NLL: Wings are back, but fall to Bandits 17-15

Opening ceremonies at Wells Fargo Center. (Photo credit: Laura Kupsey)

After a four year hiatus, the Philadelphia Wings took the floor once again at Wells Fargo Center to put on a show for 11,023 rowdy fans. Unfortunately, after 60 hard-fought minutes, the visiting Buffalo Bandits ruined the party by edging the Wings 17-15.

Prior to the opening faceoff five banners were raised to the rafters. The numbers of Tom “Hollywood” Marachek (42), Jake Bergey (66) and Dallas Eliuk (35) took their place high in the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center once again. A fourth banner showing the six championships (89-90-94-95-98-01) also was raised as the roar of the crowd escalated with each banner. Alumni that included the likes of Tony Resch, Chris Flynn, Mike French and Tom Slate joined the above mentioned as the title banner was raised. The final banner drew the loudest of them all and also brought out some tears. The banner read “We’re Back… Where We Belong.”

Thomas Hoggarth of the Buffalo Bandits. (Photo credit: Laura Kupsey)

Before the new team was announced a video opening was shown on the jumbotron above the floor, which was now covered in a white tarp. Video of former Wings teams were shown as well as photos of the resurrection of the new franchise. Flame throwers flanked each side of the tunnel and in front of the tunnel was a steel Wings’ logo that the players would run out from behind.

After all of the opening ceremonies it would be time to play indoor lacrosse again in the City of Brotherly Love.

Buffalo got on the board first as Thomas Hoggarth beat Wings’ starter Doug Buchan just 30 seconds into the game. Less than a minute later newly acquired Corey Small made it a two-goal Bandits’ lead. Small scored again and Philadelphia found itself down 3-0 less than six minutes in. They fought back, however; former Bandit Vaughn Harris scored the the first goal in modern Wings’ history, and former Knighthawk Josh Currier would score 33 seconds later to cut the lead to one. But Dhane Smith quieted the crowd with a goal just under a minute later for a 4-2 Bandits’ lead.

Chris Cloutier and Steph Charbonneau each scored their first career goals 49 seconds apart to tie the game briefly at four. Cloutier and Charbonneau are summer teammates with the MSL’s Cobourg Kodiaks. Josh Byrne, however, would give the Bandits the lead to end the first quarter 5-4.

In his post-game press conference head coach and GM Paul Day said the pre-game festivals meant the players were idly standing around, but he wouldn’t blame  the Wings’ slow start on that.

“It was fantastic to see the banners go up and all the old guys I used to play against and coach against,” Day said, “but I’m not going to use that as an excuse, that’s for sure.”

And the celebration, he said, was worth it.

It took 1:14 but Hoggarth also opened the second quarter scoring. Within the next five minutes, Small and Jordan Hall exchanged goals twice before Small broke the pattern and scored two in a row. After Currier’s second goal of the game, Bandits’ captain Steve Priolo scored a weak goal that ended Buchan’s night in favour of Davide DiRuscio. Buchan faced 24 shots and allowed 10 goals.

The Wings drew back within a goal at 10-9 after Anthony Joaquim and Brett Hickey scored 27 seconds apart, but Shawn Evans would send the Bandits into the half with a two-goal lead on a power play goal.

Buffalo Bandits’ Matt Spanger holds on to Matt Rambo of the Philadelphia Wings (Photo credit: Laura Kupsey)

The Wings deficit could have been worse, but DiRuscio made some fantastic saves to keep them in it. DiRuscio was picked up by the Wings in the expansion draft as Buffalo left him exposed after only playing 31 seconds last season; as he went to make a save he tore his hamstring ending his season.

After Buffalo scored the first two goals of the third quarter to increase their lead to 13-9, the Wings would go on a four-goal run. Glenside native Matt Rambo scored his first of his career, while Hall, Cloutier and Frank Brown would score in a span of 1:12 to end the third and bring the fans at the Wells Fargo Center to their feet as the Wings looked for a fourth-quarter comeback.

“The crowd stayed behind us,” Cloutier said. “They brought so much energy that it was tough to stay in that low place. You’re gonna get your energy up and you’re gonna get those runs and that’s all due to the crowd.”

The fourth quarter began with the teams alternating goals, Philadelphia still one goal behind until Brett Hickey followed up Currier’s diving hat trick goal 31 seconds later with a 10-foot shot that tied the game at 15.

The Philadelphia Wings celebrate Vaughn Harris’ franchise-opening goal. (Photo credit: Laura Kupsey)

Wings’ fans were on the edge of their seat for the next three minutes waiting for the go-ahead goal, but it never came. Instead, Shawn Evans would score the game winner with 1:05 remaining. The Wings pulled DiRuscio but Steve Priolo picked up the empty netter.

It wasn’t a win but it was a good start for the expansion team, Cloutier said.

“Buffalo’s 100% going to be a contender. For us to go out there and stand our own and give them a good run for they money that’s a good start for us but we’re not nearly close to finished, we have a lot of work to do. We’re going to be in a good place.”

Chet Koneczny and Mitch DeSnoo dropped the gloves as the frustration boiled over, and the rivalry that first started 28 years ago between the Bandits and Wings was renewed.

Shawn Evans (2G/7A), Josh Byrne (1G/7A), Corey Small (5G/1A) and Dhane Smith (2G/6 A) led the attack for Buffalo.

Jordan Hall and rookie Chris Cloutier had two goals and four assists each. Josh Currier, with three goals, led the way for the Wings.

Philadelphia returns to action on December 29th as they visit another old friend, the Rochester Knighthawks, in their season opener.