It’s finally (almost) here! The 2017-18 NLL Season! And who better to open it than the NLL World Champion Georgia Swarm against division rival the New England Black Wolves?
December 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET, we’ll get to see the beginning of Georgia’s championship defense. Even on the road, you can watch the fastest game on two feet LIVE via NLLTV.com.
The Swarm have been hard at work at Training Camp, narrowing the roster down to 20 players. Now fine-tuned and back in shape, the men in blue and yellow can start off on the right foot against a team they’re playing for the fifth (FIFTH!) time in 2017. Georgia owned the Black Wolves last season, going 3-1 in the series, but Friday’s a new day and the beginning of a new season. Both teams have undergone some changes to their respective rosters, so let’s dive into the Quick Stings of this Hive Five to get caught up for Friday night.
And while it will be a new day and all that, I can’t help but go over:
When Last the Two Met
Friday, April 7 was the last time these two teams clashed. It was at Mohegan Sun Arena, and the Black Wolves were looking to even up the season series with a home victory. Georgia had lost to New England in March, part of the Swarm’s 1-3 month, but Georgia had also just handled the Colorado Mammoth the week prior with a 21-13 performance. No way a team scores 21 goals two weeks in a row, especially when one of those games is on the road, right?
Dead wrong. 40 seconds into the game and Randy Staats scored the night’s first goal. It snowballed from there with one of the most impressive games in a Cinderella season of impressive games from Georgia as the team emerged with a 21-12 road win.
Staats finished the night with a career-high 11 points (5G, 6A), assistant captain Shayne Jackson was everyone’s friend with seven assists and a goal for himself, Johnny Powless had seven points (3G, 4A), Lyle Thompson and Jordan Hall each recorded six points the same way with two goals and four assists, Kiel Matisz also recorded six points but split it between goals and assists, and Miles Thompson ended the game with five points (2G, 3A). Goaltender Mike Poulin saved 38 shots out of 49, posting a .776 SV% and an 11.92 GAA.
For New England, Kevin Crowley was the most productive with his six points (3G, GA), but only Shawn Evans (1G, 3A) and Kyle Buchanan (2G, 2A) were really a factor that night. Doug Jamieson was handed the loss that night for his 15 GA on 41 SOG (an 18.37 GAA and a .634 SV%), but that was after Evan Kirk was chased from the pipes after allowing six goals in 11 minutes, which comes out to a 32.73 GAA and a .667 SV%. Kirk was traded to greener pastures (okay, greener uniforms cause Saskatoon is encased in ice last I checked), and replacing him between the pipes as the Black Wolves’ starting goaltender is…
It’s a Bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for them. (Been saving that dumb joke all offseason.)
Bold was the starting goaltender for the two-time defending champion Saskatchewan Rush last season, and the Rush swapped him in a true blockbuster trade for Evan Kirk. Saskatchewan also gave up defenseman John LaFontaine, the team’s first round selection in the 2017 NLL Draft, and a second-round pick in the 2018 NLL Draft. Nothing short of a jaw-dropper, but we’re more concerned with how this will affect Friday night, especially between the pipes.
Georgia and Sask clashed three times during the 2017 season, but Bold played only in two, missing the first contest while serving a suspension from the league for a preseason scuffle. So Bold instead had to contend with a championship-starved Swarm roster. He played both games of the Champion’s Cup Finals and earned losses in both. In 119:18 of playing time, Bold took 104 SOG and allowed 31 to pass by. He finished his third-straight Champion’s Cup appearance with a 15.59 GAA and a .702 SV%.
LaFontaine will be the most familiar face surrounding Bold since the two have been together for the last few years, but it will be interesting to see how Bold does with a change of scenery and with a revamped Black Wolves defense. Until we see them in action, there’s not really a good way to predict how they will do. That being said, New England certainly doesn’t want to see…
Shawn Evans in the Penalty Box
This Quick Sting is to highlight two things. The first is that Shawn Evans is a really fantastic player. He finished 2017 as New England’s points leader with 103 points (38G, 65A), his fifth straight year having scored over 100 points. A large part of what makes the Black Wolves so much fun to watch and so much fun to compete against is due to Evans being one of the best the NLL has to offer. Against the Swarm last year, Evans recorded 27 points (9G, 18A) — 12 of those points were from the second game between the two on February 11. Evans also scooped up 18 loose balls and cause four turnovers throughout the season. Dude is a beast.
But that beast also spent a significant portion of his time in the penalty box against the Swarm. Evans totaled 50 penalty minutes last season, and 33 of those minutes came while playing Georgia. 22 of them were in the first clash between the two teams when he was ejected after a fight, seven in the last contest of the season for some rough stuff, two for delay of game in the third game, and zilch in the second.
It’s really recent history. In 2016, Evans only racked up seven penalty minutes against Georgia, a small percentage of his 39 total penalty minutes that season. In eight contests between the two, he’s gone three without earning a penalty. New England is 2-1 in those games, but the fun stat (for NE) is that the Black Wolves have outscored the Swarm by 13 goals in those three games. Evans himself has an astonishing 31 points (14G, 17A). That comes out to an insane 4.67 GF/GAME and 5.67 AF/GAME. Not much more to say on that other than wow…
In those games five games where Evans does end up in the box, he’s posted 33 points (9G, 24A). That comes out to 1.8 GF/GAME and 4.8 AF/GAME, respectable numbers all the same. Those numbers are surely affected by his ejection on January 20, but his 2017 totals in games where he earned a penalty are still decent, 15 points (5G, 10A), a 1.67 GF/GAME, and a 3.33 AF/GAME.
Recent history is on Georgia’s side, but this is a new season. Even when he’s not taking a seat, Evans is a productive player on the floor. Holding him to low numbers is certainly a goal for Georgia, but how much time he takes himself away from the game will also be a deciding factor.
That’s a lot of talk about one guy Georgia will square off against. Let’s shift it and talk about…
The New Wolves
New England is missing some notable names from last season. Gone are forwards Chad Culp, Pat Saunders, Daryl Veltman, and Brett Bucktooth; gone is defenseman Bill O’Brien; and as noted earlier, gone is goaltender Kirk. A team that gave up the second-most goals against in 2017 felt the need to have a busy offseason, and its new roster shows it.
New England brought in some key veterans. We already talked about getting Bold from Saskatchewan, and it acquired LaFontaine in that same trade to help bolster the backend. In another trade, the Black Wolves snagged Adam Bomberry from Rochester and signed David Brock as a free agent (Brock played for the Buffalo Bandits in 2017).
Mark Cockerton joins the offense as a second-year forward, and the remaining new names came from the 2017 NLL Draft, transition player Colton Watkinson (No. 7 overall, Limestone University) and forward JP Kealey (No. 10 overall, Robert Morris University). Fun fact, the No. 7 draft pick was originally Georgia’s before the team traded it to New England for its 1st-round pick in the 2020 NLL Draft.
Enough about New England players; let’s talk about…
The New Swarm Faces
Georgia did return as close to unchanged as a team could get, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to see some new numbers and names on the floor this week. And while not necessarily new, we do get to see the return of forward Jesse King.
Two of the new faces are goaltenders Warren Hill (sort of new, he was on the Swarm practice squad all last season) and Kevin Orleman. Both made the 2017-18 Active Roster after spending the 2017 season on the practice squad, Orleman for the Buffalo Bandits. W. Hill and Orleman have some success in the Arena Lacrosse League (ALL) of recent, W. Hill for the Six Nations Snipers and Orleman for the Paris RiverWolves. W. Hill finished the 2017 ALL season with an 11.95 GAA and a .760 SV% in 401:49 min., and Orleman ended his 2017 season with a 12.74 GAA and a .773 SV% in 296:47 min. of action. You’ll more than likely see a fair share of them between the pipes until the Swarm figures out who gets to serve the rest of the season as Poulin’s backup.
Only two players out of the seven selected by the Swarm in the 2017 NLL Draft made the squad, first-round pick Zed Williams (No. 4 overall, University of Virginia) and third-round pick Frank Brown (No. 24 overall, Hobart College). Both are helping out the Swarm’s transition game, no shame given how crowded the Swarm’s offense is in terms of forwards.
Finally, we’ll get to see Brayden Hill this Friday. Originally listed on the Practice Squad, B. Hill will get the call up for the season opener. B. Hill was selected in the third round of the 2016 NLL Draft at No. 25 overall. The Six Nations defender spent time earlier this year in the ALL, playing seven games (eight including a playoff game) and recording three assists.
The last two Quick Stings were both about the new players the two teams will be rolling out. Both teams know the opponents’ offense rather well considering both have barely changed. The key factor in this game is going to be the defenses. Bold is one of the top goalies in the NLL, but he has an almost entirely new system in front of him. Poulin has new faces in front of him and will surely miss what Chad Tutton and Joel White brought to the table, but the new additions to Georgia’s defensive squad were the best of Georgia’s 2017 draft picks and have experience playing with Swarm players in different leagues. The key for both teams will be how quickly these units coalesce and deal with some of the most prolific and dangerous scorers in the NLL.