Kicking off their first of three road games to start the 2017 season, the New England Black Wolves entered Rochester with a chip on their shoulders after missing the playoffs last season. The Knighthawks returned to the Blue Cross Arena with a new attitude after getting trounced by an experimental Rock team on opening night.
The two East Division opponents quickly struck up one of the most physical games we’ve seen yet this season. Having film of the Hawks’ Week 1 performance, the Wolves seemed to have a step ahead from the first draw.
It didn’t take long for new Black Wolf, Chad Culp, to draw eyes and dump if off to Kyle Buchanan in the slot for a hard shot past the goaltender Matt Vinc to get things going. The goaltenders used most of the first frame to feast.
New England’s Evan Kirk had 16 stops in the quarter, while Vinc posted 13. It could have been 14, had Jarrett Davis not skipped it to Culp in his happy place. Culp quickly redirected in off Vinc for a 2-0 lead, late in the first.
But that wasn’t it. Laying into Kirk, something was bound to break. Rochester was fighting ruthlessly for every loose ball and each possession.
Finally, playing his first game of the season, Stephen Keogh was able to bury a low rip on the powerplay to end things with the Hawks on the board.
Coming in hot, American Joe Resetarits tied the ball game at two, pulling the trigger while rushing straight down the lane, pinning it past Kirk.
Pat Saunders took the lead back for the Wolves barely two minutes later. Getting around the screen and letting it go, Saunders would cash in his first of 2017.
Stuttering just enough to get just a tiny cushion, Shawn Evans running a clinic, stung it past Vinc for the two goal lead. Oddly, after a career-high 50 goals last season, this would be the only notch for Evans.
Rookie Josh Currier found the end of the tic-tac-toe from Kyle Jackson and Graeme Hossack to pull Rochester back into it. Not twenty seconds later, the shorthanded Black Wolves struck back with a sweeping rip from Saunders as Culp sat for two for an over-aggressive forecheck.
Coming in with heat in transition, Quinn Powless laid down a textbook pick and roll for Resetarits to hit him perfectly in front of the crease. Powless’ first of the game closed out the half with momentum and only behind 4-5.
The third powerplay attempt for Rochester would open the quarter’s scoring. Seeing three rookies on their powerplay is nuts, but we immediately got clued in why.
Freshman Kyle Jackson cracked into the scorebook to tie things at five. Fellow first year Wayne Van Every went next, followed by Dan Lomas with a solo shot each to really get some speed.
A late breakaway opportunity turned into success for Scott Campbell, following a huge hit on Culp. Tyler Ferreira laying the hit and moving the ball quickly up the floor helped close the third, now ahead, 8-5.
A lot of lessons were (hopefully) learned by New England in the last quarter of a brutal second half. Like how not to go into the penalty box and how not to get shredded on the penalty kill by good shooters. The latter would’t be an issue if they could handle the first part.
But, instead, we saw the go into the sin bin for a combined 16 minutes, on 5 calls, 21 including Evans’ questionable Goalie Interference at the end of the third.
The fourth quarter broke open with an immediate powerplay goal, this time from Keogh at the high point, no defenders in sight. Jackson followed suit with his second of the night, keeping the powerplay streak alive by walking right in on Kirk to push the score to double digits, 10-5.
Not having a goal since 10:20 in the second quarter, Reilly O’Connor took it upon himself to stop the flood and get his first goal in a Black Wolf uniform. Finding the rebound, clearing getting the ball back and just undecidedly walking in the new guy got one. Immediately following O’Connor’s goal, Kevin Crowley found the rock in settled offense and cranked it high to low from the point, getting the game back within three.
Yet, New England couldn’t chill out all game and it really cost them by giving up 7 goals on the penalty kill in the fourth quarter. It started with the first two Knighthawks goals of the frame, plugged by the pair of Wolves strikes, and followed by five in a row. And an unsuccessful penalty shot killing any chance they had at a comeback.
The final streak was started by a pair of back to back goals from Currier, the rookies first hat trick. His first successful powerplay strike came outside from Keogh, no one stepping out on the shooters and second on great ball movement, redirecting it in on the backdoor.
A littler over twenty seconds later, Powless felt the vibe and let the ball go nonchalantly from inside the rag line for the third in a row making it, 13-7. Only a minute passed before rookie Lomas did it again with his second followed by another from Keogh to make it 15-7, all on the powerplay.
In the dwindling seconds of the game, defenseman Sheldon Burns was able to get one last notch for the Black Wolves, shorthanded. The lone score wouldn’t be anywhere near enough and the game was sealed at 15-8.
10 goals were scored between both sides in under 14 minutes, all in the fourth. Talking about getting your money’s worth.
Black Wolves Beat
So, the question… is the young Rochester powerplay unit really good or did the Black Wolves penalty kill absolutely blow it? The plan was obviously not pressuring out to avoid the rotation, but no audible when that clearly wasn’t working? If you are going to go loose cannon on defense and collect penalties galore, why not try to pressure out and see if you can even throw a little wrinkle in to stop them? Too much relied on the eyes and reactions of Evan Kirk and it didn’t work against a group of talented shooters.
All in all, it didn’t turn out that badly for Kirk on paper, despite the L. Blocking 45 of 60 shots on goal gives him a solid 75% to start 2017. At the draw circle, the addition of Jay Thorimbert (59%) was a noticeable addition to the face-off game, but not overly effectively.
Other newcomer Chad Culp will play out as a nice addition to the Black Wolves, but like Shawn Evans, who he mirrored in points (1+3), he spent more time gunning for the Knighthawks than the goals. The veteran guys really need to lead on the floor if they want to want to find some success.
We’ll see this weekend as they get a nice little test in Colorado on Saturday night at 9 pm ET.
Graeme Hossack and Dylan Evans were absolute vacuums on the loose ball game, with 11 and 10 respectively. The fight for possessions looked less desperate, more dominant. It didn’t start to pay off until the second half, but that’s when they found a way to shutdown the Black Wolves 11-3 over two quarters.
Matt Vinc had a night on Saturday, pulling off over 82% on 37 saves. Although facing 15 less shots on goal than his counterpart made his night a lot easier. Both teams were physical but forced turnovers and soaked shots weren’t abundant from the defense. Luckily the Black Wolves never got started in the first place.
Out of the roster for what was cited as personal reasons, Dan Dawson should be back with the team after an expected week off for the ironman. The spark from Keogh and the quarterbacking of Dawson should be able to drive this dynamic group of rookie forwards back to Knighthawk glory days.
But in the meantime, Rochester will look to continue building on Saturday’s win as they take the week off. They will pick back up in Saskatchewan, starting a four week straight binge on the road. Best of luck with that…