The New England Black Wolves are coming off a 2018 season that saw some progress, but they still fell short of their goals. They have shown some major promise by being the only team in the East other than Georgia to make the playoff in each of the past three years. But, while Georgia has a championship banner to show for it, the Black Wolves have a pair of first round exits and a loss in the Eastern Finals. As they enter their fifth season at the Mohegan Sun after relocating from Philadelphia, they have their goal squarely focused on winning their division and hoisting the trophy at the end of the season. Even more appropriate is they now have an instant rival with the Wings joining the league.
2016: 10-8, Lost to Buffalo in East Finals
2017: 8-10, Lost to Toronto in First Round
2018: 10-8, Lost to Rochester in First Round
As with any offseason, you have to take a look at who is not coming back. They moved Shawn Evans to Buffalo for Callum Crawford during last year, which gave them a much different look on offense next to Kevin Crowley. But that third spot with the starting righties became a glaring gap as Kyle Buchanan left for San Diego. While Buchanan is not someone in the MVP conversation regularly, he is the type of player every single team needs. He was a loose ball machine in the lower corner and on the low crease. He was always a pretty even split with assists and goals, since he really did what needed to be done. He was a versatile, hard-working, and team first player that is virtually impossible to replace.
Defensively, they lost Anthony Joaquim in the expansion draft, who was a player they were placing quite a bit of hope on looking into the future. The other big loss in the defensive end was Aaron Bold moving out to Vancouver. Bold had incredible expectations when he was brought in for Evan Kirk, and he was between the pipes for every game in 2018. Even when New England had the highest goals allowed in the east, and the second highest in the league, he still led the league in both saves and was fifth in save percentage. When I look at goalie stats (which I admit is just a sliver of the total picture of how a goalie is actually performing), seeing those two numbers together tells an interesting story. A good save percentage is something you want to see for sure. But when they have that and very high raw save numbers, you know there are likely some lapses in defense or transition. Given that their offense was struggling as well, it was definitely both. So while Bold was not the scapegoat, what does hurt is that he was lost in free agency and not a trade. So, they had a starter and lost him.
FULL SCHEDULE: Click here to see the New England Black Wolves’ complete 2018-2019 season schedule.
The final big starter they lost was a very recent development. With the shortened training camp due to the extended CBA negotiations, decisions are happening fast. On Monday, the team announced that Derek Suddons was on the first round of players released. A member of the team since 2016, he never missed a game and was a reliable stay at home defender. What worked against Suddons the most may have been time as he just celebrated his 40th birthday in the offseason. He still probably has some more games in him, but not on a team that is remaking itself as a fast paced transition team. Thus, he wound up being an odd man out.
Key Adds and Returners:
When asking Head Coach Glenn Clark about how to replace Kyle Buchanan, he made it pretty clear that replacing him for exactly what he did was not going to be the goal. In their opening scrimmage, I saw a few players who could be close, but he’s looking to use quickness and speed on the back end. Where the Black Wolves are going to reshape themselves is on the offensive end. Their right side is going to be a handful for every defense in the league. Teaming up with Crowley and Crawford is Tyler Digby, all 265 pounds of him. Not only is that a big lineup, but there is some major potential if they can find a groove together with Seth Oakes also working his way back into the lineup after spending some of last season in Vancouver.
In terms of lefties, there is some intense competition playing out. Reilly O’Connor is the primary returner after Kevin Buchanan had his season shortened due to injury. Kevin is back, but so are players like rookie Dereck Downs and Nick Mariano. With players like Mark Cockerton playing transition again, the expectation for any lefty forward is incredibly high.
Jumping to the back end, the place you have to start is goalie. Doug Jamieson is the heir apparent with the departure of Bold. He has been a steady back up behind both Bold and Evan Kirk. That was until New England brought in Alex Buque from Buffalo, who became available once the Matt Vinc deal was arranged. They also signed another perennial backup Warren Hill, but he was another Monday casualty. Also in the mix is Rookie Ethan Woods, but he’ll have to have a very strong showing to overtake one of the two vets.
For other defenders, the two biggest additions that will yield superb benefits are Andrew Suitor and Greg Downing. Both are established defenders in this league who also know how to play fast. Suitor may not be the same player he was when he was the transition player of the year in 2012. Multiple knee injuries have slowed him down, but he’s one of the toughest, smartest, team players around. Combining him with Greg Downing, who has played fast lacrosse for years with the Swarm and Mammoth mean that the younger players like Colton Watkinson, Nick Chaykowsky, and top rookie pick Jackson Nishimura have constant experience with them on the floor.
For the Black Wolves, things are starting in a hurry with a trip down to Georgia on opening night. The Swarm are actually three of their first six games, which could either put them off to a great start, or bury them in the East. The biggest game though, is going to be on February 16th, which is New England at Philly in their first meeting. If there is anything that will draw the ire of Philly fans, it will be hosting the Black Wolves at the Wells Fargo Center. Adding to the fun will be the Wings coming up north the very next day. Quite a fun rivalry weekend.
The pieces are there for New England to return to the playoffs once again. Rochester losing Vinc means they will have a completely different look for the first time in almost a decade. Depending on how much of their 2018 magic returns will show if they can keep the division. Buffalo on the other hand may be the early favorite. Their offseason has been busy, but we won’t see how New England matches up until the end of January. Georgia will of course be dangerous again, and Toronto is also looking to bounce back. Philly is of course a total wildcard.