now you have Jacob [Ruest], Kew, and other pieces starting to produce – you can start to breathe a little easier knowing you’re going to get more offensive production.”
With Halifax coming up this week, the FireWolves can’t afford to have any mental or technical lapses – they’ll be the first to admit to you that there have been a few of those for them this year.
But, by grabbing a win against the Seals in February on the road while playing the most complete game they’ve played all year, Resetarits feels that this team is getting ready to sink into a rhythm, so they can get to where they want to be: in a championship game.
“It’s important to hit your stride at this point of the season,” Resetarits said. “It’s a learning process at the beginning of the season, and good teams know that and work towards being better – I think we’re in the process of that. Now, do I think we’re where we want to be? Absolutely not because it’s going to take a lot more to win a championship, but I believe we’re going in the right direction.”
Following their game in Halifax this Friday, the FireWolves schedule gets a little easier – and I mean that lightly as there are no “easy” games in the NLL. Beginning March 19th, the FireWolves face the Georgia Swarm, the New York Riptide, the Vancouver Warriors, and then the Philadelphia Wings and Riptide (again), both at home at MVP in Albany. Their remaining opponents winning percentage changes to a dramatic .375 (15-25).
The FireWolves want to lead the pack in the NLL, but that hasn’t come to fruition yet. By season’s end, this team hopes to be in a post-season position in peak form so they can face the NLL’s elite again and beat those top teams to become the NLL’s top dog.