Swarm players line up for a drill on Thursday morning.
Several minutes into Thursday night’s scrimmage at the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, Swarm coaches might have been wondering if Ryan Benesch had somehow managed to slip into the action for a guest appearance at Rookie Camp.
You see, a lefty forward with a silky smooth shot was making it look easy on the floor, tallying goal after goal.
A closer look to the sidelines, and one could indeed spot the NLL's reigning scoring champion sitting on the bench with a stick in his hands.
There was only one problem. Benesch wasn’t suited up.
So who was this guy with an eerily similar playing style?
Well oddly enough it was a Benesch, just not Ryan, but rather his younger brother Eric, who was one of 24 walk-ons trying out for the Swarm.
The 23-year-old ended up making the most of his opportunity on Thursday and earned a spot on the Swarm’s main camp roster.
“I’m happy for him,” (Ryan) Benesch said. “I thought he played pretty well. He had a couple of nice goals. Obviously just like anybody else, he still has a few things he needs to work on.”
The Swarm ended up keeping nine walk-ons from its scrimmage that also featured both draft picks and free agents. The two teams were mixed together and NLL referees officiated the contest.
Eric wasn’t drafted or signed by the Swarm, as was the case for all the walk-ons in attendance, but that hardly mattered to him.
“I didn’t get picked up in the draft. I wanted to prove to myself that I could take it to the next level,” he said. “So far so good.”
Having his brother in attendance (Eric) Benesch admitted was a calming factor.
“It’s always nice to have family in the stands,” he said. “He supports me and he's been helping my game. I look up to him a lot.”
Fellow Swarm lefty Kevin Ross was also present for the scrimmage, and is looking forward to seeing another Benesch in camp this weekend.
“Having another personality around similar to Ryan, who is such a selfless guy, is definitely another positive for us.”
So what kind of advice did the older Benesch pass along after the good news?
“All he needs to know is to keep trying hard. Hopefully he gives that effort every night and maybe he can crack this team,” (Ryan) Benesch said.
Thursday as a whole was a success for the Swarm.
The day started out with a one-hour tutorial for its draft picks and free agents to ensure that everyone was on the same page.
Coaches and players alike all agreed afterwards that it was a great confidence builder for everyone involved.
“It was a long day, but it was good to meet everyone,” Jordan MacIntosh said, the Swarm’s top draft pick. “The practices went well. The scrimmage was pretty quick and there was a lot of transition. We’re going to be young and I think a lot of our young guys played pretty well today. We’re excited to get main camp started.”
Corbyn Tao, the Swarm’s 12th overall selection, echoed similar enthusiasm, “It was good. I’m excited to be here. Everyone competed hard and it was good to get some chemistry going with the young guys to see what everyone has to offer.”
Pat Saunders, a 22-year-old free agent the Swarm signed this offseason out of the WLA, added that this year's camp was not short on competition.
“The thing about camp is that it’s everyone for themselves,” he said. “You can be buddies off the floor, but when it comes down to it, this is a job and you have come out and play hard.”
When the walk-ons arrived later in the afternoon for the second portion of Rookie Camp, the arena's atmosphere intensified.
“These guys were so to speak living the dream,” Associate General Manager Joe Sullivan said. “At 4 o’clock, they had to bring it or go home.”
When the scrimmage concluded, Swarm coaches were more than pleased with the day's results.
“We originally had planned on bringing in six players to main camp, but honestly the tempo, the intensity...everything that we were looking for was there. We didn’t have to ask guys twice to go do what we had laid out ahead of time.
“These guys (walk-ons) are pushing for a job and they are for real. They aren’t just walk-ons who are going to help us fill out our camp. This is good news for us.”
Watching the scrimmage from the sidelines also impressed both (Ryan) Benesch and Ross, and got the two of them looking forward to this weekend.
“It was good to see that kind of effort and intensity," Benesch said. "I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”
Ross added, “Obviously we are going to have a lot of new guys on the roster this year and after watching the free agents and rookies today, I think there are definitely guys at every position that can step in. It was great to see guys pushing themselves.”
Benesch and Ross among others will have added responsibilities this upcoming season. With many veterans no longer on the team, several of the Swarm’s younger players will now be considered, the veterans.
“We lost some veterans, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that guys like myself, Kevin, Callum, Watt, and Cino can’t step up," Benesch said. "We'll make sure everything is going right and guys are giving 110% effort.”
Walk-ons invited to main camp this weekend
D Brodie Barfoot
F Eric Benesch
D Dan Ball
F Aaron Grayson
D Michael Brascia
D Brendon Doran
D Dustin Dunn
D Joe Wasson
D Dave Cutten
Note: Minnesota's training camp roster features a total of 40 players, the league maximum.