Last weekend saw a back-to-back matchup that was a rivalry weekend before it even started. New England and Philly split a home-and-home weekend for Saturday and Sunday, which not only generated a ton of excitement from fans, but also was very important for determining eventual standings in the East division.
In case you have been living under a rock (not the Toronto variety), you know that the Black Wolves are the relocated original Philadelphia Wings. Now that the Wings are back, there is some weirdness over who owns was championships and records and whatnot (Philly has retired jerseys in their rafters for player who may not have played for that franchise on paper), but that’s a whole different story for another time. What made this exciting was how many Philly fans were actually travelling to New England regularly over the past few season to support the closest NLL team they could. With the Wings back, they had a team again and would be cheering against their former team. It also meant that the Black Wolves put together a rivalry coach bus and took a bunch of fans down to Broad Street for the Saturday game. Off-field this was a winner all the way around. Fans love to have a rivalry.
For players and coaches, it was a different story. A few of the Wings players had been in New England. The most notable was Kevin Crowley, which was a big trade this season. For New England, really only Philly native Brett Manney was a Wings player from that original move, but he has very publicly said that he’s a New England player now. Playing in Philly means more to him because his family and friends can be there, not because of the franchise. Coach Glenn Clark said before the rivalry weekend that it wasn’t much more than a divisional game in their eyes. He was not a Philly coach (although he did play one season there) and compared it to him with the Rock. He’s an Ontario native who won five NLL championships and was even a coach there. But to him, that was a different part of his life and matchups with the Rock now are present day concerns, not time for nostalgia.
On the field, it’s now a rivalry. Philly came into this game with a only a win against Rochester to their credit. Starting the weekend in Philly was the best case scenario for them as they could use the crowd to their advantage. And despite only having one win, they have been very close to several other, regardless of who it is. Toronto and Buffalo might be the two best teams in the league (they are according to our power rankings), and both have had one point games with the Wings.
But, in the first game, Philly opened scoring with Matt Rambo scoring off a Justin Guterding assist only 90 seconds in the game and never looked back. The Wings led for the entire game and outside of a good second quarter to make things close, this game was all Philly. It was by far the best game they have been able to put together this season. They held Callum Crawford to just one goal and not a single defender for the Black Wolves scored. Flipping the coin, The Wings saw goals from eight players, including nearly every forward on the team. In fact, Guterding did not score, but had three assists in his first game. By the end of the night, frustration was high with the Black Wolves. They ended the night with eight minutes of penalties accrued in the games final three. Philly walked away happily with a four point win, 14-10.
As chippy as the first game ended, it carried right over to Sunday. Attention everyone: we have a rivalry. Someone said to me before the game “With how that game ended last night, I want to see an opening faceoff fight”. It almost happened. Only 15 seconds into the game, we saw Ryan Fournier, Liam Patten, Steph Charbonneau, and Nick Chaykowsky all sent to the box for roughing. 50 seconds later, David Brock was also in there for slashing. Only a minute in and five players were crammed into the penalty boxes.
The rest of the game calmed down penalty-wise and turned into a one-sided lacrosse game. For as well as Philly was the day before, they dropped off considerably. New England on the hand, took things to a new level and dominated. For nearly the entire first half, Philly could not score a single goal in a 5-v-5 set. The eventually did, but that really underlined the struggled they were having. New England found their transition game again, and the arena exploded when captain Brett Manney was fed by David Brock for a goal.
Afterwards, New England was obviously happy with where things wound up. They would have rather won both games, but it means their third meeting in a few weeks is what will decide the season head to head. For the Wings’ coach Paul Day, they mood was much more mixed. What I found really interesting is he pointed to how the youth of the team really affected the Sunday game. Most of their players had never done a back to back. As he described it “never bussed all night, got to bed at three and had to play the next day”. This is something every new franchise has to deal with for both personnel logistically. The same thing happened with the Black Wolves in their first year. Players work best with routine. Having tight travel schedules like that require some creative thinking for how to keep players ready to play. When the players themselves aren’t used to it, things become even tougher.
I also asked Day about how the game started with the immediate roughing calls and if he felt they needed to calm things down.
“I would have like our guys to be a little more ramped up today…I would have like our guys to have a little more energy,” Day said.
But in terms of energy, the Wings have a big break between now and their next game against Buffalo. For the Seals recently, that spelled disaster as they came back a little flat and were overrun by the Warriors.
For Day, he thinks the rest is actually great timing. “One thing we have to do is get healthy. We have a lot of guys who are not that healthy and have had to play a lot of lacrosse,” said Day. “To compete in this league, we have to be at a whole new level of fitness and that’s going to be our goal for the next three weeks.”
For New England, they have a quick turnaround for Toronto, once again at home. But this is their first meeting with the Rock this year, who is the last East foe for them to see. But for Clark, their ranking does not factor in much to his approach.
“The margins are so close, any teams can get hot and beat anyone else,” said Clark. “Toronto is the same kind of animal. We’ll identify what they do well and this will be a good opportunity to test ourselves.”