With the regular season of the National Lacrosse League just about over, Brent Clark looks like a big favorite for coach of the year honors.
His New England Black Wolves were a 4-14 team last season. This year with Clark at the helm, the Black Wolves had a 10-7 record even with a loss to the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday night. That sort of dramatic turnaround usually is rewarded in the voting for a season’s top coach.
“To get to 10 wins from where we were last year probably is a little bit unpredictable,” he said before Saturday’s game. “You don’t know what to expect. You come into a new team, a new job, and you’re feeling your way through. We had an idea of what we wanted to be and how we wanted to play. We need the players to deliver on that. We had some growth from within, and we got some additions like Shawn Evans. But I don’t think the record was expected.”
Whenever a new coaching staff comes along, the players need to buy into the new philosophy. That clearly has happened with New England. Clark is assisted by two former Bandits, Jim Veltman and Tracey Kelusky.
“We’ve made this a collective effort,” Clark said. “One of the things I said from the beginning was that between the three of us, we’ve got a lot of answers. But we don’t have all the answers, so there will be collaboration. We made the final calls. But we have a pretty mature lacrosse team, a savvy group. We all have discussions on certain things. We have a blueprint, but we tweak it with input from the players. I’ve really enjoyed coaching this team, the personalities here. It’s been a fun year.”
The biggest change to the Black Wolves’ roster was Evans, who was acquired from Calgary in the offseason. Evans set the record for points in a season last year at 130; that mark was broken by the Bandits’ Dhane Smith this year.
“He’s been our MVP,” Clark said. “He’s had another great year. He’s instilled some confidence in us. He’s a dynamic player. He’s pulled us out of some holes and got some runs started.”
But some other additions have helped as well.
“We’ve had some off-the-radar changes like Derek Suddons, who played in Buffalo,” Clark said. “Dan Ball and Jordan Hall are here, Kevin Crowley came back. It’s thickened up our roster and allowed guys like Kyle Buchanan and Kevin Buchanan to showcase themselves a little bit more.”
It didn’t take long for Bandits coach Troy Cordingley to figure out that the Black Wolves were no longer the league’s doormat.
“That point probably was the exhibition game,” he said. “When you bring in what they brought in and change their team roster with some awfully good players, you knew that they’d be a very good team. They have three real good coaches who were successful in this league.”
Dhane Smith of the Bandits erased Athan Iannucci’s name from a line of the record book on Saturday. Iannucci was the former NLL record holder for goals in a season with 71, accomplished with the Philadelphia Wings in 2008.
Iannucci was something of a comet during his NLL career, as his time in the league had a spectacular high but lasted for too short a time. His record-setting season was only his second in the league.
“Athan was a big, lanky player,” Cordingley said. “He had phenomenal stick skills. He could score from anywhere on the floor. That year he was averaging almost five goals a game, which is incredible. He was a very talented player, but unfortunately he had a knee injury and never rebounded from that.”
Iannucci had knee surgery the summer of ‘08. He scored 23 goals in 10 games in 2009, but missed all of 2010 with knee problems. The forward played through part of the 2015 season, but never had more than 30 goals after his big year.
Iannucci broke the single-season goal-scoring record of 61, set by Gary Gait for Colorado in 2003.