Jordan MacIntosh takes a faceoff Saturday evening against Colorado. Photo Credit: Alec Schimke
Last May, the Swarm and the Colorado Mammoth squared off in a heated matchup in the first round of the NLL Playoffs at Pepsi Center. Minnesota left the building on the winning side that evening, winning 14-10, which marked the first postseason victory in franchise history.
On Saturday evening, the two teams met again for the first time since then in an exhibition contest to unofficially kick off their respective schedules; Minnesota fell 11-6 to their division rivals from the West. While the stakes weren’t as high Saturday evening as they were last postseason, the game sure had its moments where it was evident that these two teams still have some bad blood to settle from last year. The Swarm will play Colorado three times in the regular season in 2013, and it's safe to say all three meetings will be very physical contests.
While wins and losses have no impact on the standings this early on in the season, Saturday’s loss certainly did not sit well with the Swarm afterward, which is a good sign to see from this young squad. To a certain degree, the Swarm might be starting training camp with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, which is never a bad thing.
“It was a good gauging point to see where we’re at,” coach Joe Sullivan said. “We’ll go back and talk to the guys about situations they could have done better and challenge them to do just that.”
Sullivan said Saturday’s game was primarily intended to give the team’s younger players an opportunity to prove themselves and to allow them to gain some experience in a game-type setting. Veterans such as Callum Crawford, Andrew Suitor, Ryan Benesch and Jeff Gilbert only played a half each, as the team was split into two squads essentially.
“I wanted to make sure the rookies really got a good look, and they got a full game out of it for the most part,” Sullivan said. “I know they have something to prove, and I know they are going to make mistakes and they need a little time to redeem themselves and shine. We saw that in a few of them.”
As is the case in training camp during any given season, competition amongst players is fierce, and Minnesota's roster is full of talented players fighting for roster spots. With an opportunity to see players in a game-type setting for the first time this season, Saturday offered the coaching staff an excellent opportunity to evaluate their roster.
“Because our training camp is only three weekends long, every opportunity we get to see these guys on the floor, we’re forming an opinion,” assistant coach Bobby Keast said. “Tonight’s scrimmage will certainly play a large role in deciding what guys we’ll be bringing back next weekend.”
Regardless if a player is a veteran or a rookie, Sullivan made it very clear afterward that he is looking for hard workers, who give maximum effort at all times. Sullivan preached this same philosophy last season, and the results speak for themselves as Minnesota recorded its best season to date.
“Some guys will win jobs and some guys will lose their spots on work ethic alone,” Sullivan said.
If there was one player who stood out against Colorado, it was goalie Evan Kirk. The second-year pro allowed only one goal in a quarter of action after starting in net, and killed several Mammoth power play chances.
“He looked very confident, and saw the ball well,” Keast said. “He played how we expected him to play, but keep in mind this was the first exhibition game of the season. It was a pleasant surprise.”
With Saturday’s game in the books, the Swarm is on the verge of wrapping up its first weekend of training camp with one last session on Sunday.
“Tomorrow will give us one last look at the walk-ons and the draft picks, as we’ll see how they fare in our physical tests,” assistant coach Aime Caines said. “This will give us the opportunity to see who is in shape, and will serve as measuring stick throughout the year.”