Don’t tell the Minnesota Swarm, or Ryan Benesch, that their offense is struggling

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Ryan Benesch, always a polite and gracious interviewee, took a bit of an exception with the word ’struggling.’ With his team averaging 12 goals a game this season, I asked him why the Swarm’s attack (held to just nine goals in a loss to Colorado last weekend) was ’struggling’ a bit so far this year, not scoring as much as some pundits — this one included — had expected. “I wouldn’t say we’ve been struggling,” said Benesch. “We did struggle last week … it was one of those weeks we couldn’t buy a goal. But, for the most part, we’ve done pretty well so far.” He’s right. They have done pretty well. They’ve scored 15 goals and 12 goals twice in their other three games. However, their 1-3 record is courtesy of a pair of one-goal losses, with their lone victory coming by a single goal. Pretty well just doesn’t cut it these days, especially in the NLL’s West Division.

Calgary is averaging 15.2 goals a game, Colorado 13.25, Edmonton 13 and Washington 12 (thanks in big part to being held to just six goals in a loss to Rochester on the weekend). Of course, if the Swarm played in the East, those 12 goals a game would be better than every club except Buffalo (12.2), and way better than last-place Rochester (9.75).

Still, averaging one more goal a game could and would likely mean a record of 3-1 for Minny, not 1-3.

“Definitely not the start we wanted,” agreed Benesch. “But better to get these losses out of the way now instead of the end of the season. Obviously 1-3 isn’t where we wanted to be. And we shouldn’t be. We’ve lost two one-goal games … and I say we lost them because we did lose them. We were up both games going into the fourth quarter and just kind of gave up and gave them the game.”

Benesch leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and 22 assists. Rookie Shayne Jackson is next with seven goals and 19 points, followed by Callum Crawford — who sat out Saturday’s loss with a hamstring injury — with five goals and 16 points. The Swarm’s other big off-season offensive draft pick — Kiel Matisz — has seven goals and 14 points, coming on strong in the team’s last few games.

The scoring really drops off after that when it comes to the club’s forwards. The next three leading scorers are all transition guys, including Jordan MacIntosh in fifth with six goals and two helpers. Secondary scoring like that is essential to success in today’s NLL, but you’d still like to see more production from the other guys paid to put the ball in the net.

But, turning back to the glass half-full outlook, the play of Jackson and Matisz has been exactly what Swarm fans and team brass had hoped for.

“For sure,” said Benesch. “Kiel and Shayne have come in and they’ve played great. They’ve done everything that has been expected. We’re going to rely on those two guys a lot as the season goes on. Unfortunately for them, they’re thrown right into the fire. But they deserve credit for how well they’ve played so far.”

Matisz was quick to give credit to Benesch and Crawford for the two rookies relatively quick transition into the NLL.

“It’s been a smooth adjustment on the offence this year, guys like Ryan Benesch and Callum Crawford have given the two of us some pointers,” said Matisz. “All the veterans on the team have allowed us to be ourselves and have helped us find our own roles on our team. I believe because of our teammates it’s allowed Shayne, the other rookies and I to be comfortable immediately.”

To be fair, the Swarm have fought injuries this season which has hampered their attack. But that has also allowed for Matisz and Jackson to shine given the extra responsibility they have shouldered.

“I’ve had a unique start to playing in the NLL,” said Matisz. “I’ve been asked to play a variety of roles on this team and they have differed every week. One of my goals at the beginning of the year was to concentrate on the role I’m given in that moment. I’d say my start in the NLL has been a successful one, but I always am continuing to find ways to improve and make more of an impact on my team and around the league.”

So, in conclusion Swarm fans, it’s still early in the season and there’s many positives for Minny to build off.

“I would think people think we’re still underdogs,” said Benesch. “Half our team is coming in either their first year in the league of their second year in the league. We’re a young team and we’re still learning. The additions we made made us a much better team than last year but right now we’re not doing what we’re supposed to. We’re not winning games and that’s on us. We just have to change that.”

QUICK STICKS: Kudos to Matt Roik — he answered the bell against the Swarm. After the Mammoth released Chris Levis earlier in the week and handed the No.-1 title to Roik, he played solid stopping 36 of 44 shots he faced … Illegal equipment calls suck. There, I said it … Didn’t realize what a cannon Dhane Smith had. Heavy, heavy shot … Further to that, here’s an idea for the all-star game: Have a hardest shot contest between hand-picked players. Fly in the top five or six hardest shots, regardless of whether they made the all-star roster … The Bandits should be using Tracey Kelusky more like Shawn Williams, less like the fifth option on the floor on attack. They are wasting his talent … Garrett Billings can sure paint a corner from the outside. He’s been missing the net more often than normal this year, but it’s often by mere inches trying to go top shelf, both near and far side. Unlike many shooters in the NLL, he rarely, if ever, puts one into the goalie’s belly pad … Mark Steenhuis was on fire Saturday night. He was lethal in transition but you can’t help but wonder if he shouldn’t be taking more O shifts, too? … Epic goaltending battle between Matt Vinc and Tyler Richards Saturday. Arguably the game’s two best put on a clinic … Speaking of that game, Lewis Ratcliff, Rhys Duch, Athan Iannucci, Dan Dawson, Cody Jamieson and Casey Powell combined for 59 shots but just six goals. Stealth defender Mike Grimes led all players with three points in the tilt … The Roughnecks have now scored 53 goals in their last three games. That’s an average of 17.67 per outing … Gavin Prout is off to a great start for the Mammoth. He’s fifth in the league with 19 assists and second in team scoring with 24 points … Despite missing one game to a suspension and struggling in his first tilt back still battling a neck injury, Dane Dobbie has scored 12 goals and 22 points in four games … Ratcliff leads the league in shoots with 89. Junior is second with 78 and Iannucci third with 77. Tied for third with Nooch? Billings. Many wanted the assist machine to shoot more. He’s doing just that.

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 ty.pilson@nllinsider.com or go to CalgarySun.com.

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