The New England Black Wolves sent a message to the Buffalo Bandits and the rest of the National Lacrosse League on Saturday night: They are a much improved team in 2016.
The Black Wolves, who had the worst record in the league last season at 4-14, improved to 3-1 in the young NLL season. They defeated the Bandits, 15-11, in Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. Buffalo dropped out of first place in the NLL East.
The difference in the game was the third quarter, as New England dominated play. They scored five goals to the Bandits’ one to break open the contest. Kevin Crowley had three goals in the period. The Black Wolves’ explosion chased netminder Anthony Cosmo, who finished with 29 saves on 39 shots. Dave DiRuscio saw his first action of the season in relief of Cosmo.
Buffalo scored five goals in the fourth quarter in an attempt to narrow the lead, but the Bandits could only get within three goals with 1:34 left. Kyle Buchanan’s goal in the final 30 seconds wrapped up the win for the Black Wolves.
Before the second half burst by New England, the two teams had been more or less even. Buffalo’s largest lead of the game was at 5-3 with a little more than three minutes gone in the second period. But the Black Wolves closed out the half with three straight goals to take a 6-5 lead at intermission.
Dhane Smith had yet another great night as he continued his spectacular start for the Bandits. He finished with four goals and four assists. Smith finished with 17 of Buffalo’s 67 shots on goal. The total was 10 shots away from the team record of 77, set in 2001. Ryan Benesch, celebrating his 31st birthday, finished with three goals and two assists. Alex Kedoh Hill added two goals, while Mark Steenhuis and Mitch Jones also scored. Buffalo was 3 for 4 on the power play on the night.
For New England, Crowley finished with six goals to match his career high. Shawn Evans, last year’s league most valuable player who was acquired in the offseason from Calgary, added two goals and seven assists for nine points.
The same two teams will play on Saturday night in the First Niagara Center. The game has been billed as “Champions Night,” as the team will honors its NLL title-holding teams from 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2008. There will be a pregame ceremony honoring the players, and some of them will suit up for a special alumni game at halftime.