With training camp in the books and only five days remaining until the Minnesota Swarm open their 2014 NLL season in Rochester on Dec. 28, captain Andrew Suitor has a brief and simple message for those asking about his knee: “I’m back, I’m 100-percent, I’m full-throttle ahead and I hope to have no more setbacks.”
Saturday’s exhibition game against Calgary not only marked Suitor’s first game action since injuring his ACL last February, but also served as a green light to enable the transition player from Orangeville, Ontario to put his injury behind him and focus instead on what has all the signs of being an exciting season for the Swarm.
Even though the loss to the Roughnecks might have soured the Swarm’s hunt for a perfect preseason record, it brought with it something infinitely more valuable: the healthy and confident return of Suitor.
“Once I got out there it was like riding a bike, I felt comfortable and at the end of the night I didn’t even think about my knee and it hasn’t bothered me since,” Suitor reflected. “In fact, I think I am definitely stronger now than when I got hurt.”
Considering Suitor’s present fortitude, it is difficult to believe that not even a year ago he had to be carried off of the floor during a Feb. 22 regular season game in Edmonton, after what turned out to be a serious ACL injury. “It was just a fluke play, I just took one step the wrong way,” Suitor explained. “When I went down I knew there was something wrong.”
While the immediate period following the injury was one filled with shock and frustration for Suitor, he remembers coming to a realization that served as a catalyst for his recovery. “I was initially feeling sorry for myself, but then you realize it is only a setback. It was time to move on and now I’ve been able to improve the strength and conditioning of [the knee].”
Suitor credits both the lacrosse community, which offered him continued support, encouragement and advice throughout the recovery process, and the team at Summit Orthopedics for working with him at every step of his rehab. The local orthopedic group serves as the official orthopedic provider of the Swarm.
“The people at Summit were unbelievable, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be playing right now,” Suitor said. “They walked me through everything, if there was anything I was uncomfortable with, they settled it down and simplified it for me.”
While Suitor is undoubtedly thankful for those who helped him after his injury, he is more than eager to officially put the whole ordeal behind him and put his focus squarely on what is in front of him. “I want to prove right away that this injury was not a setback for my career,” Suitor explained. “It’s over and done with and it is not going to affect my game anymore.”
Looking to the 2014 squad, the Swarm captain was very pleased with the speed, intensity and talent that was on display in training camp. “It was the most competitive camp I have ever been a part of; everyone came in ready to go and guns blazing,” Suitor said.
Suitor is particularly excited to get to know and play with the highly-touted group of rookies on the final roster: forwards Logan Schuss and Scott Jones, transition player Cameron Flint and defenders Jason Noble and Jordan Houtby. When asked what his role is as captain for these players’ development, Suitor stressed the importance of having all 20 guys on the same page come opening night. “The only thing I focus on is letting them know they are not rookies; we look at all our rookies as players who need to come in and make an immediate impact. Obviously there’s going to be growing pains but that is what training camp is for.”
Even if some people might say the recent crop of new talent represent the future of the team, Swarm Owner and Governor John Arlotta recently made it clear that he wants Suitor to be the centerpiece, as the two sides agreed to a five-year contract extension on Nov. 27, the longest deal in franchise history. “My deal means a lot to me, Minnesota is where I want to play,” Suitor explained. “Talking with Coach Sullivan and John Arlotta, we all thought the longer term was something that everyone would be extremely happy with.”
The deal ensures that Suitor, already one of the most popular and recognizable names on the roster, all but cements himself as the face of a Swarm team on the upswing. All of this notoriety is fun and motivating, but is not what is ultimately important, according to Suitor. “[The attention] helps fuel you, it’s an opportunity you don’t want to lose, but more than anything it’s about the team. Although it is cool to have your name on the back of the shirt I’d rather have the Minnesota logo on the front. I play for all my teammates and my organization.”
With Suitor onboard for the next five years, he is able to zero in on the 2014 season, and the expectations he and his teammates have made crystal clear. “We want to win and we want to win now. We’re not looking to win in two years, we’re not looking to win in three years, we have the team to win this year and that is our goal,” Suitor said.
The last ten months have been quite a ride for Andrew Suitor, complete with plenty of ups and downs and a multitude of different emotions. Even if 2013 was a year full of pain and frustration, determination and hard work, what the captain understands is 2014 brings with it a new opportunity, that the quickest way to forget about an injury is to win it all. “Everything feels right when you win a Champion’s Cup with 24 of your best friends.”