Deadlocked at a 12-12 tie early in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Wings, the Minnesota Swarm found themselves with a prime opportunity to take the upper hand in their Feb. 23 matchup at Wells Fargo Center when they were awarded a power play. After getting settled in their offensive positions, Jordan MacIntosh found rookie forward Logan Schuss at the top of the rotation, who took two steps and delivered a laser that found its way through the Wings defenders and beat the goaltender.
When the ball hit the twine it had both short and long-term ramifications for Schuss. The goal gave his team their first lead of the game in an eventual 15-14 victory and capped off a massive seven-point, five-goal performance from the Ladner, British Columbia native that included a natural hat trick to start the fourth quarter. It also sent a resounding message to the entire NLL: Schuss, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Entry Draft, could take over a game all by himself.
“I was waiting to have a game like that the whole season,” said Schuss of his performance in Philadelphia. “It was a turning point for myself to prove that I can score a lot of goals in this league, and be the guy that the team looks toward to put the ball in the net.”
Highlighted by the win against the Wings, Schuss was able to kick his game into a whole new gear in the month of February, in the process establishing himself as not just another weapon in the Swarm’s arsenal but as one of their top scoring threats. This is not just the opinion of his coaches or Schuss himself, but also the NLL as a whole, who named him Rookie of the Month for February. Being the selfless player he is, Schuss is quick to share the honor with his teammates.
“It was a real honor to win that award, there’s a ton of great rookies this year in this league, and even just on our team,” Schuss said. “But I think [winning the award] is a good reflection on my teammates as well; guys still having the faith in putting the ball on my stick even when I was struggling.”
Any apparent struggles did not show up on the stat sheet, as Schuss exploded for 23 points (11g, 12a) in five games in February, and has not slowed down since, adding another 11 points (5g, 6a) in three games so far this March. He has four or more points in four of his last five games, and has recorded a point in every game this season.
Schuss’ offensive proficiency has rocketed him to the top of the NLL rookie leaderboards, where after 13 weeks of play he holds the high mark in goals (21), points (42), power play goals (7), shots (135) and is second-place in assists (21).
His 21 goals also leads the Swarm, and his 42 points puts him only behind franchise-leading scorer Callum Crawford, who has 52 on the year. While he hardly anticipated being the leading goal scorer on his team this early in his career, Schuss explained that lighting the lamp is paramount to his game.
“I really just wanted to come into the team and provide anything I could,” Schuss said. “But coming into the season I wanted to show that I am a goal scorer– not just in juniors or summer ball, but I want to be a dominant scorer at all levels.”
According to Swarm assistant coach Aimé Caines, scoring goals is exactly what the coaching staff expects from him.
“He’s one of our go-to guys and we’re going to put him out on the floor in those key situations and look for him to produce,” Caines said. “He’s on the power play, he’s on the last minute offense, we put him out a lot in overtime to help get us that spark and we’re going to continue doing that.”
While a certain level of success can be expected from a player like Schuss considering his status as a first-overall draft pick, he noted that there is still a learning curve that needs to be overcome by all new players in the NLL, regardless of caliber.
“I knew the first couple of games were going to be a learning experience, it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park,” Schuss said. “You can practice all you want, you can have those exhibition games, but when it comes down to it– playing in an actual NLL game with all NLL players and screaming fans– it is the experience that builds you to the next level of play… I’m glad that I am starting to pick it up now.”
Caines, who enjoyed a five-year career in the NLL as a forward from 2001-2005, vouched for these difficulties of transitioning into the league.
“It’s all about learning the speed of the NLL and adapting to it,” Caines explained. “It’s a hard adjustment but I think he’s done a great job over the last five games to really come into his own and to become a top player in this league.”
Both Schuss and Caines point out that a major factor in the rookie’s growth is the support he receives on the front in, most notably in Crawford and MacIntosh. Schuss is quick to laud the help his two teammates provide and explains that their assistance pays dividends for him both on and off the score sheet.
“It’s real nice to have guys on the right side who are so talented. I’m usually the one holding the ball trying to find people open, but its nice having these guys who can find you.” Schuss said. “It’s been an awesome experience, Callum has been in the league for many years now and he’s always trying to coach us up and talk us through different situations, and Mac has been a great teacher as well.”
Just as it took him some time to find his bearing in the NLL, Schuss believes that his team’s slow start to the 2014 season can be attributed to its lack of experience. However, not only are the rookie-laden Swarm getting more seasoned and comfortable every game, Schuss said this youthful energy provides an additional benefit.
“We are young and exciting, which we can use to our advantage,” Schuss explained. “We can get revved up and come out flying, and have the legs to keep pushing the ball hard and maintain a high pace to our game.”
In addition to this vivacious nature, the Swarm can now add confidence to their repertoire, after knocking off a Buffalo team last Sunday that came into The Hive in first place in the East Division. While Minnesota needs to keep winning in order to keep their goal of a playoff berth alive, Schuss said this task is made easier considering that four of their last six games are at Xcel Energy Center– a building which was electric during the Swarm’s overtime victory over the Bandits.
“The Hive was buzzing on Sunday, the sheer volume of noise our crowd makes is just crazy,” Schuss explained. “It’s a great atmosphere to try and get a couple wins here and start a roll for us.”
That being said, regardless of whether the game is being played in St. Paul or Philadelphia, or anywhere in between, Schuss knows that for his team to have its best chance to win he needs to remain in one place: the box score.
“I’m going to keep pushing hard, [scoring] is not going to be an element where you are going to see a downfall from me,” Schuss explained. “I’m going to keep on this road and put up as much as I can the rest of the season.”