After an offseason filled with trades and signings designed to address weaknesses on defense and in the transition game, New England Black Wolves’ fans finally got the chance to see what all the buzz was about Friday night at Mohegan Sun Arena.
With the defending champion Georgia Swarm in town for the season opener, New England stamped itself as a legitimate National Lacrosse League championship contender with a 13-11 victory.
Five takeaways from the game:
It’s only one game, but with the offseason addition of veterans like David Brock, John LaFontaine and Adam Bomberry along with goalie Aaron Bold, the Black Wolves appeared more settled and organized on defense. Facing a loaded Swarm attack that led the NLL with 266 goals in 2017, New England did a nice job limiting opportunities. Reigning MVP Lyle Thompson, who led the league with 116 points last year, finished with one goal and three assists on just four shots and the Swarm had just 18 of their 44 shots in the second half. Last year, the Black Wolves allowed a whopping 56.39 shots per game, the second-highest total in the NLL.
Outside The Box
A year after tying for the NLL lead with 343 penalties, New England players were sent to the box just four times Friday night. Staying out of short-handed situations was another point of emphasis in the offseason for the Black Wolves, who gave up the second most power play goals in the league last year (47) despite ranking third in penalty killing efficiency (50.5 percent). On Friday night, the Black Wolves killed off three of the four penalties, including two in the fourth quarter.
Taking A Pass
Because of his goal-scoring prowess, the passing skills of Shawn Evans are sometimes overlooked. But the former two-time MVP had seven assists to go along with his two goals Friday night and five of them came during New England’s second-half rally from a 9-5 deficit. Evans ranks seventh all time in league history with 649 assists, but of the six players ahead of him, only Josh Sanderson (3.39) has a better assist-per-game average. Evans has a career average of 3.31.
Veteran specialist Jay Thorimbert did what he does best Friday night, winning face-offs and tracking down loose balls, which allowed the Black Wolves to steal or maintain possessions throughout the game. The league-leader in face-off wins and loose balls last year, Thorimbert won 17 of 27 face-offs (62.9 percent) while also collecting a game-high 18 loose balls. He ranks third all-time in NLL history with 2,022 face-off wins, and he is ninth in loose balls (1,346).
The Power Of Words
After watching his team give up six unanswered goals to end the first half, Black Wolves head coach Glenn Clark gave an intense halftime speech that revolved around the idea that you can respect champions without being deferential. The Black Wolves allowed three goals and 18 shots in the second half, rallying for the win.