Swarm Position Breakdown
During a productive offseason, the Swarm added players at every position who are poised to have an immediate impact in the NLL game.
The youth movement in Minnesota is evident, as the team has selected 19 players in the NLL Entry Draft over the past two seasons. Despite these worthy additions it is important to analyze how the new players will mesh with the existing members of a Swarm team that coach Joe Sullivan claims will be “pressured to produce” after a successful 2012 campaign.
Forwards: Ryan Benesch (L), Jay Card (R), Callum Crawford (R), Matt Gibson* (L), Josh Gillam (L), Jesse Guerin (L), Aaron Grayson* (L), Joel Henry (L), Shayne Jackson* (L), Kiel Matisz (R), Pat Smith (R), Corbyn Tao (R), Michael Teeter* (L) *Denotes Rookie
Seasoned veterans Callum Crawford and Ryan Benesch lead the Swarm attack. Last year, Crawford was first on the team with 83 points (25g, 58a) en route to his second All-Star selection. In 2010, the Ottawa, Ontario native scored 96 points to break the franchise’s single-season point total. Benesch - who also made his second All-Star appearance last year - led Minnesota with 33 goals last year in 13 games of action. Benesch won the 2011 NLL scoring title with 95 points (46g, 49a).
Second-year players Jay Card and Corbyn Tao also made their presence known in their rookie seasons last year. Sullivan describes Tao as “relentless” and points out that both he and Card were players that surprised teams with their ability to finish last season. He believes that their talents are going to pull players off of the likes of Crawford and Benesch, inhibiting opponents’ ability to double-team the Swarm’s prominent scoring threats. Also returning at forward is Cochrane, Alberta native Joel Henry, who had a breakout hat trick performance in the Swarm's regular season finale against Colorado on national television last April.
Minnesota added two distinguished forwards in the 2012 draft, selecting Robert Morris University’s Kiel Matisz and Shayne Jackson out of Limestone College. Sullivan notes that despite Matisz’s history playing up front, the Stoney Creek, Ontario native will likely spend more time in the transition game as a “big guy that’s going to bang others around to open the floor up for opportunities.” Jackson should provide depth behind Benesch on the left side of the field, a spot that was held by Kevin Ross until he was traded to the Philadelphia Wings in exchange for a first round pick in 2015. “We lost Kevin Ross and replace him with a younger guy who has a great inside-outside game in Shayne Jackson,” said Sullivan. “With both Kiel (Matisz) and Shayne (Jackson) we tried to get better up front, but more importantly find guys that are hungry to win.”
That hunger, combined with already polished veterans can result in a successful formula in Minnesota. “We want Kiel (Matisz) to not only work with Callum (Crawford), but also Corbyn (Tao) and Jay (Card) to really get the feel for our system," explained Sullivan. “Jackson is going to work with Ryan (Benesch) to get an idea of what we’re looking for, because Ryan is a great leader and will teach him a ton.”
Transition: Chris Cudmore* (R), David Earl (L), Tyler Hass (R), Jordan MacIntosh (R), Brock Sorensen* (L), Andrew Suitor (R), Tyler Tanguay* (L), Andrew Watt (L) *Denotes Rookie
Prior to the 2012 NLL Draft, ILIndoor.com’s Teddy Jenner predicted that if the Swarm selected Brock Sorensen the team would have a very potent transition game. “Add him (Sorensen) to the likes of Suitor, MacIntosh, Watt and Hass; the Swarm will be one of the deepest transition games the NLL has ever seen,” claimed Jenner. Coach Sullivan recognizes the immense talent that this group possesses, but explains that hype does not mean anything unless the group puts forth the required effort. “In this league it seems to always be the team that works the hardest that wins,” said Sullivan. Team Captain Andrew Suitor works as hard as just about anybody and is someone Sullivan describes as a “very vocal leader.” Jordan MacIntosh - the Swarm's No. 4 overall pick last year - had a productive 2012 season, becoming the first rookie in franchise history to play in the NLL All-Star Game and was also selected to the All-Rookie Team.
Tyler Hass had a solid 2012 season for the Swarm, despite missing almost half of the season due to a hand injury. Hass was named the Transition Player of the Week #14 after notching four goals on as many shots in a road win in Philadelphia. The Victoria, British Columbia, native scored nine points (8g, 1a) and nabbed 39 loose balls on the season. Andrew Watt also continued his strong play to the Minnesota transition game, collecting 53 loose balls and forcing 21 turnovers on the year.
Sullivan describes Sorensen as someone that is, “Going to bring a ton of effort, is a great leader, is young, but mature beyond his years.” As aforementioned, Matisz is a player that will get some time at transition as well, giving the Swarm a lot of size in the middle of the field. Hass, Matisz, and Sorensen are all over 6’5” and have the physical gifts and skills to contribute on both ends of the floor. David Earl impressed coaches last season with his athleticism and is expected to continue to grow as a box player now entering his second season.
Sullivan is looking forward to seeing how the transition rotation shakes out. “I’m excited for them, there’s going to be a lot of competition and a bit of a learning curve for new guys, but it all starts with the defense.”
Defensemen: Dan Ball (L), Mitch Belisle (R), Nik Bilic (R), Bryan Campbell* (R), Alex Crepinsek* (R), Greg Downing (R), Jeff Gilbert (L), Matt Kelly (L), Joe Wasson* (R) *Denotes Rookie
Along with Suitor, Jeff Gilbert is the leader of the Swarm’s knockdown defense. The fifth-year player out of Robert Morris University finished second in the NLL last season with 26 forced turnovers. Gilbert was also a member of the NLL All-Pro Second Team and tallied 66 loose balls in 2012.
“Jeff Gilbert has great experience,” said Sullivan. “He’s the only guy on our club who has won a Champions Cup, so a lot of guys on our team look to him for leadership.”
Alex Crepinsek figures to be a force on the defensive end after locking down John Grant Jr. in an MSL playoff game this past summer.
Sullivan describes Crepinsek as a “shutdown defender”, and expects him to become one of the best in the NLL over time, and as a result says that the Oakville, Ontario native is going to see the court his fair share this season. “We’re going to get him his looks; he’s got to play in order to learn and improve.”
Veterans Mitch Belisle and Greg Downing are both back after successful first season with the Swarm in 2012. Both players were selected by the Swarm in the 2011 dispersal draft after the Boston Blazers folded. Downing’s 2012 season was cut short, playing in just eight games after a knee injury sidelined him. He notched 31 ground balls in his limited time. Belisle played in 15 games last season, grabbing 57 loose balls and forcing five turnovers.
Younger defensemen on the Swarm roster looking to continue to build off strong performances last season include second-year players Nik Bilic and Dan Ball, along with third-year University of Virginia product Matt Kelly.
Goaltenders: Tyler Carlson, Zach Higgins*, Evan Kirk *Denotes Rookie
Rookies Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson combined to create a dynamic one-two punch for the Swarm in front of the net in 2012. Kirk was selected sixth overall in the 2011 draft and was expected to produce immediately. He did just that, leading the league in Goals Against Average (G.A.A.) with 9.81. Carlson was not far behind, however, with a mark of 12.04, good for fourth-best in the NLL.
Carlson’s path to the league deviates from the traditional way players find playing time. The goalie out of Brampton, Ontario was undrafted, but signed by the Swarm in 2011 as a free agent. Carlson came into training camp third on the team’s depth chart, but quickly found his niche with the team, starting seven games and posting a 5-2 record. He also made 297 saves on the season.
Sullivan enjoys the luxury of having two great young goaltenders and says that the team will go with whichever guy is playing best. “This year we’re going to have pressure on us to produce, so we are going to go with the hot hand at goalie. We are no longer the young team that everyone overlooks and we have to be ready for that.”
This fall the team signed rookie Zach Higgins, who went undrafted. When asked about Higgins, Sullivan said, “He’s a great competitor and told me he’s going to push for a job.”
Open Tryout Walk-Ons: F Eric Benesch*, D Ian Crawford*, F Dustin Dunn*, D Mike Gillan*, F Cody Jacobs, G Ryan Masters*, D Michael O'Brien* (*Denotes Rookie)
On Thursday, a few dozen free agents joined the Swarm's 2012 draft picks for the team's annual rookie camp in Oakville, Ontario. These seven players earned the chance to move on to main camp to compete for a final roster spot this season. Among interest to Swarm fans are a pair of players with familiar names: Eric Benesch (Ryan Benesch's brother) and Ian Crawford (Callum Crawford's brother). The only player advancing with NLL experience out of the group is forward Cody Jacobs, who has played for Buffalo (2009) and Chicago (2007-08).