A year after guiding the Black Wolves to the East Division Finals of the National Lacrosse League playoffs, Glenn Clark understands the high expectations surrounding New England as it prepares to open the 2017 season.
He also knows the only thing that matters is what happens on the field.
“I’ve read some of these things in print where we’re better and we’re a team to contend with and it’s great,” he said shortly before practice Tuesday night. “But to us, it doesn’t mean anything until we prove it. This is a results-oriented business.”
The Black Wolves had plenty of positive results last season, posting a 10-8 regular season record before edging the Georgia Swarm in overtime in the first round of the NLL Playoffs. That turnaround from a 4-14 record in 2015 earned Clark NLL Coach of the Year honors.
But that is all history now for Clark and the Black Wolves, who open the season at Rochester Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.
“It is the first game so you do want to start well, but the importance of every game is what we focus on,” Clark said. “It’s so hard to win any game in the NLL. The teams are so close and Rochester is a tough building for us. I know they didn’t get the result they wanted last week (falling 12-5 to Toronto on December 29th), but that is not what we’re facing. They will be hungry. They don’t want to go down 0-2. We’re expecting a very tough test. The opener is important, but we covet every win because they’re so tough to come by.”
New England returns the core of its team, including its top five scorers – Shawn Evans (118 points), Kevin Crowley (90), Pat Saunders (76), Kevin Buchanan (62) and Kyle Buchanan (59) – and 2016 NLL Goalie of the Year Evan Kirk (league-best 620 saves).
Other key returning veterans include Brett Bucktooth, Sheldon Burns, Brett Manney, Ryan Hotaling, Bill O’Brien, Zac Reid and Derek Suddons. The team also acquired free agents Jay Thorimbert, Chad Culp, Scott Self and Matt Spanger, traded for second-year forward Reilly O’Connor and drafted Seth Oakes and Doug Jamieson.
“We had ideas of what we had coming in, and guys we had who could compete for a spot,” Clark said of his expectations during training camp. “We were pretty happy. But it really is a week in, week out evaluation process. You’re always watching and re-evaluating and trying to tweak and squeeze as much as you can out of a lineup. It’s a long road and that process almost recycles itself all the time because you’re constantly evaluating.”
The evaluation process extends to the opposition, of course. Clark knows Rochester will be a difficult challenge.
“People talk about how much they’ve changed and they have but they still have a lot of that core from those championship teams,” Clark said. “They’ve got a lot of those guys who understand what it takes to win in this league and they’re going to be helping that new core learn. They’re going to be better this week than they were last week.”
Clark and assistant coach Jim Veltman have a special appreciation for how imposing it is to play in Rochester. As teammates with the Toronto Rock, they always struggled on the road against the Knighthawks.
“Jimmy and I played there a lot, and when we were winning all those championships, I think we went on an 0-10 run in Rochester, something crazy like that,” Clark said. “We won one game there in that run. It’s always been a tough place to play and they’ve got good teams.”
Saturday is the first of three straight road games to open the season. The Black Wolves’ home opener is Saturday, January 28th, at 7 p.m. against the Buffalo Bandits at Mohegan Sun Arena. Every fan in attendance will receive a special black t-shirt courtesy of Coca-Cola to “Black Out” Mohegan Sun Arena that evening.
Season tickets, mini plans and daily deals are on sale now. Tickets start as low as $15 and can be purchased by visiting blackwolves.com or calling 844-LAX-WOLF.