Losing is difficult. How you respond and adapt to that adversity shows your true character.
The Albany FireWolves have been eliminated from playoff contention in the 2022-23 NLL Season. Yet, that hasn’t deterred seasoned veteran Brett Manney and the 3-13 FireWolves from leaving everything on the floor in the attempt to play the role of spoilers.
After starting the year with a triumphant win against one of the preseason favorites to win the NLL Cup, the Buffalo Bandits, on the opposition’s home floor, the FireWolves would pull off another road victory against the talented Halifax Thunderbirds in Atlantic Canada.
Those two East Conference upsets had the FireWolves sitting at 2-2 a month into the season. Despite some noticeable absences, things were looking good at the start of the year. The FireWolves had overhauled the offensive side of their roster in the offseason and, very early into the season, were already dealing with critical injuries to core players such as Joe Nardella.
“The feeling in the locker room was that we can compete with anyone,” Manney said. “To play at Buffalo and win and then to travel to Halifax – we had a lot of issues there in regards to travel, lost gear bags – and being able to deal with adversity, it demonstrated the character of our group.”
Only a week later, everything started to unravel. The FireWolves would go on to be the victim of a 10-game losing streak. A couple of those games definitely stung more than others, like their 20-4 loss to the Georgia Swarm or their 13-5 loss to the Philadelphia Wings. Two weeks ago, the FireWolves snapped their lengthy losing skid with an impressive 14-12 victory over the Rochester Knighthawks. Unfortunately, the FireWolves couldn’t get a win streak going and they lost to the Swarm (again) in Week 20.
No player or team ever expects to have a record of 3-13 16 games into a season, even when that team has suffered multiple injuries and there’s been a tremendous amount of turnaround from the year before. The FireWolves have had so many guys have to sit out of the lineup for one reason or another that they’ve only had two players participate in every game this season (Patrick Kaschalk and Colton Watkinson).
“Every week, it felt like we lost another guy or someone was sick and couldn’t play,” Manney said. “There wasn’t enough chemistry to build on, considering we had so many new faces. That made it very difficult to find a rhythm and find some consistency. I think it steamrolled and got us to where we are today. We had moments where we played good lacrosse, but that wasn’t sustained over time.”
Going through a losing streak of that magnitude would be difficult for any team, and it’s especially difficult for guys in the final phases of their careers hoping to win a title before they hang it up and retire.
Manney has been in a similar position to this before. In 2015, Manney and the New England Black Wolves went 4-14. After winning their first two games of the year (including their season- opener against the Bandits), they went 2-12.
Only a handful of active players in the NLL have been in this league for more than a dozen seasons and still haven’t won an NLL championship. An even smaller group of guys have yet to compete in an NLL Finals after playing in the NLL for over a dozen years. Manney is one of those veteran players.
“It’s tough,” Manney said. “It’s one thing when you’re 24 or 25 years old knowing that you’re going through this stretch because you know you have your career ahead of you and continue to make a name for yourself, then when you’re 37… You try to be optimistic and get guys to play for each other. Most importantly, you try and keep everyone together and share a message, no matter what that is.”
“Our team understands where we are. It’s not like we’re playing to try and lose – we’re playing to win – we just keep coming out on the wrong end more often than not.”
Manney emphasized how rare it is to have the opportunity to play alongside a great group of guys for an entire season. Regardless of the team’s record, this FireWolves squad is closer than ever. Through thick and thin, these guys stuck by each other’s side on and off the floor.
Whether it’s being deeply engaged in practices or video sessions or getting the boys together away from the arena to enjoy each other’s company, these guys never miss an opportunity to be there for each other.
For Manney, John LaFontaine has been one of the guys that has made his time with this organization so great. These two have been teammates since the 2017-18 season and they have also been members of the leadership group for a number of years. During the week, these guys are talking shop and trading life stories and advice. These veterans have grown to together as players and as men in the several years they’ve played on the same team.
At the end of the day, the more teammates can understand each other, learn to work together and enjoy being around each other, the better off that team will be (most of the time). Teams that are the opposite of that are usually doomed to fail. Ultimately, though, playing in the NLL is a job, and the goal is to win.
Manney and his brothers will not stop trying to do their job, even with their record the way it is. For months, the coaching staff has been preaching a message of playing into the role of the snaky underdog and trying to spoil results for teams who can still make the postseason – the win against the Knighthawks was a prime example.
“You’ve signed up to do a job,” Manney said. “You’re not going to quit it even if you know what the final result will be at the end of the season. We’re still here to finish what we’re supposed to do.”
“Keep playing hard because teams are going to overlook us.”
No one is more on board to commit to this goal than Manney. He has given so much to this organization, whether with the original Philadelphia Wings, who became the Black Wolves, or when he was giving it his all for these FireWolves, who were the Black Wolves.
He wants to win his first championship with this organization, and that’s motivating him to stick around. He wants to win with as many of his current FireWolves brothers as he can. Their struggles together will make winning together taste all the more sweet.
By Adam Levi