The second week of the Minnesota Swarm’s training camp had just about everything. Big crowds, incredible individual performances and last-second game-winning goals were among the highlights of a memorable weekend for those involved.
However, while the excitement of their two exhibition victories may seem fresh in their minds, the Swarm players and staff are looking to the future as they get set to embark on their last weekend of camp in Oakville, Ontario before opening the season on Dec. 28 in Rochester.
Even though camp to this point has been one of the most intense in franchise history, there will be an even higher sense of urgency this weekend as the Swarm must submit their finalized 20-man active roster by Monday Dec. 16. The message is clear that time is running out for players to stake their claim for a spot on the opening night lineup. “Our guys should be driven in a big way this weekend to compete for a job,” coach Joe Sullivan explained. “There are a few bona fide battles going on in both the front door and the back door.”
Sullivan noted that it is not only the younger players that are duking it out for roster spots, but there are veterans who are being pressured by their younger teammates. He is relying on this competition to bring the best out of his players. “I really hope the guys who are being challenged and pushed [for a job] react the right way,” Sullivan said. “The reason they are on our club is that I believe that they will.”
The beauty of the preseason is that this intra-squad competition not only plays out during team practices but also against their exhibition opponents. Sullivan especially valued Minnesota’s victories over Colorado and Rochester for the opportunity to get a better reading on his players’ strengths and weaknesses, from a variety of angles (Sullivan observed the Rochester game from the stands of Blue Cross Arena).
There were plenty of bright spots to be seen, especially among the Swarm’s rookie corps who got their first taste of NLL action. However Sullivan says the task for the younger players is to take another step forward next weekend, while continuing to learn to deal with the increased speed, tempo, physicality and sheer expectations that come with playing at this level. “Logan Schuss told us he was going to be a clutch player and he proved it by scoring a couple key goals [against Rochester], now he needs to be consistent.”
Even with the pressures of a shrinking roster and heavy expectations from the coaching staff, the prominent feeling among the players entering week three of camp is one of optimism, keeping the main goal in mind – hitting the ground running come opening night. “The rookies are doing a great job getting in the game and the veterans are doing a great job bringing us along,” Schuss said. “I think everything is going to fall into place at the perfect time for the season.”
While Sullivan shares this confidence regarding his team’s current status, he does so with the knowledge that time is running short and improvements must be made. “We are progressing well but we are not there yet, the unfortunate thing for us and all NLL teams is that we only have three weeks to make this learning curve come to fruition.”
The focus and intensity within the Swarm will be at a fever pitch as they assemble back at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre this weekend for the preseason’s final stanza. One last exhibition matchup punctuates the teams' Friday through Sunday practice schedule, a Saturday afternoon affair with the Calgary Roughnecks at 12:30 CT from the TRAC.
Sullivan looks forward to the final preseason contest, not just for the continued improvement of his rookies but to see his captain get his first game action of the season. Team Captain Andrew Suitor is anticipated to suit up against the Roughnecks, along with veterans F Callum Crawford, F Shayne Jackson, T Brock Sorensen and G Tyler Carlson, all who were idle last Saturday in Rochester. “Once we get everyone in there and see what they can do together, you are going to see that we have a great club,” Sullivan said.
Overall the Swarm understands the stakes are high for their last weekend of training camp. Once they part ways on Sunday the team won’t be back together until Dec. 27, one day before their 2014 NLL season gets underway against the Rochester Knighthawks.
“After this weekend that’s it, we have one practice and then we play the two-time NLL Champions,” Sullivan stressed. “That is a task we are ready for.”