Game Preview

Game Preview: New England at Buffalo

New England Black Wolves (10-6) at Buffalo Bandits (12-5)
At First Niagara Center
Saturday, April 30th, 7:30 p.m. (EST)
Fox Sports Go

Last Game: New England beat Georgia 21-11 at Mohegan Sun Arena; Buffalo defeated Rochester 15-12.

Players to watch:
New England – 2015 NLL MVP Shawn Evans (49 goals, 68 assists, 117 points, 113 loose balls) set a new career high with 49 goals. Kevin Crowley (32 goals, 55 assists, 87 points) had a goal and five assists; Pat Saunders (41 goals, 31 assists, 72 points, 65 loose balls) set new career highs in all four categories during the win over Georgia; Kevin Buchanan (22 goals, 34 assists and 56 points) had a season-high four goals; Kyle Buchanan (27 goals, 27 assists, 54 points) set a new single-season career high for goals against Georgia; Evan Kirk leads the NLL with 582 saves and is third in the league with a .791 save percentage.

Buffalo – Dhane Smith (68 goals, 63 assists, 131 points, 107 loose balls) broke New England forward Shawn Evans’ league record of 130 points, set last season when he was with Calgary, in the win over Rochester. Ryan Benesch (36 goals, 49 assists, 85 points) and Mark Steenhuis (30 goals, 35 assists, 65 points) are also crucial to the Buffalo offense. Jay Thorimbert (119 loose balls) is 13th all-time in league history with 1,126 loose balls.

Noteworthy:

– With a victory, New England would win the season series 2-1, set a new franchise record for wins in a season (11) and take the upper hand in the battle for the top seed in the East Division.
– New England returns home to close out the season against Rochester on Sunday May 1st at 6 p.m.
– Evan Kirk is on pace for 660 saves, which would rank fourth all-time in NLL history. Buffalo goalie Anthony Cosmo set the record for saves with 752 in 2014, and also collected the No. 2 total (681) in 2015.
– Shawn Evans (323) and Dhane Smith (322) are Nos. 1 and 2 in the NLL in shots.
– The Bandits are 7-1 at home this year and have outscored opponents by 23 goals.
– Buffalo is the top penalty-killing team in the NLL, snuffing out 60 percent of opposition power plays. New England ranks No. 2 in power play goals at 53.8 percent.
– Buffalo leads the league in goals (239), assists (342) and points (581).
– Buffalo’s Daryl Veltman – the No. 1 pick in the 2008 NLL Entry Draft – is the nephew of New England assistant coach Jim Veltman. He is in his first season in Buffalo. Prior to Buffalo, he was with Calgary, where he was the teammate of New England forward Shawn Evans.
– The elder Veltman was part of three NLL Championships with the Bandits.
– New England’s Derek Suddons played the past three seasons with Buffalo.

New England Black Wolves coach Glenn Clark
Talk about the victory over Georgia this past weekend:
“Position-wise, it was a huge win. It solidified second place and kept us in the hunt for that first seed which is something we’d like to get. It did a lot of things. It sort of exorcized all of the demons from the week before, getting handled by Georgia. So it gave a little bit of confidence back from that end. And it positioned us well moving forward. We’ve put ourselves in a position to control our destiny in terms of getting that No. 1 seed. I think that has value to us, so it was a big win on a lot of fronts.”

It’s pretty simple, win both games and you are Eastern Division champs. How special would that be?
“I think it would be very special considering there have been some hard times lately, and most recently, last year. I think for a lot of these players, it’s been a bit of redemption and it’s been nice to be in this position as opposed to be at the bottom of the pack. Players have a lot of pride. They don’t want to be on that team performing at that level that people aren’t taking seriously. I think it’s been important to them, they’ve been excited by that. And just to be able to establish home floor, where we have certainly played better and have a better record, it’s very important. It’s not do or die, but it’s certainly something we’re going to focus on Saturday.”

Surprised to be in this situation?
“I don’t know if I’m surprised…When you take over a new group and make some changes, you like the changes you’ve made but you don’t always know how it’s going to translate. It’s very difficult to win in this league. You can’t play a team’s record. Surprised? I don’t know if surprised is the right word. I’m happy where we are. We thought we had parts to start making positive progress. I guess the surprising part would be as much progress as we’ve made. I think that was probably a little bit unpredictable. I keep getting reminded by people that when the season started we were picked to be the last team overall, so I guess we surprised some people and we’re happy where we are.”

A number of veterans have credited you with changing the culture on this team. How did you accomplish that?
“You sort of have a vision of how you want your team to play. It can look like a lot of things. One of them is you want to be systematic. You want to be predictable to yourself. We want to be able to know what we are going to deliver week in and week out and what our athletes are responsible for, and make sure we hammer home all of those points so that they understand what their roles and responsibilities are. And that is ever-evolving. We have a system and principles in place and then we are tweaking it, adding it, changing it. That was part of changing the culture was the accountability and the purposefulness of how we were going to play. And I think Jimmy (assistant coach Jimmy Veltman), myself and Tracey (assistant coach Tracey Kelusky) are all like-minded in how we deal with players. We’re straightforward with them. We’re open to communication. We’re not afraid of information. We’ll talk to the players and get ideas and information from them. I didn’t go out to establish a certain culture. I guess we established our culture. It is born out of what our personalities are, what our expectations are and that sort of creates that culture that we want our team to be about.”

Next Game: The Black Wolves host Rochester on Sunday on May 1st at 6 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena. For more information on the Black Wolves, visit blackwolves.com.