By Kyle Bennett
The Philadelphia Wings are one of the most historic franchises in National Lacrosse League history. The team has six titles in franchise history, and for the first time since returning to the NLL in 2018-19, will be on the hunt to add number seven to the trophy case when the team takes its opening face off against the San Diego Seals on Saturday night.
It's been an up and down year for a talented Wings team that had high expectations coming into the year. In November, when Ben McIntosh was finally able to make his presence known during training camp, Kevin Crowley told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was jealous of all the rings McIntosh had and was hoping to add one to his finger this season as well. Having to wait until the final day of the regular season, in overtime at that, to clinch a spot in the 2022 postseason was nerve-racking for the team and fans alike. Philadelphia clinched the lone Wild Card spot in the postseason field and booked a date out west for a Quarterfinal showdown with the San Diego Seals, the other franchise who came into the NLL back in 2018-19.
The Wings won the only matchup it had with San Diego on April 8, in overtime, 13-12. This team has battled all year long and has shown they can hang with the best of the best. In order to beat San Diego, Philadelphia is going to have to bring its A-Game.
Philadelphia has, arguably, the best faceoff athlete on the planet in Trevor Baptiste. The Wings need to dominate possessions and secure ball control throughout this game if they want to come out on top. Baptiste finished second in faceoff wins in the entire league this season with a whopping 68.2% of wins, only trailing Halifax Thunderbirds faceoff ace, Jake Withers. If Baptiste can win Philadelphia possessions and set up key drives during this game, the Wings may be punching a ticket to Colorado next week.
Crash The Goal
The Wings have big bodies on offense that can use their size and strength to get inside and create offense. For some reason, we haven't seen it used as much as a lot of people think the Wings should. Blaze Riorden, Crowley, Kiel Matisz, Corey Vitarelli, McIntosh and Matt Rambo all have big bodies that they can use to bounce off of defenders and get inside to create havoc on San Diego goalie Frank Scigliano. If Philly can utilize a combination of inside, close range shot attempts along with the outside games of Corey Small, Vitarelli, Crowley, and Kyle Jackson, the Wings offense could find itself clicking on all cylinders.
Protect Zach Higgins
I use the word "protect" in the sense of not leaving Higgins out to dry when San Diego is on the offensive. Higgins is one of the best goalies on the planet, but we've seen the Wings defense leave him out to dry multiple times this season. The Wings defense is going to be a massive X-Factor in determining if they move on to the Semifinals against Colorado. Philadelphia's defense needs to be tough, physical, and consistent against one of the better offenses, on paper, in the entire NLL.
A first round matchup with San Diego is no easy task, but the Wings have all the talent in the world, arguably the best coach on the planet, and the eagerness to go out, shock the world, and make a run at a title this season.