His team featured an incredible 16 new faces this season after completing a systematic overhaul of an 8-8 playoff club in the off-season. His recent top five draft picks all played key roles for his team this season. He gambled on two rookie goaltenders to backstop his team, winning big with that approach. His team will play this weekend, hosting the West Division final as the top seed remaining on that side, just one win away from a Champion’s Cup appearance. And just for an exclamation point, he has four first-round picks in the upcoming draft — no, you didn’t read that wrong — four. An impressive list, indeed. Minnesota Swarm owner, president and GM John Arlotta added another accolade to his credit Tuesday when he was named the NLL’s GM of the Year.
However, while Arlotta had every right to brag — especially since many pundits thought his off-season overhaul was tantamount to franchise suicide — he did the exact opposite, remaining humble and reserved and instead deflecting credit away from himself and onto others.
“It’s nice, but it’s really an organizational award,” said Arlotta. “I really believe strongly organizations win together. Our organization has done a good job from top to bottom. And, of course, the biggest thing is the team believed in themselves and went out and did it. So really it’s other people. I just happen to be the guy with the plaque, I guess.”
Arlotta is obviously selling his role in the team’s turnaround short. While it took an entire organization to get it to where it is now, it was Arlotta who had to pull the trigger on the top-to-bottom overhaul with a team some didn’t think was broken, one that was instead on the cusp of a breakout. He shouldered the risk of dismantling it and proceeding with a rebuild.
“You never know when you make change how long it will take, whether it’s in business or in sports,” said Arlotta. “I just believed we had gotten as far as we could get the way we were doing it before and we needed to do it different and really wanted a fast, athletic team. It wasn’t that hard a decision, but I certainly didn’t know it would come together this quickly,” before later adding “sure, I was nervous.”
So as if all that wasn’t enough, they also had the ‘Cosmo Saga’ hanging over them. That would have been enough for most folks. Arlotta, however, felt he needed to make another big change six games into the season with the Swarm sitting .500. He released head coach Mike Lines and replaced him with Joe Sullivan.
Again, it was a move that could have backfired with the young Minny squad. It didn’t. Sullivan was named coach of the year Wednesday.
“You can be in and around a locker-room and among a team and figure out if it’s clicking yet,” said Arlotta. “It was really less about Mike Lines and more about Joe Sullivan. Joe developed the programs we put in place in training camp. He’s been managing people for a long time like that in his business. I just felt with a young team a guy like Joe would be better able to manage young guys who hadn’t been through it before. Nothing against Mike. He just didn’t have that same experience. Everybody loved Mike, so it was tough from that standpoint. But in my heart I knew Joe would do what he’s done. So, to me it was far less risky than intially changing the team up.”
The players responded every time another obstacle was thrown in front of them. Perhaps the adversity helped them grow as a team?
“In a sense, I’d say yes,” responded captain Andrew Suitor, who had his finest season as a pro this campaign. “You hit the nail on the head. We only worried about who was in our room, and what was said in our room was all we were going to listen to. It didn’t matter if other people believed in us. We believed in us and we were playing for each other, our management and our ownership.”
Said offensive leader Ryan Benesch: “We had a close to total rebuild. That provides a lot of challenges. But everybody stepped up and answered the bell. The rookies that have come in and played for us haven’t played like rookies. They’ve played like seasoned vets. Everyone did their part.”
The fact his players got on board and stayed on board as the franchise changed directions and weaved through the season is particularly impressive to Arlotta, who is thankful for that.
“They really bought into the change … they embraced it,” said Arlotta. ”They didn’t take what everybody was saying about them to heart. Instead they said we’re going to work hard, get better every shift, get better every game and we can win with this group of guys. I give all the credit to the players.”
Before getting off the phone with this writer, Arlotta wanted to reiterate the point he started the conversation with.
“I want to emphasize this isn’t an award for me, it’s an award for the Minnesota Swarm,” said Arlotta. “I truly in my heart believe that. It starts with people in the ticket office who get more fans in the door … to the players when they are on the floor, the coaches, guys behind the scenes like my son (Andy Arlotta, co-owner and vice-president), the trainers … everybody has an impact on what was accomplished this year.”
BRING ON THE RUSH
While the Swarm’s season to date has been impressive, the end goal is still a championship. The next obstacle in the way is the Edmonton Rush, who are fresh off a 19-11 thrashing of the top-seeded Roughnecks. The Swarm dumped the No.-2 seed Colorado Mammoth 14-10.
The teams split their season series, both games going to OT. The Swarm edged the Rush 10-9 on Feb. 10 in Minny and Edmonton prevailed 9-8 on March 31 at Rexall. They were pretty even during the season and both clubs appear to be peaking in the post-season. All adds up to a recipe for an awesome playoff tilt.
“They are a team we have the utmost respect for,” said Suitor. “We had two great games against them … we expect a battle.”
The captain had a chance to watch the game tape from Edmonton’s win over Calgary and was suitably impressed.
“Their offence is clicking on all cylinders right now,” said Suitor. “And their defence, at the core, is unbelievable. Kyle Rubisch, Chris Corbeil, Brett Mydske down there — just about anybody would take those three guys to build a defence with. Boldy (Aaron Bold) has been incredible all year. So, no joke, it’s going to be both team’s A games. We have to capitalize on our opportunities, and stop them from getting opportunities.”
Benesch added while watching game tape and breaking down the Rush is great, they have to remain focused on their game and not get away from what got them to this point.
“We don’t want to change a whole lot of what we’re doing,” said Benesch. “We know Boldy is playing great and they have a big, strong defence. It’s going to be a war. All we can do is stick to our style of game.”The assistant managing editor of the Calgary Sun, Pilson began covering the NLL when the Roughnecks started in 2000. The longtime lacrosse player has been contributing to Inside Lacrosse ever since. Email him at email@example.com or go to CalgarySun.com.
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