Kevin Ross (right) and Joel Henry (left) stepped up last weekend with Minnesota's leading goal scorer - Ryan Benesch - missing action. Photo Credit: Alex Carroll
SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Swarm (5-7) plays its final road contest of the 2012 season this Friday, April 6 against the East Division-leading Philadelphia Wings (7-5) at Wells Fargo Center. Faceoff is set for 6 p.m. CST and fans can tune in LIVE on the NLL Network by visiting NLL.com.
Friday’s matchup is the first meeting between the two teams in 2012. The Swarm is scheduled to meet Philadelphia again on April 21 at Treasure Island Field for Hive Cares Night. Swarm players will sport black jerseys that evening in an effort to “Black Out” against cancer. Proceeds from the night will benefit the Randy Shaver Cancer Research and Community Fund.
Minnesota has not faced the Wings since last April, where it won 11-9 at Xcel Energy Center. The victory sparked a two-game winning streak and helped the Swarm finish the 2011 season with a .500 record at 8-8. Minnesota is hoping for a similar result when it meets the Wings this Friday, having dropped its last four games, including three on the road. A victory this weekend would move the Swarm to 6-7 before the team plays their final three regular season games at home.
“It’s going to be a real challenge and it’s a game that we have to absolutely get up for and match the energy of this Philadelphia team,” head coach Joe Sullivan said.
With the playing status of F Ryan Benesch (25g, 29a) still up in the air due to a concussion, Minnesota could be shorthanded on offense for the second straight week.
“He’s feeling better, but he’s still day-to-day,” Sullivan said. “Until he’s good to go, we’re not going to put him in harms way.”
Minnesota received solid production from lefty forwards Kevin Ross, Joel Henry and Josh Gillam in Benesch’s absence last week. Ross tallied a team-high nine points (4g, 5a) in two games, while Henry (2g, 1a) and Gillam (1g, 2a) each performed well in one game of action.
“We’re real confident with the guys that we have to put in there,” Sullivan said on the NLL’s media conference call on Wednesday. “...On that side of the floor, it’s going to take a collective effort.”
If there’s been one consistent problem for Minnesota as of late, it’s been getting off to slow starts, Sullivan noted.
“Honestly we just have to come out better,” he added. “If you look at the way we’ve finished each game that we’ve lost over the last four games, it’s been better than how we’ve started.”
While slow starts have been an issue, Minnesota has had no problems working its way back into games as Sullivan mentioned. Last weekend, the Swarm erased early deficits against Calgary and Edmonton to tie both games in the fourth quarter.
“We need to get back to the things that we were doing to be successful early in the year, which was attention to detail and focus,” Sullivan said.
When asked about this week’s opponent, Sullivan called Philadelphia, “the Eastern version of Colorado,” implicating that the Wings will test his squad in all facets on the floor.
Philadelphia’s offense features one of the deepest lineups in the league with F Dan Dawson leading the charge with a league-high 68 assists. Dawson is supported by the No. 1 overall pick from the 2011 NLL Entry Draft in F Kevin Crowley (33g, 27a), and forwards Brendan Mundorf (23g, 31a) and Drew Westervelt (29g, 14a). On transition, the Wings acquired All-Star T Brodie Merrill (116 LB) in the offseason and feature the league’s third best draw man in T Jeff Reynolds (58.7%).
After a dominating performance on defense in Edmonton, the Swarm is hoping that momentum carries over this weekend. Rookie G Evan Kirk was named Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for his lights out performance in 37 minutes of action against the Rush. The Oakville, Ontario native allowed only one goal and made 25 saves in that time. Kirk leads the Swarm with a 9.94 GAA and .807 SV% in six games this season.
The Swarm finishes the year with three contests at home: Washington (April 14), Philadelphia (April 21), and Colorado (April 28). Lower level tickets to all remaining three home games in 2012 start as low as $20 and can be purchased by calling 1-888-MN-SWARM or visiting mnswarm.com.