As adversity struck the 2021-22 season, the Philadelphia Wings found a way to get through these trying times.
The Wings lost six starters to COVID-19 in January. Goalkeeper Zach Higgins broke his nose in December after a shot went through his mask and after recovering contracted COVID-19 and missed a month overall.
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The team went on a four-game losing streak through the March 16 close, forcing head coach and general manager Paul Day to trade 27-year-old defenseman Anthony Joaquim and 31-year-old forward Brett for the Colorado Mammoth Hickey to the San Diego Seals.
Still, the wings never worked. After the trading deadline, they won four of their last six games. Forward Blaze Riorden’s goal from a man down on the last day of the regular season sealed a dramatic 11-10 overtime win over Georgia Swarm and secured the Wings a playoff berth for the first time in the history of the modern iteration of the franchise.
“We have a flair for the dramatic, you would say,” said striker Kevin Crowley. “We had a two goal lead with a minute left and let the team go back into overtime but Blaze made a big play and split the doubles team, dipping the crease and taking it to the top corner.
“That’s the kind of team we have. Anyone could ascend at any moment. I think that will make us dangerous in our playoff run.”
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Now the Wings (9-9) will take on the top seeded Seals (10-8) in the quarterfinals of the 2022 National Lacrosse League (NLL) playoffs on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. in San Diego. It will stream on ESPN+. Although the Wings play wildcards in the East Conference, they will play the top seed in the West Conference.
The top four teams in the east and the top three teams in the west receive playoff spots. The last spot in the West is a wildcard spot, awarded to the team with the highest winning percentage among the remaining seven teams in the NLL.
The Wings played two West Conference teams this season, one of which was the Seals. On April 8, the Wings defeated the Seals 13–12 in overtime after forward Ben McIntosh scored 30 seconds into overtime. He dazzled in that game, registering four goals and one assist.
McIntosh, the 2015 NLL Rookie of the Year and a two-time Drexel All-American, was traded from the Saskatchewan Rush to the Wings on July 31, 2020 and finally made his debut this season after last year’s COVID-19 hiatus. He led the team with 31 goals that season.
“He’s a formidable competitor,” Crowley said. “He brings an advantage to his game and the wings. That’s why he’s so elite in this league and why he has three championships under his belt at the professional level.”
The Wings’ regular-season overtime win over the Seals was their fourth overtime game of the season at the time. They continued to play in fives and went 5-0.
The Seals finished the regular season with a 10-8 record and secured first place in the West via tiebreak. The Colorado Mammoth and Calgary Roughnecks also finished 10-8.
Forward Wesley Berg led the Seals in the regular season with 84 points and finished second on the team in both goals (34) and assists (50). Four forwards — Berg, Austin Staats, Dane Dobbie and Jeremy Noble — have individually scored 70 or more points this season and each ranked in the top 26 in the league.
Goaltender Frank Scigliano finished third in the league with 9.78 goals against average and eighth with a 0.793 save percentage. The Seals have averaged 10.17 goals per game, the second best in the league.
“Their offense is quite a dynamic offense,” Day said. “They move the ball well. They score a lot of goals. You have a good goalkeeper. Both defenses are similar. We’re both pretty young, I guess you’d say no-name defense. Not many stars on defense, but both really good, solid units. And then both good goalkeepers. So it will be a very close game.”
The Quarterfinals between the Wings and the Seals is a one-game, single-elimination round. The winner will advance to the best-of-three conference finals against the winner of the Mammoth Roughnecks Quarterfinals.
Now, the Wings will draw on their veteran experience as they advance to the first round of the playoffs to capture their first title of the franchise’s modern era.
“As a veteran group, you see when those one-and-dones happen that you have a higher level of focus in the locker room, in your practice time and leading up to these games,” Crowley said. “It’s great to have this veteran group. In this regard, we are proven winners and have made it on every possible level. We are happy to be in a different situation this weekend.”