Photo Credit: Alex Carroll
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Looking to build off its back-to-back victories last weekend, the Minnesota Swarm (3-2) will now get the opportunity to hand the undefeated Colorado Mammoth (5-0) its first loss of the season this Saturday, Feb. 18 on Treasure Island Field at Xcel Energy Center. Faceoff is set for 7 p.m. CT. Minnesota is 3-0 at home this season and is off to its best start at the Hive since 2008.
Saturday’s matchup will feature a showdown between the league’s top two offenses. Colorado heads into town averaging 14.2 goals per game, while Minnesota ranks second at 13.2. The Swarm’s 18 power play goals is also second-best in the NLL and the team has impressively notched a league-high six shorthanded goals in just five games.
The Swarm opened the 2012 regular season in Denver on Jan. 14 at Pepsi Center and fell to the Mammoth 20-14 in front of 14,106 fans. The game was close in the fourth quarter until Colorado went on a 6-1 run to hand Minnesota its first loss of the season. Forward Callum Crawford led the Swarm in scoring that evening with nine points (4g, 5a). Swarm coach Mike Lines said his team is excited to get a second chance against the league’s hottest team this weekend.
“We’re going to get a really good idea of where we stand,” Lines said. “We’re playing the last undefeated team in the league and this is a chance to get back at them for what happened in Colorado. I’m excited about it. It’s a big game for our team and we want to keep rolling.”
The Swarm collected their first winning streak of the season in Week #6 after defeating Edmonton (1-3) 10-9 in overtime on Friday and Rochester (2-4) 9-6 on Sunday. Heading into last weekend, Minnesota’s offense had been the center of attention. That changed when the Swarm’s defense allowed a combined 15 goals in two games.
“It was almost like everything we had been preaching came together at once,” Lines said. “We shored up a lot of our mistakes we had been making. I think with our defensive system that we’re trying, it’s going to take time… We blocked out better, and we did a lot of the little things that we need to do to become successful.”
A large part of the team’s success on defense can be credited to rookie goalies Tyler Carlson and Evan Kirk. Carlson logged 72 minutes and 23 seconds of action in the Swarm’s win against the Rush, which finished as the second longest game in NLL history. Kirk on the other hand was just as spectacular, stopping 46 of 52 shots (.885 SV%) in his first career NLL contest against the Knighthawks. On Wednesday, the two became the first goalie tandem in league history to collect Player of the Week awards in the same week: Carlson (Defensive Player of the Week) and Kirk (Rookie of the Week).
“Very seldom do you find rookie goaltenders at all ever coming in to play, let alone play as well as they have,” Lines explained. “Their confidence level is there, and they have the confidence from the guys behind them. They’re stopping the outside shots, and we’re not giving up some of the softer goals. It’s been impressive to watch.”
When asked how he will handle playing time between the two goalies, Lines admitted, “it’s a great problem to have.”
“We have no problem putting either one of the them in at any time,” he said. “It’s something we will take advantage of.”
On offense, Crawford and F Ryan Benesch continue to rank among the league’s leaders in scoring. Crawford is currently third in points (33) and assists (25). Benesch’s 15 goals are fifth best in the league. Minnesota is also getting plenty of scoring on transition this season from team captain T Andrew Suitor (7g) and rookie T Jordan MacIntosh (7g). All four players are headed to the All-Star game this season.
Minnesota’s defense will once again be put to the test this Saturday when the league’s leading scorer All-Star F John Grant Jr. (19g, 26a) comes to town. Grant is supported by fellow All-Star forwards Gavin Prout (7g, 19a) and rookie Adam Jones (15g, 11a) on offense. The Mammoth also feature a stellar goalie on their end in Chris Levis (5-0), who will start for the West in this year’s All-Star Game on Feb. 25 in Buffalo.
“They have a really good mix of young guys and then they have a guy like John Grant Jr., who has been the top player in this league without a doubt,” Lines explained.
Minnesota had won five straight contests against Colorado until it lost on Jan. 14. The Mammoth leads the all-time series at 6-5 and is 4-2 at Xcel Energy Center.
Roll into the Hive on Saturday for the second annual doubleheader with the Minnesota RollerGirls. Fans are invited to stick around after the Swarm game to watch the RollerGirls compete. Early arriving women will receive a gift from Sanctuary SalonSpa. Tickets to attend both events start as low as $22. For more information, visit mnswarm.com/rollergirls or call 1-888-MN-SWARM.
Saturday’s contest against Colorado will air as a delayed broadcast on Channel 45 on Feb. 26 at 4p.m. Fans can watch last Sunday’s win against Rochester this Sunday, Feb. 19 at 4 p.m. Fans not in attendance for this weekend’s game can watch LIVE on the NLL Network on nll.com.
vs. Colorado Mammoth (5-0)
Treasure Island Field
Xcel Energy Center - St. Paul, Minn.
Time: 7 p.m. CT
TV: Channel 45 (Delayed Broadcast - Sunday, Feb. 26 at 4 p.m.)
Radio: SAM 101.5 FM (Brainerd Lakes Area)
Online: NLL Network (http://new.livestream.com/coloradomammoth)