Thursday, July 10, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Wings lose overtime thriller to Bandits

Ryan Ward is determined to make this go-around in Philadelphia more successful than his first.

The 33 year-old forward began his NLL career with the Wings back in 2004, but lasted only 18 games before bouncing around for eight years between Minnesota and Edmonton.

If tonight was any indication of how this tenure will go, Ward is here to stay.

“It’s been challenging,” said Ward. “It’s finding the pecking order and showing the coaches what I’m capable of to prove game in and game out.”

Ward, a Butler University graduate, finished with a team-high four goals in a heroic comeback effort that fell just short as the Wings (1-2) lost an overtime thriller to the Buffalo Bandits, 12-11.

It was an all too familiar story for the Wings, as a second consecutive second quarter collapse proved too big a hurdle to overcome.

A night after allowing six unanswered goals to the Rochester Knighthawks, the Wings again were plagued by an opponent’s scoring outbreak, this time allowing five straight to the Bandits (2-1) before the half.

Over the back-to-back games, Philadelphia was throttled in the second quarter, being outscored by a combined mark of 11-1.

“We forget the little things that make us successful,” said coach Blane Harrison. “It’s doing the dirty stuff. But it’s the easiest thing in this league to forget the stuff that makes you good.”

The struggle was especially disappointing for the Wings after a promising opening quarter. The Wings were dominant in every aspect of the game through 15 minutes, outshooting their visitors, 16-11, and going a perfect 2-for-2 on the powerplay.

The Wings benefited from an unbelievable first quarter performance from goalie Evan Kirk, who made a handful of impressive saves on Buffalo breakaways.

But despite an uninspiring first quarter, Buffalo had not forgotten about December 28th, when the Wings dismantled the Bandits on opening night at the First Niagara Center, 17-13.

The Bandits stormed right back in the second as second-year transition player Dhane Smith took control of the game. Smith tallied nearly as many points in the first thirty minutes (seven) as he had in the first two games combined (eight). The Ontario native was an assisting machine racking up five helpers to go with two goals in the first half alone.

After allowing an early goal in the third to stretch the Buffalo lead to 9-4, the Wings finally stopped the bleeding with a crafty play from Pat Saunders to snap Buffalo’s 6-0 run.

The goal ended a 17:13 scoreless streak for Philadelphia.

Buffalo seemed to put the nail in the coffin when Dhane Smith completed his hat trick to extend the Bandit lead to five, but a two-man advantage for the Wings brought them back from the dead.

Ryan Ward picked up his first goal of the game on the powerplay, then struck again less than two minutes later to cut the deficit to three heading into the fourth quarter.

“He’s finally getting comfortable with his standing on the team,” said Harrison. “It’s why we went out and got him in the offseason.”

John Ranagan kept the comeback effort alive, storming down the field from the defensive zone to outhustle the entire Buffalo roster down the turf to cut the lead to two.

His determination was clearly inspiring to the fans and players alike, as the Wells Fargo Center erupted with noise and the players brought a fiery passion to their defensive effort, forcing Buffalo to commit a costly turnover.

The cheers grew even louder as Ryan Ward’s missile just 28 seconds after Ranagan's completed his first hat trick of the season and made it a one-goal game.

“Things started feeling good once I got that first goal,” said Ward. “Finding my role in the team has been the toughest part, but I want to contribute every night.”

After Buffalo doubled their lead to two, former Bandit Tracey Kelusky picked up his second goal of the night to put the Wings within one yet again.

Just seconds later, Philly appeared to notch the tying tally, but officials called off the goal due to a crease violation.

The Wings were clearly unshaken by the ref’s decision, as Brodie Merrill hit a streaking Ryan War\d perfectly in stride, where Ward took care of the rest. The forward took two steps before a full-extension dive and shot found the back of the net to tie the game for the first time since the 8:34 mark in the second quarter.

Ward attributes much of his comfort in the offense to his fellow Canadians on the attack.

“We’ve grown up playing box lacrosse, and it’s all about the intricate details of the box that we’ve been doing since we were three or four years old,” Ward added.

“It was a great effort coming back,” said Harrison. "I just wish we didn't have to keep coming back."

That lead would last through regulation, forcing the first overtime game of the season for both teams.

Buffalo goalie Anthony Cosmo was an entirely different player than the Wings saw in their first meeting. After being chased in the third quarter during his previous matchup with the Wings, Cosmo was clutch when it counted on a few promising chances for the Wings to start the extra time.

But just 55 seconds into overtime, all-time NLL goals leader John Tavares found an opening and sent home the game-winning goal. It was his fourth of the night and 784th of his storied career.

“A game like that is an emotional rollercoaster. We’re down big like that, come back, then send it overtime and very quickly it’s gone," said Harrison.

"We’re left with a bit of a hollow feeling."

Alex Ott For Philly.com
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