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Thunderbirds and FireWolves Prepare for Tough Rematch in TSN Game of the Week

Chris Boushy and the high-scoring Halifax Thunderbirds have a shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality.

Boushy, the Thunderbirds’ top goal-getter this season, and his Halifax teammates fired 66 shots on goal in last weekend’s 14-11 road win against the Albany FireWolves.

“The tactic never changes,” says Boushy, who has netted 13 goals in four games (third-best in the league). “If we have a good shot opportunity, we are going to take it. Our motto is always shoot first, ask questions later.”

This weekend is the rematch as the 1-2 FireWolves travel to battle the 3-1 Thunderbirds on Friday night at Scotiabank Centre in the NLL Game of the Week on TSN (6:30 pm ET; ESPN+).

Halifax is back at home for the first game in the Nest since the NLL season opener on Dec. 3 because of the World Junior Hockey Tournament at Scotiabank Centre, where there were attempts by championship-winning Team Canada players at lacrosse-style goals.

“It’s going to be awesome, we miss the Nest and all the fans,” Boushy says. “I’m sure there will be a few times this season where we score a hockey-style goal around the crease. We can do that to pay homage to the guys on Team Canada.”

The Thunderbirds have recorded a league-high 65 goals (16.25 goals per game) but were only 2-for-7 on the power play last weekend at Albany after slow starts, trailing in both the first and third quarters.

“Preparation is key for us, a lot of factors go into how one prepares on the road, but I think having a game at home will allow us to get our routine back,” says Boushy, adding that on the power play: “[We just need to] go out there with a plan, but don’t be afraid to use our natural lacrosse IQ to make plays. We don’t always need Xs and Os. Sometimes we forget that.”

Right-hander Boushy is seeing a lot of natural lacrosse IQ this season especially playing with veteran Randy Staats, who Halifax scooped up from Panther City in trade during the summer. The Thunderbirds also added veteran lefty Ryan Benesch back to their lineup in the offseason.

Staats currently leads the NLL in points with 33, and last weekend against the FireWolves Benesch passed Gary Gait for seventh on the all-time career points list with 1,166 points. Benesch, who played for Albany and Panther City last season (81 points in 19 games), is tied for second in scoring with Clarke Petterson and Cody Jamieson for the Thunderbirds at 24 points.

“He’s a great player and meshes with our entire offense really well,” Boushy says of Staats. “We are incredibly lucky to have him.”

Natural lacrosse IQ was also in full effect last weekend by Halifax’s Eric Fannell, who plays with Benesch and scored a spectacular jumping one-hander that capped off the Thunderbirds’ 5-2 fourth quarter run and sealed the win. The goal was later promo’d on social media as, “To the Bank.”

“Honestly I was just trying to get the ball on net for a reset so we could continue to drain the clock,” says Fannell, who has nine goals so far this season and is more than halfway to last season’s total of 17 in 17 GP. “When I saw it go in I was very happy to help put the team up by three goals.

“Playing with Benesch has been great. Having two first-ballot Hall of famers in Benesch and Jameison has really made things easy for myself and the rest of the offence. Their tremendous leadership really allows for everyone to keep their heads on straight and play the game we all need and expect.”

For the FireWolves, this weekend is a chance for payback.

“Halifax is a good team,” says Albany’s leading scorer Connor Kelly, who has seven goals and 16 points in three games. “In order to beat good teams, you can’t make mistakes and beat yourself. We were in the penalty box too much. We found ourselves playing like a team that was down a few goals instead of sticking to our plan offensively. Learning experience.”

The FireWolves’ lone win this season was a surprising one-goal victory over Buffalo, while their two losses have also been close and have come by a total of four goals.

Kelly and his Albany teammates are playing with a chip on their collective shoulders this season. The FireWolves’ top five scorers from last season, including Benesch, are all elsewhere.

“I always play with a chip on my shoulder,” Kelly says. “I always try to improve. I can say the same for the rest of the guys, we play and compete to win regardless of what is said of us. Hard work pays off in this league. You can’t win only with talent.”

Kelly is on pace to smash his career-best totals (15 goals, 39 points in 12 GP) from 2020 with New York.

“I feel confident,” says Kelly “I am surrounded by a great staff and offensive players. I believe you are product of your environment, so my success has come from being around a good group. We are an offence that anyone can step up and have a breakout game.”

For Boushy and the Thunderbirds, Friday’s game against Albany is the first of two on the weekend. Halifax also plays at 2-2 Toronto on Saturday night (7 pm ET; TSN.ca/ESPN+).

“First priority is the game on Friday.” Boushy says. “When that’s complete and the job done successfully, then we look ahead to Saturday. Obviously hydration, stretching, ice baths and good nutrition is going to be crucial for us to bounce back.”

Boushy led the Thunderbirds with four goals last weekend against the FireWolves and is halfway to last season’s total of 26 in 17 GP.

During the offseason, Boushy “worked a lot on developing and rounding out my game, as well as on strength and speed. That’s contributed a lot to the goals I have and the types of goals I’ve been scoring. I get paid to contribute goals; I’m just doing my job right now.”

But the job is not yet finished for Halifax, which fell short in the first-round of the playoffs last season and is eyeing up a postseason run in 2023.

“We want to take things one game at a time,” says Boushy. “But at the end of the day, the championship is the goal. We aren’t satisfied with anything less.”