Ryan Benesch #21
There’s never been a pre-season when the countdown to opening day on the Swarm website (www.mnswarm.com) has been watched with more intensity and anticipation than this pre-season. After a nearly complete overhaul of last year’s team (more than half of the 23-man roster wasn’t in a Swarm uniform last year), this year’s team is one that’s peaked every Swarm fan’s interest like never before. From the top of the organization all the way down to me, your humble Professor, the excitement is palpable. “Our team now has more character than any team we’ve ever had”, says Co-Owner and Vice President Andy Arlotta. “They’re the hardest working group we’ve ever seen, they understand structure, there’s a ton of leadership, they’re hungry to prove themselves and they’re awesome lacrosse players. I’m very excited to see what they can do.”
After a training camp that everyone involved said was the most intense in the eight-year history of the team, two preseason games vs. Rochester and Toronto and the team’s season-opening 20-14 loss to the Colorado Mammoth, the home opener at Treasure Island Field on Saturday is our first chance to see the team in all its glory. “We learned a lot in our loss in Colorado,” says Swarm Assistant Coach Aime Caines. “A lot of our guys had never played a professional indoor lacrosse game in front of a big hostile crowd so I’m proud of what I saw. I remember my first NLL game back in 1999… until that first shift, that first hit, there are so many butterflies. But they’re gone now… believe me, they’re gone now.”
As expected, the offense this season will revolve around last year’s scoring champion Ryan “Benny” Benesch (#21). Everyone expects to hear Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” blaring often in the raucous Hive, but Benny knows last year is history… and it’s time to create a new bit of history this season. “One thing I know for sure,” says Benesch, “This is a team game. No one guy is going to win a game all by himself. I’ve got such a good feeling for this year’s team. We’re young and we’re hungry… we’re gonna be the hardest working team in the NLL this year, you can count of that.”
Benny scored a hat trick in the opener against the Mammoth, bested only by the four goal outburst from returning scoring stud Callum Crawford (#98). Also scoring in Colorado were returning forwards Jamie Shewchuk (#19) and Kevin Ross (#71). This veteran quartet will carry the bulk of the scoring load but Caines has high hopes for two incoming forwards as well; Corbyn Tao (#84) and Jay Card (#77). “Corbyn and Jay each scored their first NLL goal,” says Caines. “But their lack of experience got to them in Colorado. They didn’t stand out like they did during training camp. They played well but they’ll get better and become the players we know they’re capable of becoming."
Here’s Caines on:
Jay Card: “He has one of the hardest shots we’ve ever seen. Rumor has it he can top 105 mph… that’s second only to Paul Rabil who won the hardest shot competition in back-to-back NLL skills competitions (2009 and 2010) with a world record 111 mph cannon. Jay can really let it rip”
Corbyn Tao: “Corbyn has the potential to be one of the bright young stars in this league. As a member of the Native American community, he’s played the game since he was a kid and knows how important the game is to his community. Corbyn’s upside is unlimited… we’re very excited about his abilities and what he can bring to the team.”
Probably the strongest facet of this year’s Swarm team is their transition game. As Caines says, that unit is among the best in the league which is essential since the Swarm want to push the ball in transition more than any other year. The talented transition group is led by newly elected Captain #20 Andrew “Suits” Suitor (Caines: “He’s just a born leader even though this is only his second year in the league and his mouthpiece hangs out of his mouth like a fish hook”), while the team retained All Star #22 Andrew Watt (16 goals in 13 games last season) and #11 Rich “Toyota Tundra” Morgan (with 8 years in the NLL, he’s the team’s longest standing veteran) and also brought in newcomer #24 Jordan MacIntosh who scored his first NLL goal against Colorado.
While the offense has some new faces, it’s the defense that has undergone the most radical changes. But the returning anchors are well known throughout the league as two of the best; Joe Cinosky (#4) and Matt Kelly (#13). But of all the new faces, it’s defenseman Jeff Gilbert (#43) who’ll make the most difference on D. Gilbert, picked up in the dispersal draft over the summer after winning the Champion’s Cup with Toronto last year, is expected to have an immediate impact on the defense. “He’s a veteran leader,” says Caines. “He knows what it takes to win. And since we’re so young on D, we need our experienced guys like Jeff to step up. We saw against Colorado that we can make mistakes on offense and not score goals, but if we make mistakes on defense, it’ll cost us a goal. That’s a huge difference in the game… and after we let in 20 against Colorado, we know we need to tighten things up on D. And we will.”
And finally… as Bruce Cusick asks… “Who’s that goaltender?” The answer this year… it’ll be a three-headed monster in net. Backing up returning veteran Nick Patterson (#93) are two rookies; Tyler Carlson (#30) and Evan Kirk (#35). Unlike last year when it was practically all Patty, this year look for him to get some significant backup from these two superstars in the making.
Up first for the new look Swarm… perennial thorn in our side Buffalo. But as Caines says… there’s no better way to see where this team is than by playing the Bandits. “Not much has changed with them… they’re still a rugged Eastern Division team, but after what I saw in Colorado for the first three quarters, I like our chances. If we cut down on the mistakes and penalties, and jell like I know we can… this team can beat anybody. “
A new look, new uniforms, renewed character, intensity and focus. Kinda makes the countdown go a bit quicker, doesn’t it?