Minnesota will finish off the 2012 regular season with three games at The Hive.
When the 2012 Minnesota Swarm broke camp back in December and began the 2012 season in January, the team… fresh off revamping the majority of their 2011 roster… had a firm objective in mind. It was etched in stone, in bold typeface and underlined… MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. At one point this season, the Swarm was arguably the league’s most surprising team; jumping out to a 5-3 record and in the hunt to win the West Division, the team’s MAKE THE PLAYOFFS goal appeared easily within reach. But a four-game losing streak in late March made the goal harder to attain. Now, with just three regular season games to play, the goal is once again within reach. With a win over Washington Saturday (a team the Swarm has already played twice on the road this year, winning one and losing the other), the Swarm will MAKE THE PLAYOFFS for the 6th time in their eight-year existence. “Once you’re in anything can happen,” says Swarm Assistant Coach Aime Caines. “We’re a young team that’s learning a lot as we go. We’ve had tremendous adversity with injuries and a long road trip but we set realistic goals for this season and with one more win, we’re in. So we’re excited.”
Last Friday night’s win at East Division-leading Philadelphia was just the latest biggest win of the year. Playing their third game in a row without leading scorer and 2011 scoring champ Ryan Benesch, the Swarm pulled out a gutty 13-9 win, setting themselves up nicely for this Saturday’s win-and-you’re-in game at The Hive. “We’ve got our destiny in our own hands and that’s what we want,” says Caines. “We don’t want to get in by others losing. A winning streak would be great since I’m a huge fan of getting hot at the right time. You do that at the end of the year… anything can happen.”
Since Benesch has been on the shelf due to the lingering effects of a concussion suffered at Washington on March 25th, the offense has revolved around righty Callum Crawford (team-high 61 points) and lefty Kevin Ross. Roscoe, as he’s known to his teammates, has been immense. His 21 goals are good enough for second place on the Swarm, only four behind Benesch for the team lead, and his confidence level has risen with each passing game. “He’s the most underrated guy on the team,” says Caines. “These last two games, without Benny, we’ve upped his role and he’s come through. He’s one of the leaders on this team but the way Benny was playing before he got hurt, Ross was overshadowed. Now when we need him the most, he’s coming through for us. He’s a huge part of this team and one of the core guys for sure.”
Against the Wings last Friday, Ross was joined in the limelight by transition superstar Tyler Hass (Week #14 Transition Player of the Week). In only his third game back from “an upper body injury”, Hass lit up the Wings, scoring four goals for the first time in his brief two-year NLL career. As Caines says, Hass is the real deal. “I’ve been waiting to see this for two years. He’s so athletic… he’s big, strong and fast with a great shot. He has all the tools and he’s putting it all together now. But it’s not just the goals he scored against the Wings… he had 10 loose balls, a bunch of rebounds and he played great D. He was everywhere in Philly.”
Like any team who wants to MAKE THE PLAYOFFS, the Swarm is confident in their goaltending. But who would have thought the team would be so comfortable and reliant on two rookies? It helps that one of them, Evan Kirk, is the only goalie in the entire NLL with a goals against average under 10. “Captain” Kirk’s league-leading 9.78 goals against average is stellar, but likely not enough to alter the Swarm’s goalie rotation. “I like the fact that we have a rotation that’s proven to help us out. We’ve got two young guys (Kirk and Tyler Carlson) and we’re happy with both of them. Kirk is playing amazingly well but we want him and Tyler to remain confident. We can go either way so we’re in good shape in goal.”
So it comes down to this. With three games left, all at the Xcel Energy Center, the Swarm needs just one win to MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. And in a goal-oriented sport like lacrosse, it’ll be up to the hometown Hive to help the boys reach their goal and prove to everyone that this Swarm team is for real. “We’ve still got to get that win… we want the X next to our name in the standings proving we’re in the playoffs. I won’t sleep until we get that win… and it would be great to get it against Washington since they’ve beaten us in the playoffs the last two years. Once we get that win… I’ll sleep.”
The Toyota Professor