#94 Joel Henry
#85 Mitch Belisle
CALGARY, Alberta – Even without the No. 20 and the letter ‘C’ stitched on his jersey for a majority of Saturday’s road contest in Calgary, team captain Andrew Suitor still managed to do what he does best: lead the Minnesota Swarm.
After ripping his uniform during a fisticuff with Roughnecks transition player Geoff Snider in the first quarter, Suitor (2g) was forced to finish the game with D Joe Cinosky’s (inactive) No. 4 jersey. Luckily for head coach Joe Sullivan and the rest of the team, Suitor was still plenty noticeable out on the floor with another piece of equipment.
“You just can’t help but look for his yellow shoes,” Sullivan said. “You may not see the name or number, but you know the shoes.”
With his bright yellow shoes still intact, Suitor helped lead the Swarm (5-3) to a 15-11 road victory against the Calgary Roughnecks (5-3) at Scotiabank Saddledome. The win forced a two-way tie between the two teams for second place in the West Division.
“That’s why we made him our captain,” said Sullivan, who is now 2-0 as head coach of the Swarm. “He can do it all. The fight that he got in with Geoff Snider - one of the toughest guys in our league - was to stick up for a teammate. He put the team and his teammates before himself again.”
Suitor was everywhere on Saturday night. The second-year pro forced several turnovers, dove for loose balls and earned the Swarm extra possessions. He notched goals in transition while being surrounded by multiple defenders and in the first quarter, he stood his ground when Snider dropped his mitts.
It was a gutsy performance from the Swarm’s captain, as was the case for the rest of his teammates, who outworked and frustrated a Calgary team that is one of the toughest in the league – and they did so in the Roughnecks’ own barn.
“We have such a young group of guys that just play for each other,” Sullivan said. “We hustled to everything and it seemed like we had two Swarm players on every loose ball.”
Picked by many media members to finish near the bottom of the league in the standings, the Swarm now enters the midway point of the 2012 season tied for the second best record in the NLL. Minnesota’s 5-3 start is its best since 2008.
“We worked hard to get where we have got,” Sullivan said. “We are going to have to work harder because I still believe that we are the underdog team in this league. Teams are going to pay a little more attention to us now.”
Forward Ryan Benesch (4g, 3a) led all scorers with seven points and tied a season-high four goals. The league’s defending scoring champ tallied a hat trick in the first half and also added three assists on the night.
“Ryan took a heck of a beating tonight,” Sullivan said. “Obviously being one of the leading scorers on our team and in the league, he is going to attract a lot of attention. Calgary has a heck of a good defense and when they had the opportunity, they sent doubles to him. He was lined up typically with their best checkers. For him to get in the net as often as he did, feed the ball, and get the loose balls, it says a lot about Ryan because he’s not the biggest guy in our league.”
Rookie G Tyler Carlson (3-2) collected his third win of the season and stopped 32 of 43 shots in a complete game. Carlson was particularly impressive in the second half, holding the Roughnecks to just two goals during a 26-minute stretch. Sullivan said the team gave Carlson the start after a strong performance in practice. Earlier this week, fellow rookie G Evan Kirk collected Rookie of the Week honors and won Rookie of the Month for February.
“We always try to keep an open mind on practice,” Sullivan said. “Both of those guys worked so hard and they just love being around each other. It was a tough call, but Evan understands the situation and Tyler was more than happy to get the nod. He answered the bill and came prepared.”
Minnesota built an early 5-3 lead in the first quarter and virtually never looked back Saturday evening. Calgary made things interesting in the second quarter when it stormed back on a 4-1 run to take a 7-6 lead, but Minnesota recorded the final two goals in the second to regain momentum and entered halftime up 8-7.
In the third quarter, the Swarm broke the game open after scoring three unanswered goals to build an 11-7 lead. Prior to Saturday’s game, Minnesota was 4-0 when holding a lead after the third quarter. That record remained intact as the Swarm outscored their foe 3-2 in the final quarter.
Like it did in last week’s win against Washington, Minnesota once again used a balanced scoring attack to keep its opponent on its heels. Eight different players recorded goals for Minnesota, which included two a piece from Suitor, T Jordan MacIntosh (2g, 2a), F Callum Crawford (2g, 4a) and F Kevin Ross (2g, 2a). Transition player Rich Morgan (1g) also notched his first goal of the year after receiving a nice pass from D Nik Bilic (1a) to tally the game’s opening goal.
“Everybody in Minnesota knows when Rich gets going there’s not much that’s going to stop him except the end boards,” Sullivan said. “Nik gave him a great pass and Rich finished.”
Rookie forwards Jay Card (1g, 1a) and Corbyn Tao (1g, 1a) also tallied a goal in the win. Playing near his hometown of Cochrane, Alberta, rookie F Joel Henry added a game-high and career-high five assists. Crawford dished out four assists and now sits at 34 on the season, which is a team-high.
The Swarm finished 5-for-11 on power play chances and outshot Calgary 59 to 43. With the win, Minnesota tied the all-time series between the two teams at 5-5. The Swarm will host the Roughnecks on Treasure Island Field at Xcel Energy Center on Friday, March 30 at 7:30 p.m. CT.
Minnesota has now won its first two games on its four-game road trip that features trips to Buffalo (3/17) and Washington (3/25) up next. The Swarm has a bye next weekend.