Andrew Suitor scored a goal and tied a team-high 10 loose balls on Friday. Photo Credit: John McCabe
Tyler Hass and Evan Kirk led Minnesota on Friday night. Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – The Minnesota Swarm (6-7) got a much-needed victory Friday night during its last road contest of the year, defeating the East Division-leading Philadelphia Wings (7-6) 13-9 at Wells Fargo Center. The win snapped a four-game losing streak and put the Swarm in position to clinch a playoff spot against the Washington Stealth (4-9) next weekend at home.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,” coach Joe Sullivan said on Friday’s road win. “These guys played such smart ball tonight, and they didn’t get rattled. The game was close all the way through.”
Friday’s game was back and forth all evening until T Tyler Hass (4g, 1a) and F Corbyn Tao (3g, 2a) combined to score the game’s final four goals to stun a Wings team that was hoping to take another step towards securing a home playoff game. Philadelphia - fresh off a bye week - entered the game with three of the league’s Top 15 scorers, but was held to nine goals behind another strong performance from rookie G Evan Kirk (38 saves), who was only one week removed from his record setting performance in Edmonton.
“Evan Kirk played outstanding and our offense was able to get that monkey off their back and put 13 in the net,” Sullivan said.
Holding a 9-7 lead with 6:01 remaining, the Swarm appeared to be on pace to collect their first win in over a month. Minnesota would do just that in the end, but not without facing a valid comeback from the Wings first. Philadelphia responded with two goals in a little over a minute to put the pressure right back on the Swarm as the game once again sat deadlocked at 9-9.
A tied score in the closing minutes has been an all too familiar sight for the Swarm as of late. In its last two losses, Minnesota was tied late 10-10 at home against Calgary and 8-8 on the road in Edmonton.
Unlike the past two games though, the Swarm finished strong Friday night. Sullivan asked his team to be more “focused” this week, and said the team welcomed the challenge.
“The guys committed themselves to doing all of the small things,” he added.
Minnesota outscored the Wings 6-2 in the fourth quarter.
Hass, who missed seven games earlier this season due to a hand injury, reminded Swarm fans why he was a 2011 NLL All-Rookie Team selection after notching a career-high four goals on four shots. Hass’ last score of the night, an empty netter from midfield, all but sealed the Swarm’s victory with fewer than two minutes remaining. Hass also collected 10 loose balls, which tied a team-high. Minnesota dominated the loose ball category, winning 87 compared to Philadelphia’s 59.
“Statistically it’s a breakout game, but this is something we knew he (Hass) could do right from the get-go,” Sullivan said. “He had to get healthy and get his feet underneath himself, and he’s going to be a contributor for us offensively, but more importantly for us on defense. He’s a great defender in this league and his size really helped us shut down this big Philadelphia team.”
Tao, broke a 9-9 tie with a gorgeous outside shot to put the Swarm back on top 10-9 with five minutes to play. The rookie forward then notched Minnesota’s last goal of the night on a power play opportunity to secure the 13-9 win. Tao’s hat trick was his second of the season, and first since recording one against the Bandits on Jan. 28.
Minnesota was without its leading goal scorer – Ryan Benesch - for the third straight contest on Friday. Benesch is still recovering from a concussion that he sustained against the Washington Stealth on March 25.
Like he did last week in Benesch’s absence, F Kevin Ross once again rose to the occasion and notched five points (2g, 3a).
“Good teams always seem to find a way,” Sullivan said on his team’s performance without Benesch. “We didn’t have one of our star players again in Ryan Benesch, but it was really more about getting him healthy and the guys recognized that.
“I can’t tell you enough between Josh Gillam, Joel Henry and Kevin Ross, just how much they’ve picked up their play on the left side of the floor.”
The Swarm received a scare in the second quarter when team captain Andrew Suitor (1g) hobbled off the field, holding his leg in obvious pain. According to Sullivan, Suitor collided knee-to-knee with an opposing defenseman. That didn’t stop Minnesota’s captain from returning to the field shortly after however.
“Suits took the worst of it,” Sullivan said, “but if you know Andrew Suitor, you know that his strength and stamina gets him through his injuries. He played through it. That’s just what he’s all about; he’s a hard-nosed player.
“He stayed in the game because of his commitment to helping us get that win.”
Also scoring for Minnesota included F Callum Crawford (2g, 1a), who extended his team lead in points to 61 (18g, 43a), and T Jordan MacIntosh (1g 1a).
Forward Dan Dawson (2g, 5a) led the Wings with seven points and F Drew Westervelt (3g) added a hat trick. Dawson leads the NLL with 73 assists.
With the win, Minnesota finished 3-5 on the road in 2012. The Swarm is currently 3-2 at home this year, and will finish the regular season with three home games in April: Washington (4/14), Philadelphia (4/21), and Colorado (4/28).
Minnesota’s final three games are full of intriguing storylines. With a win next Saturday against Washington, Minnesota can clinch its sixth playoff berth in team history. The Swarm then finishes the season with rematches against the Wings and the Mammoth, which will air on national television via CBS Sports Network.
“Getting back into Minnesota is going to be key for the guys, to be able to relax and get our fans behind us,” Sullivan said.
Minnesota hosts College Night at the Hive against the Stealth next Saturday, April 14 at The Hive. Tickets are available for purchase by calling 1-888-MN-SWARM or by visiting mnswarm.com.