The Philadelphia Wings entered the 2014 National Lacrosse League season as just about everybody’s pick to finish last. From Kyle Buchanan scoring the first goal of the season on a little twister as he streamed down a seam on the left side of the slot to his empty-netter that put the finishing touches on a 17-13 win over the Buffalo Bandits, the Wings showed Saturday night that they aren’t paying attention to what anyone outside of their locker room has to say. The Wings never trailed in the game and outscored Buffalo in each of the first three quarters, then held on in the fourth to go to 1-0. Philly led 4-3 after the first quarter, 9-7 at the half and 13-9 after 45 minutes.
Buchanan, a second-year forward who spent 2013 with the Washington Stealth, led all scorers with 3 goals and 5 assists. Plenty of players had big nights for the Wings, though, especially Jordan Hall who connected for 4 straight goals in the second period and 5 on the night to go with a pair of assists. Tracey Kelusky, aiming to prove that the two sub-par years he had with the Bandits don’t mean he’s done in the game, got off to a great start with a pair of goals and 4 assists. Another new addition to the offence, free agent signee Ryan Ward, chipped in with 6 assists.
Dhane Smith was the top gunner for the Bandits with 3 goals and 2 assists. Mark Steenhuis, Ryan Benesch, Kevin Brownell and Shawn Williams each scored twice for Buffalo. Evan Kirk made 39 saves to earn the win for the Wings. While he gave up 13 goals, Kirk made a number of nice stops on Buffalo shooters in close to make Philly’s lead hold up. Anthony Cosmo and Kurtis Wagar both had their troubles in the Buffalo goal, but the defence didn’t help them by giving up 68 shots to a Wings offence that came at them in waves.
Discipline was also an issue for the Bandits as Philadelphia scored 4 power play goals in 8 chances, including a penalty shot by Hall that completed his run of 4 straight goals and gave the Wings a 9-4 lead 10 minutes into the second quarter. Hall also added a shorthanded goal in the third quarter. It was the middle marker in a 3-goal run that restored momentum to the Wings after Buffalo had grabbed it by going on a 4-1 run spanning half time.
Philadelphia’s green defensive corps had some breakdowns against the at times sharp-passing Bandits, but they also showed resiliency in bouncing back and playing tough one-on-one D at key times. John Ranagan stood out as a solid rookie and second-year man CJ Costabile continues to grow as an indoor player, including outduelling Jay Thorimbert, second in the NLL in faceoff percentage last year, at the dot.
In Rochester, Matt Vinc picked up where he left off from last season’s goalie of the year performance, stopping 45 of the 51 shots Minnesota fired at him and the Knighthawks offence finally got into gear in the fourth quarter as the defending champions downed the Swarm 8-6. The Knighthawks scored just four times in the first half and couldn’t find the back of the net at all in the third quarter, but they rode a 4-1 final frame to the victory.
Dan Dawson led all scorers with 6 points on a pair of goals and 4 assists while Joel McCready had a big night as well. The transition man had 2 goals and 3 helpers. Johnny Powless also scored twice for Rochester. Jay Hass, with a pair, was the only Swarm player to score more than once.
Edmonton rode a 9-3 dominance of the second and third quarters to a 13-10 win, spoiling the Colorado Mammoth’s home opener. Curtis Knight and Zack Greer both turned in hat tricks for the Rush. Aaron Bold bounced back after a shaky first quarter to stop 30 of 40 shots and earn the win. Dillon Ward replaced Tye Belanger in the Mammoth net after Edmonton’s 11th goal and blanked the Rush for over 17 minutes in his NLL debut as the Mammoth fought back to within a goal at 11-10. But Edmonton connected for the final 2 goals to put the game away.
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