Minnesota Swarm turn to new youth in pursuit of National Lacrosse League title

The young Swarm were pleased with their preseason success and are eager to get 2014 rolling. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The young Swarm were pleased with their preseason success and are eager to get 2014 rolling. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)

There are a lot of young sticks in Minnesota, again. And despite that, the expectations are sky high, again. The Swarm have played, and lost, in division finals the last 2 seasons. So now it’s time to get past that and the Swarm are turning to a new crop of youngsters to help them do that. With 4 picks in the first round of the entry draft, Minnesota spread out the picks to add some depth to both ends of the floor as well as to replace some departed veterans were traded in the offseason. Usually, the infusion of so much youth raises questions about experience. But the Swarm have done this before and managed to do quite well, so that’s why the expectations heading into this new National Lacrosse League season are no different than the past.

Minnesota Swarm

2013: 7-9, lost to Rochester, 12-10, in East Division final.
Top 3 returning scorers: Callum Crawford (32 goals, 63 assists for 95 points), Shayne Jackson (24-39, 63), Kiel Matisz (29-33, 62).
Key Additions: D Mike Hobbins (free agency), T Cam Flint (draft), F Logan Schuss (draft), G Zach Higgins (free agent), D Jason Noble (draft), F Scott Jones (draft).
Key Departures: F Ryan Benesch (trade), G Evan Kirk (trade), D Mitch Belisle (protected list), F Andrew Watt (trade), F Jay Card (protected list), D Dan Ball (released), D Nik Bilic (trade), F Corbyn Tao (released).

Outlook: There’s been plenty of movement on the Swarm roster since the end of their 2013 season but if there’s anything we’ve come to expect from Minnesota, it’s player movement. The Swarm have done plenty of that in seasons past as they keep their emphasis on youth, which has paid off well as evidenced by last winter’s appearance in the East Division final. And heading into the 2014, that emphasis remains on the young guns, but there will be plenty of new young guns.

Gone are veterans Ryan Benesch and Andrew Watt, who were traded to Buffalo. Goalie Evan Kirk was traded to Philadelphia and Nik Bilic was shipped to Edmonton. In their stead are some very talented rookies as the Swarm had 4 first-round picks in the September draft. There’s no doubt that Logan Schuss, Jason Noble, Cam Flint and Scott Jones have talent, but how that talent works its way into the system is the bigger question. Crawford and Benesch gave the Swarm quite the 1-2 punch, but now it’s up to Schuss to step in and work with Crawford to keep that balanced threat intact.

Noble’s an active defenseman and Flint’s quickness adds even more depth to Minnesota’s deadly transition game that helped spark an attack that scored 219 goals last winter, second-most in the NLL. Jones tends to get lost in the shuffle because he was the team’s final pick of the first round, but he’s coming off a very solid WLA season with the Burnaby Lakers and knows how to finish. And at 6-foot-4, 225-pounds, he adds some very nice bulk up top.

Defensively, there’s some work to do as Minnesota allowed 202 goals and only 2 other NLL teams allowed more. So it’ll be interesting to see G Tyler Carlson work as the clear No. 1 goalie. He’s played 570 minutes and 498 minutes in his 2 NLL seasons as he platooned the last 2 seasons with Kirk. But coach Joe Sullivan says the job belongs to Carlson. Backup Higgins is a free agent rookie but no need to worry there; Carlson was too back in 2012. The loss of Bilic is the loss of some speed out of the back end, but the Swarm got a nice free agent pickup when Toronto released 6-year veteran Mike Hobbins, a Peterborough boy like coach Sullivan.

All of this said, one of the biggest reasons the Swarm can be optimistic is the return of captain Andrew Suitor. The gritty, do-it-all transition man played just 5 games in 2013 after an ACL injury, and his leadership by example is inspirational. It’ll be interesting to see Suitor back in action because he loves the game, and having it taken away the way it was has to have lit a fire in his belly. As if he needed that.

This 2014 edition of the Swarm will be a driven one. Suitor’s back and after losing in the division final 2 straight years, it’s time to get over that hump. And considering the Swarm have had 8 total first-round picks (that’s 8 of the last 19 overall first-round picks) in the last 2 entry drafts, it’s time for that talent to start paying bigger dividends than appearances in division finals. Can the Swarm do it? Of course they can. They have the talent. Now they just need to keep that talent focused and motivated.

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 bob.chavez@nllinsider.com or go to RochesterSports.com.

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