It may have been the Warriors St. Patrick’s Day-themed night inside Rogers Arena on Saturday, but the home side didn’t need any luck to defeat the visiting New England Black Wolves 12-9 – aside from the loose ball goal attributed to Keegan Bal that was actually a misplayed ball by the Black Wolves defence late in the third quarter.
The first 14 minutes of the match didn’t go the way the Warriors would have liked. Despite sending more shots on target in the frame, the Warriors were stopped time and time again by Alex Buque, who looked impenetrable to start the game.
It was also a forbidding sign that the two newest Black Wolves (Quinn Powless and Joe Resetarits) filled up the stat sheet early on. Both Powless and Resetarits scored in the first 15 minutes and finished with two and three points respectively in the evening. Without their leading scorer Callum Crawford, who served the first game of his suspension, the visitors were needing other players to tally some points, and that’s exactly what these two provided.
Yet, just as it seemed the Black Wolves were going to pull away on multiple occasions, the tide turned in the Warriors favour in the final moments of each quarter. Late goals in quarters would be a theme on the night for the Warriors as they netted scores in the last 90 seconds of each frame.
However, what stood out the most for the Warriors on this night was the incredible defensive effort, particularly in the second half. Eric Penney was back in between the pipes and he allowed fewer than 10 goals for the fifth time this season. The back end guys in front of him were sacrificing their bodies all night long. The defensive effort was so good, it was the third time this season that the Warriors allowed three goals or fewer in the second half this year.
“A lot of credit goes to the guys in front of me,” said Penney. “We had guys like Ian Hawksbee getting down and blocking shots and Matt Beers dropping to a knee and getting in there – pretty soon I’m going to lose my job to one of my D-guys. They’re blocking shots like crazy.”
The veteran leadership on defence was a key factor in the victory, but the defence and transition were doing more than just playing into their standard roles on the back end. Tyler Codron helped provide a spark on offence with his first goal since 2015 and the team added two more goals on the run. It is that kind of complete effort that Warriors head coach Chris Gill and his staff are always looking for and it showed up tonight.
“We want to get transition goals,” said Gill. “Our dressing room goal is to get four a game – if we get more than that it’s a bonus – we got three tonight. That helps the [offensive] end and puts pressure on the opposing offence, so they have to start thinking about us running, and that’s really important to us.”
Codron added that the team’s effort not only hasn’t wavered on defence, but the defensive unit has gotten stronger as the season has gone on.
“We’ve been battling hard,” said Codron.”Everyone is communicating and playing into the system. Everyone is buying in, it’s not just one person trying to do everything.”
Next weekend is by far the most consequential week for the Warriors this year to date. In the midst of a battle for the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division, the Warriors will have a home-and-home against the Colorado Mammoth on March 22nd and 23rd.
If the Warriors win one of the two games, they will take the season series. And if they win both, they pull two games ahead of the Mammoth with the tie-break in hand and only four games left in the season. On the flip side, if the Warriors were to lose both games next week, they’ll be fighting for their playoff lives with two of their last four games against a couple of the top teams in the NLL, the Toronto Rock and Saskatchewan Rush.
The first of the two games will be played at Rogers Arena on Friday night at 10:00 PM EST with the second match taking place in the Pepsi Center in Denver at 9:00 PM EST on Saturday.