Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo
You know how the air and airwaves crackle with excitement when the Yankees or Red Sox come to town to play the Twins? Or when the Packers play the Vikings at the Dome… or when the Lakers arrive to take on the T-Wolves at Target Center? When iconic sports franchises come to the great state of Minnesota, it’s like nothing else in local sports. This Friday at the Hive it’ll be one of those nights as the NLL’s premier franchise descends on St. Paul… the Toronto Rock are playing YOUR Minnesota Swarm… and it’s time to show up and get the Hive buzzing.
The six-time Champion’s Cup winning Rock are tied with the Philadelphia Wings for most titles in league history even though they’ve been in the league 12 fewer years, entering the NLL in 1998 as the Ontario Raiders only to move to Toronto and re-named the Rock one year later. “The Rock is one of the most famous franchises in the NLL,” says Swarm Assistant Coach Aime Caines. “I grew up in Windsor, Ontario and watched them all the time on TV. They played their home games in the old Maple Leaf Gardens and they were my favorite team. Having them come to town is a big deal… and we’ll be ready.” 13 other Ontario natives are on the Swarm roster: Sorenson, Gilbert, Crepinsek, Suitor, Benesch, Watt, MacIntosh, Crawford, Carlson, Jackson, Kirk, Ball and Card so you can be sure there’ll be a lot of incentive on Friday night.
In the eight-year history of the Swarm, the Rock has only been to the Hive four times (the most recent in 2008) with the Swarm winning twice. But most hardcore Swarm fans remember the night of April 1st, 2006: It was the Swarm’s second season and their furious five-goal 4th quarter rally was capped by forward Mark Myashitawho beating Rock goalie Bob Watson for the team’s first “signature win” in franchise history 10-9. Fast forward seven years and you can be sure of one thing, this Swarm team won’t be starry eyed when the Rock come to town. “We could have beaten them in Toronto three weeks ago,” laments Caines. “We had a four-goal lead late in the game but we lost 13-12. We learned from that mistake. We know we need to keep a lead and even keep scoring when we have a lead no matter how big a lead it is. You can’t let good teams back in games. We learned that the hard way.”
This year the Rock is 5-1 and sitting atop the East Division with a typically stacked team of veterans led by leading scorer Josh Sanderson and Captain Colin Doyle. The Rock boasts nine players who’ve been in the league longer than the Swarm has been in existence… but like all statistics, they only matter on paper. Games are played on the turf with sweat and blood. “They’re veterans, sure… and they’ve got one of the best power plays in the league,” says Caines. “But we’ve got a game plan in place that we think will neutralize them. We need to push the pace… our young guys are tenacious and have a better work ethic than they do. We’re young but not wide-eyed by any means… we’ll show up for sure.”
Even though this is only the fiifth game of the season, it’s a critical one. Trailing in the West Division standings with a 1-3 record (along with the Edmonton Rush… last year’s West Division champs) it’s time to right the ship. “We’re not in turmoil by any means,” says Caines. “We’re 1-3 but two of our losses were by one goal to tough East Division teams (Toronto and Buffalo)… and our other loss was last weekend where one of the best lacrosse players in the world (Colorado’s John Grant, Jr.) scored 11 points. We’re in a hole and need to get back to .500… but to do that we need to take it onegame at a time. Get to 2-3 first and then think about 3-3. That’s my mindset and the mindset of every one of our guys.”
While the Swarm employed a balanced scoring attack last weekend against the Mammoth (goals by Suitor, Benesch, Watt, MacIntosh (2), Jackson, Matisz, Gibson and Card), they clearly missed standout veteran Callum Crawford who sat out the game with a lower body injury. He’ll be back in the lineup against the Rock sporting his pompadour along with his incredible scoring touch in this crucial early season game at the Hive.It’ll be an historic night… you should be there!
The Toyota Professor