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Toyota Professor: Home Opener Preview

01/15/2014, 1:30pm CST
By Toyota Professor

The Toyota Professor previews Sunday's home opener against the Wings

Ten years… TEN YEARS!  When the Minnesota Swarm were born in the fall of 2004, if you asked the average person on the street any questions about lacrosse, never mind indoor lacrosse, their answer would likely have been, “You mean LaCrosse, Wisconsin. Yeah, it’s just over the Mississippi River from   La Crescent.”  But not now! Lacrosse means hard hitting, intense and beautiful end-to-end action on the fields of Minnesota and inside The Hive, the home of the Minnesota Swarm.  And as we enter the 10th  season in franchise history, the Swarm are back where we started… in the East Division about to embark on a crucial early season home-and-home series against the Philadelphia Wings.  “If ever we needed a game in front of our home crowd, this weekend is the one,” says Swarm Assistant Coach Aime Caines.  “We’ve lost the first two games of the season and we need to get back to .500.  Only three teams in each division make the playoffs so every game is important, especially the ones within the division.”

It’s been a typically busy offseason for the Swarm.  Since their last game on May 4th, a 12-10 loss in the East Division Final against the eventual Champion’s Cup winning Rochester Knighthawks, the team has been through a lot, including:

  • An offseason of big changes in personnel including the addition of four of the Top 10 picks in the NLL draft (Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 7)
  • An intense three week training camp for the coveted 20 roster spots (down from 23 thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement)
  • Season-opening losses to teams that are arguably among the best in the league:
  • The East’s two-time defending Champion’s Cup winning Knighthawks, 8-6 on December 28th
  • The West’s Vancouver Stealth, last year’s Cup losing squad when they were the Washington Stealth, 8-5 last Saturday
  • Some of the best defense and goaltending play in the history of the franchise in those aforementioned games 

The team that will suit up at The Hive on Sunday includes 14 returning players… none more visible than Captain Andrew Suitor, back after missing most of the 2013 season with a knee injury.  “It’s so great to have him back,” says Caines.  “The leadership and energy he brings are unbelievable.”  It’s hard to expect the Andrew Suitor of 2012 just yet… and I say yet because it’s clear his game will continue to get better and better as he spends more time on the turf in his familiar #20 sweater.  “He’s the heart and soul of the team and other teams can’t get away with anything on the turf,” says Caines with admiration.  “He’s always watching everything, taking mental notes like he’s everyone’s big brother. He’ll keep getting stronger and stronger… it’s great to see Suits back on the turf.”

This past NLL Entry Draft marked a watershed moment for the Swarm.  Management had an embarrassment of riches to choose from, and they did their job well, reaping the rewards of terrific trades over the years.  The Swarm had four of the Top 7 picks in the draft, three of whom have seen action in 2014:

#18 Forward Logan Schuss from Ohio State (#1 Overall Pick): “He’s playing very well,” says Caines. “He scored his first career goal against Rochester and had his first career fight against Vancouver’s Justin Salt.  He beat him up pretty good and Salt is one tough customer.  Believe me I had only one eye open during the fight.  That’s a lot to ask of a rookie to drop the gloves but he sent a message to the league and to his teammates.  People are gonna love this guy.”

#45 Defenseman Jason Noble from Cornell (#2 Overall Pick): “This guy is relentless,” says Caines. “He’s just all over the place in games and in practice.  He’s very coachable and always on you.  One thing we’ve noticed about him which I want the fans to see is his footwork.  It’s unreal.  He’s so quick and so confident in such a short amount of time.  We’re very happy with him.”

#89 Forward Scott Jones from UMBC (#7 Overall Pick):  “He had a nice goal last game,” says Caines. “And he’s generating great chances.  He’s up for the pressure of being the number seven overall pick in the draft.  He’s huge (6’4”, 225 lbs.) and has tremendous strength and a great shot. He’ll be a real player in this league for sure.”

While this team is easily the youngest in the league, they’re also one of the biggest.  Gone are the days when the average height was just under six feet and only Richard “Toyota Tundra” Morgan had any size.   Our D is huge… and imposing says Caines.  “From the moment we started training camp we noticed their size.  But they’re not only big they’re all athletes… big and strong defenders.  Let me tell you one thing… I wouldn’t want to play against our D.”

Check out these stats:

Number Position Name Height Weight
3 T Brock Sorensen 6'6" 220
4 D Jeff Gilbert 6'4" 215
8 D Greg Downing 6'1" 185
9 T Tyler Hass 6'6" 210
11 D Mike Hobbins 6'2" 200
15 D Jordan Houtby 6'3" 180
33 T David Earl 6'1" 185

That’s an average of nearly 6’4” and 200 lbs.  Opponents’ forwards better keep their heads up when they cross the middle against this crew!

That huge group has played two extraordinary games against Rochester and Vancouver, holding two of the best offenses in the league to only 8 goals apiece.  It begins and ends with goaltender Tyler Carlson.  His 8.00 GAA is tied for second best in the league, down over 3.0 goals per game from last year when he was easily the team’s top goalie.  Tyler has made it very clear… he’s comfortable as the team’s top netminder. “He’s played simply outstanding,” says Caines.  “He’s making big saves against some excellent teams.  He’s making the easy saves and the impossible saves.  On the few occasions that the D gets beat, he’s right there.  We couldn’t be happier with the D and goaltending.  But remember, it’s not like our offense has been playing poorly.  We just haven’t been scoring goals.  We’re outshooting teams, we’re out loose-balling them… we just need to execute and put the ball in the net.  We’ll be OK.”

And there’s no better place to get that done than in The Hive.  Take it from me… I’ve been to 99% of the home games in the history of the franchise.  The atmosphere is the best it’s ever been.  And what better way to kick off a decade of professional lacrosse in Minnesota than with a home win on Sunday?  “It’ll be such a great day,” says Caines.  “The new guys have never even been to Minnesota, never mind the Hive.  It’s very exciting… but we’ve got to take care of business on Saturday in Philly first.  Then we’ll head home and light it up!”

You gotta be there!

Class Dismissed.

The Toyota Professor

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