Saskatchewan at New England Black Wolves (7-5)
At Mohegan Sun Arena
Friday, April 8, 2016, 7 p.m.
Last Game: New England was edged 12-10 at home by Colorado last Saturday; On the same night in Calgary, Saskatchewan clinched a playoff berth with its sixth straight win, a 11-9 victory over the Roughnecks.
Players to watch:
New England – 2015 NLL MVP Shawn Evans (38 goals, 48 assists, 86 points, 88 loose balls) had four goals against Colorado. Kevin Crowley (23 goals, 43 assists, 66 points) had a goal and two assists. Pat Saunders (30 goals, 23 assists, 53 points) had two goals. Kevin Buchanan (16 goals, 30 assists and 46 points) and Kyle Buchanan (18 goals, 19 assists, 37 points) also spark the offense. Sheldon Burns is in a four-way tie for the lead among defensive scorers with six goals, and his 14 points rank sixth in the NLL amongst defenders.
Saskatchewan – Mark Matthews (28 goals, 50 assists, 78 points, 51 loose balls) had three goals and three assists to lead the Rush past Calgary. Robert Church (26 goals, 38 assists, 64 points, 68 loose balls), Zack Greer (32 goals, 21 assists, 53 points, 60 loose balls) and Ben McIntosh (25 goals, 18 assists, 43 points) are other offensive weapons. Jeremy Thompson has a league-best 134 loose balls while teammate Kyle Rubisch (102) is fourth. Fellow Rush defender Ryan Dilks leads the NLL with 41 forced turnovers. Goalie Aaron Bold leads the league with nine wins and a 10.42 goals against average.
- -This will be the second back-to-back of the season for New England. The Black Wolves visit Toronto Saturday night at 7 p.m.
- -If the Black Wolves win both games this weekend, and Georgia loses on Sunday, New England is in the playoffs.
- -This is the first and only meeting of the season between the teams. Last January 30th, the Rush cruised to an 18-9 win over visiting New England behind six goals from Matthews and four goals each from Greer and McIntosh.
- -New England is 1-3 all-time against the Rush. The only win came in 2009, when the then-Philadelphia Wings won 19-14.
- -Troubling Stat for New England: Saskatchewan is allowing a league-low 42.23 shots per game while New England is allowing a league-high 55 shots per game. The Rush also lead the league in shots on net, averaging 55.08.
- -Matthews is fourth in the NLL is assists and sixth in total points.
- -New England’s Kevin Crowley set a new single-season career high for assists during the loss to Colorado. He had two against the Mammoth, and has 43 on the year. His previous best was 42 in 2014.
- -Reigning NLL MVP Shawn Evans had four more goals in the 12-10 loss to Colorado on Saturday night at Mohegan Sun Arena, and now has team-highs of 38 goals, 48 assists and 86 points. In the process, he caught Buffalo’s Ryan Benesch, who began the season with 10 more career goals than Evans (290-280). The two now have 318, and are tied for 18th all-time with Pat Maddalena
- -Saskatchewan’s Chris Corbeil is tied for the lead for most points (16) by an NLL defender, and he is also in a four-way tie for most goals by an NLL defender (6). New England’s Sheldon Burns is part of that four-way tie.
- -Saskatchewan’s Nik Bilic and New England’s Dan Ball were teammates in Minnesota.
- -Saskatchewan’s Thompson is second in the NLL with 206 faceoff wins.
New England Black Wolves coach Glenn Clark
Reflecting on last week’s loss to Colorado:
“I didn’t think we played that badly and then when I watched the film this week, in a lot of ways, I thought we were the better team in terms of pace of play and other aspects that we controlled. I think the big difference was, we had some measurable mistakes. And we had a lot of opportunities where we didn’t capitalize. I think we hit a dozen goalposts. It was an uncharacteristic amount. That’s the game and that happens.”
This is the second time in three weeks you will have a home-away situation with back-to-back games. You play different teams this time, but is the approach the same?
“We had practice last night. We’re front-loading this weekend. Our focus, our game-planning, our lineup, our everything is about playing Friday’s game. When Friday, 10 p.m. rolls around, then we’ll deal with Saturday. We’re doing our film prep and our game plan and all of that as coaches, but our focus as a team and as players is the Friday game.”
This is the first time this season the teams have met, and only the fifth time ever. Talk about the challenge posed by Saskatchewan:
“The challenge is that they’re so good. That’s the real challenge. They’re deep all across the board. They’ve got some dynamic offensive players, some of the best defensive players in the game and they’ve got a world class goalie. The challenge with them is the overall depth and overall skill. I think they’re probably the strongest team in the league. That’s the challenge. How good they are.”
Coming off last week’s close loss, there is still a tangible playoff scenario here for the Black Wolves. What is the team mindset like?
“I think it’s business-like. We’ve preached that all year. Not too high, not to low. You go through the planning process. They understand all their individual roles in the bigger picture. I think guys are serious about being successful. The season has allowed them to have some confidence, let them know they can compete with the stronger teams in the league. I think guys are in a good place and they will view this as another challenge and another measuring stick and I think they’re pretty excited about the opportunity.”
What are your thoughts about going back to Toronto to play a game against your old team for the first time this year?
“To be honest, you don’t really give it a whole lot of thought. You get so focused on the here and now that it’s actually pretty easy to separate the two because you’re so concerned about what you need to do with this group that it’s another obstacle. There’s not a lot of emotion. It’s all about the business of winning that game.”
Saskatchewan Rush GM/coach Derek Keenan:
On if there will be any challenge for the Rush, who have already clinched a playoff berth, getting ready to play the Black Wolves after so many consecutive games against West Division rivals:
“No problem at all getting fired up to play this weekend. We are playing a very good team and we have a lot at stake. We want to keep pace in the West. We are going along pretty well right now and we want to keep it rolling.”
Next Game: The Black Wolves visit Toronto Saturday night at 7 p.m. For more information on the Black Wolves, visit blackwolves.com.