Of the 18 first-round entry draft picks made by National Lacrosse League teams in the 2011 and 2012, 6 of them belonged to the Minnesota Swarm. All 6 have paid handsome dividends for the Swarm during their time in the NLL, but there’s a nagging feeling of something missing. Because for all the talent the Swarm has added, they’re still lacking an NLL championship even though they’ve come closer the last 2 seasons than they ever have. We’re talking about losses in the division final in both seasons, of course, and last year’s loss to Rochester had to be especially bitter. The Swarm came into the postseason on a hot streak, winning 4 of their last 6 regular season games, then started the playoffs with a thumping of Toronto in the first round. But the Swarm ran into a Rochester Knighthawks defense in the East Division final, just short of their ultimate dream. Let’s rewind and take a look at 2013 and what went right, and what went wrong for the Swarm.
A 2-4 start wasn’t exactly what the Swarm — or any team — envisions, but it could have easily been much different. Five of the first 6 games were decided by a goal and the Swarm lost 3 of those contests. Youth in the lineup may have been the culprit as the young Swarm adjusted to a new level of lacrosse, but the squad was faced with another adjustment when captain Andrew Suitor, the heart and soul of the team, was lost after Week 5 with a knee injury. Throw in a 3-game losing streak, where the Swarm was outscored 44-32 and dropped its record to 3-7, and the outlook was bleak. But the Swarm caught fire in a big way, winning 4 of their final 6 games. And it didn’t just win, it rolled. In the 4 wins, Minnesota outscored opponents by a combined 70-35 and the 2 losses were by a combined 4 goals. So it’s pretty clear that the Swarm had found their groove and that carried over to the first round of the playoffs with a 20-11 win over Toronto. The magic dried up in Rochester, though, with a 12-10 loss as Minnesota (via the cross-over rule for the playoffs) ended its season losing in the conference final for the second straight year.
With 14 players in either their first or second NLL seasons, the Swarm had some teaching to do. But they also had the luxury of stockpiled draft picks that gave them 4 first-round picks in the 2012 entry draft, which means that although they were young, they were talented. Still, the front door revolved around the veteran presence of Callum Crawford on the right and Ryan Benesch on the left, and lead they did. Crawford paced the team with 95 points (32-63), which was fourth-most in the NLL, and Benesch was next with 84 (34-50). The next 2 leading scorers were rookies in Shayne Jackson (24-39, 63) and Kiel Matisz (29-33, 62), while second-year man Jordan MacIntosh (27-28, 55) added solid scoring along with dependable work at faceoffs (55%) and a team-leading 197 loose balls, which also ranked No. 2 in the league. With 9 more players scoring in double digits, the Swarm brought it from all sorts of different angles and that added up to an offense that scored 219 goals, second-most in the NLL that also set a franchise record for most goals in a season. What hurt Minnesota the most, however, was slow starts. The team scored just 41 cumulative goals in the first quarter, second-fewest in the NLL, and was losing at the end of the first quarter in 9 games, which ranked as second-most in the league. In those 9 games, Minnesota had a 2-7 record.
Defence and Goaltending
Only 3 teams had fewer PIMs that Minnesota’s 277, so the Swarm were knew how to keep themselves in check when checking. But the 202 goals allowed had to be of some concern, considering it was tied for fourth-most in the NLL. The slow starts that plagued the offense also were seen on defense as the Swarm allowed league-high 53-cumulative goals in the first quarter. Opponents shot 25% (202-for-786) against the Swarm and the goals-against numbers for goalies Tyler Carlson (11.04) and Evan Kirk (14.47) suffered for it. Like the offense, the defense had plenty of youth like rookies Brock Sorensen and Alex Crepinsek who saw plenty of time, but it was the presence of veterans like Jeff Gilbert, Nik Bilic, Tyler Hass (team-leading 23 forced turnovers), Mitch Belisle, Greg Downing and Dan Ball who steadied the unit. Losing Andrew Watt for the month of April and Andrew Suitor for the season (after 5 games) to injuries left big voids to fill and a lack of consistency on the back end left the Swarm ranked fourth in the NLL at 12.63 goals-allowed per game. That’s almost exactly 1 goal less than the offense’s average of 13.69, which helps explain the 5 games decided by 1 goal.
The power play was right in the middle of the pack. The 77 chances, 39 goals and 51% all ranked as fourth-best in the NLL. Considering the Swarm was just 1 of 4 NLL teams to convert at better than 50%, it’s not too bad as Matisz (11) and Benesch (10) combined for 21 of the 39 power play goals. The downers were another story for the Swarm, and it’s not a very happy one. The 44 power-play goals allowed tied for third-most in the NLL and the 41% kill percentage ranked next-to-last with only the Rush being worse at 40%. Helping to offset the lack of killing, somewhat, was the transition guys scoring 13 short-handed goals, second-most in the NLL. Although the Swarm did allow 11 shorties, third-most in the league. Improvement across the board would have helped the Swarm, but the glaring weakness came with the downers.
The addition of Josh Gillam in mid-March after his hockey season in Germany gave the offense a boost as he provided 19 points (4-15) in his 6 games and the Swarm went 4-2 with the lefty in the lineup. The rest of the lineup was pretty steady throughout, although Suitor was placed on injured reserve in early March. Other than that, it was the usual taxi of players going back and forth between the practice squad, being released, then being activated in one form or another. Michael O’Brien was released a total of 3 times during the season and Joel Henry got that news twice and rank among the team leaders in movement.Chavez is an avid lacrosse player in Rochester and a journalist for the Democrat and Chronicle as well as a longtime Inside Lacrosse contributor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to RochesterSports.com.
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