NLL: Thunderbirds fall to 3rd after second consecutive loss

Halifax Thunderbirds @ New England Black Wolves. (Photo credit: K Ton)

The Halifax Thunderbirds’ back-to-back road trip continued Sunday in New England, looking to rebound from Saturday night’s 13-9 loss to the Buffalo Bandits. The Black Wolves found an offensive boost as Andrew Kew returned, missing the previous week’s game. He would be a big factor in a 16-10 victory for New England to begin the month of March. With the loss, the Thunderbirds fall to third place in the NLL’s North Division after starting the season 6-0.

Halifax’s Jake Withers’ emergence as arguably the thuop faceoff man in the league has gone mostly uncontested. However, if there is one player who could challenge for top spot it is field star Joe Nardella. Nardella was able to hold Withers to 18 of 30 faceoff wins, though not on the opening faceoff, which Withers ran into the attacking zone to score nine seconds into the contest. Kew’s answer to this goal came two possessions later, and triggered a four-goal run against Peter Dubenski, who made his first career start after taking the loss in relief of Warren Hill Saturday. Trevor Smyth closed out the quarter with his first career goal in transition, but the Thunderbirds still trailed 4-2.

Cody Jamieson narrowed the margin to one when he scored around a screen from the right side of the floor. Kew then kicked off another four-goal run, completing his hat trick in the process. Callum Crawford, Reilly O’Connor and Joe Resetarits’ second of the night pushed New England ahead 8-3 in a five-minute span. The run came as the Black Wolves started to push the floor in transition, led by outlet passes from goaltender Doug Jamieson.

Jamieson put an end the New England run, and start a Thunderbirds’ three-goal swing. The run included an individual effort goal by Austin Shanks, who shovelled a pass away while on his stomach, capitalizing at the crease, and the latest Jamieson highlight-reel goal, dragging the ball through three defenders and shovelled it into the Black Wolves’ net. Jordan Durston capped a combined eight-goal quarter, sending New England into halftime with a 9-6 lead.

Prior to the game both coaches said they expected it to be a low scoring affair. With 15 goals before halftime, presumably they each spoke to their respective locker rooms as they combined for just four goals in the frame, two per side. Both of New England’s came off the stick of Crawford, his second and third (of an eventual five), and Jamieson, who at one point had buried four of seven Halifax markers. Clarke Petterson completed the quarter on the power play, but the lead remained three for the Black Wolves heading into the final frame.

That lead quickly fell to two as Ryan Benesch scored in the opening minute. Ultimately, it was as close as Halifax would come in this game. The Black Wolves’ defence shut down the Thunderbirds in the next three possessions, not allowing a shot, which led to an Adam Bomberry diving goal and a John Lafontaine transition marker 29 seconds later to stretch the lead to four. It took Petterson only twenty seconds to answer on a nice individual effort before shooting top corner. Doug Jamieson shut the door the rest of the way eventually stopping 43 of 53 shots faced. Credit also to Thunderbirds penalty killers and netminder Dubenski who killed off a full four-minute power play later; however, a Withers slash on a partial breakaway was too much to ask for as Crawford added to his night’s total. He’d put one in the empty net as well, playing a Jamieson empty net attempt off the boards to finish with eight points.

With Halifax trying to pull Dubenski again off the ensuing faceoff, Colton Watkinson grabbed an errant shot, ran the floor and iced the game with his fourth of the season. Despite the 16-10 scoreline, it was a tight game throughout.

The Black Wolves’ two wins on the weekend see New England leapfrog Georgia to sit atop the East Division by a full game. The ‘Wolves will now travel to Philadelphia to face the Wings on Saturday. Meanwhile, Halifax hosts Buffalo Sunday afternoon.