PHILADELPHIA — Two months ago, the Wings returned to the Wells Fargo Center and marked their territory. Again. Four banners were hoisted before the season opener in South Philly to honor three legendary players and six championships, all from the franchise that left after the 2014 season.
“We’re back where we belong,” a fifth banner proclaimed.
For many longtime lacrosse fans in this city, the banners are a reminder of what never should have left, a declaration of what still belongs here. For others, they’re a misguided grab at history that technically belongs to someone else.
No matter which side you’re on, two things can be true: When the old Wings relocated to New England and rebranded as the Black Wolves, all the records went with them; the current Wings started from scratch. And, the banners hung in December can still celebrate accomplishments that happened here and matter to people here, including the current Wings team.
That didn’t stop the Wings and Black Wolves from starting a rivalry before ever facing off against each other. Need proof? Check the replies to this tweet. And the best part of the first installation of the rivalry is that it comes in a double dose. After the Wings (1-7) and Black Wolves (4-3) square off in Philly at 7pm ET Saturday, the two teams will bus to Connecticut overnight for a rematch in Mohegan Sun Arena at 3pm ET Sunday.
Here are a few things to watch for in the first ever Wings-Black Wolves matchups:
Kevin Crowley was drafted by the old Wings in 2011, spent his first three seasons in Philly, moved with the team to New England and — prior to this year — had spent his entire career with the Black Wolves franchise, save for a half-season in Toronto in 2015. But he was traded to Philadelphia in January after being franchise-tagged by New England and holding out.
“This is a deal that had to be made,” Black Wolves general manager Rich Lisk said in a statement at the time. “We have tried the past two years to sign Kevin to a multi-year deal and we could not come to an agreement. We are unwavering in our commitment to build a team of players that want to be in New England and the team that we have assembled is just that.”
Lisk’s statement was telling of a tumultuous end to an otherwise successful tenure in New England for Crowley, who led the NLL with 51 goals in 2017-2018. Crowley knows the reception he’ll get from his old team and fans will likely be affected by some recency bias.
“I think it’s going to be intense,” Crowley said. “I’m sure they’re going to take their licks on me when they get an opportunity to, as I expect they would. It’s going to be different standing on the other side, being on the other bench of the Mohegan Sun. It’s my first time back there in an opposing jersey. But, you know, it’s business as usual going up there. It’s going to be an interesting experience being in the old barn, but we need wins in this league and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Revive the offense
Last week, when the Wings scored just 10 goals to give Colorado its second win of the season, only three Philadelphia forwards found the net. Crowley was not one of them, marking just the second time in the last three seasons he failed to score at least one goal (the other was April 21, 2018 in the Black Wolves’ 11-6 win over Rochester). Head coach/general manager Paul Day has said repeatedly this year that the Wings need six or seven forwards on the scoresheet to win games.
Crowley was brought in to lead the offense, and a goose egg from him will never help. But he was not the only problem for the Wings. Jordan Hall and Matt Rambo didn’t score either. The offense was down one man after Chris Cloutier was traded earlier in the week. Crowley, though, knows that had he avoided a few pipes, he could have changed the momentum or outcome of a crushing Wings loss.
“I need to be better and I need to be focused on really dialing my stick in this week,” he said.
This weekend’s back-to-back will be a new test for a good chunk of a Wings roster stuffed with rookies. The key to surviving a second game, Crowley said, will be wearing down New England’s defense by repossessing the ball on Saturday.
To prepare, the Wings tinkered with their practice schedule. But the greatest factor this weekend might be what’s been in place for years: the venues in which the games will be played.
“The buildings are very different,” Day said. “We’ve got a big floor. We’re going to use our speed, as much speed as we can, Saturday night. Then, Sunday it’s smaller floor. It’ll be a much different game and a more physical game. We’ll insert some different players in on Sunday that weren’t in Saturday. Maybe some bigger bodies to play in New England.
“Other than that, we’ll prepare for all Saturday night. That’s the biggest game of the weekend right now.”