SAINT PAUL, MINN. – Facing a late deficit, the Minnesota Swarm (4-14) were not going to let its 2014 season come to a close without a fight. However, despite a spirited fourth-quarter rally, the Swarm fell 8-6 to the Toronto Rock (9-9) in front of a boisterous crowd of 9,056 Saturday at Xcel Energy Center on Fan Appreciation Night.
“It means a lot,” said T Tyler Hass of the support of the hometown crowd, which stuck with their team to the final buzzer. “It was obviously a tough season and the best thing for me was coming out here and seeing everyone.”
After a tally by Toronto D Nick Diachenko gave the visiting team a commanding 8-2 lead early in the fourth quarter, Minnesota made their final stand by scoring the last four goals of the game, bringing The Hive to life in the process. The run started when T Tyler Hass and F Logan Schuss tallied goals 20 seconds apart on Rock G Brandon Miller. Forward Shayne Jackson (2g) helped cut the lead to a pair after scoring consecutive goals, the first on the power play, and the second coming with the extra attacker with 1:21 remaining in the game. Unfortunately the hole Minnesota found itself in was too big to climb out of as Toronto completed the season sweep over the Swarm.
The Rock built their lead thanks to their quick-strike offense and a scoring drought from the Swarm. After T Kiel Matisz buried 40 seconds into the second quarter to tie the game 2-2, Minnesota was held off the board until Hass found the net in the fourth, a span of 31:04. During this stretch, the Swarm fell victim to untimely turnovers, stifling defense by Toronto and several big stops by Miller, who picks up the win after stopping 47 shots.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Rock were able to use a pair of quick scoring bursts to do the majority of the damage, breaking the 2-2 game wide open into an 8-2 edge. Forward Stephan Leblanc (3g, 1a) and D Ethan O’Connor (1g) combined for two goals in seven seconds to give Toronto a 4-2 lead heading into halftime. After the break the Rock strung together three more goals in the first 3:02 of the third quarter, deflating a Swarm squad that could not find the back of the net.
The two squads traded both goals and penalties in a tight and physical opening quarter that showcased their heated rivalry. Leblanc scored the first goal of the game when he beat Swarm netminder Zach Higgins at 2:52. Schuss found the equalizer midway through the frame, but Leblanc lit the lamp again in the final minute to give Toronto a 2-1 edge after 15 minutes of play.
Perhaps the biggest reason the Swarm were able to make a late push was the superb play of Higgins. The second-year pro played his best when his offense was struggling, turning aside a season and career-high 53 shots, including many in transition and on the penalty kill. The 53 saves were the most in a game from any goaltender in the NLL this season, and left Higgins with a sterling .869 save percentage.
Schuss’ four-point performance (2g, 2a) led all Minnesota players, and capped off a record-setting rookie campaign for the 2013 No. 1 overall pick. The Ladner, British Columbia native set Swarm rookie records in both points (72) and goals (36), while making a serious bid at become the NLL Rookie of the Year.
Another record fell on the defensive side of the ball as T Andrew Suitor claimed a new franchise record for forced turnovers in a season. Suitor’s five forced turnovers on Saturday raised his season total at 31, which eclipsed Jeff Gilbert’s mark of 26 set in 2012.
After a disappointing season, Minnesota will look to regroup and come back stronger in 2015. One of the youngest rosters in Swarm history will return a year more experienced, and will undoubtedly have their sights set on the postseason.
“We are in a situation where we have a plethora of great talent, mixed with great character and personalities in this room,” said coach Joe Sullivan. “This [season] might seem like a big step backwards, but it truly isn’t, it’s a long slow stride forwards and it’s going to take some time. We didn’t quit, so that’s a big thing.”
As the 10th Anniversary season of Swarm Lacrosse comes to a close, the Swarm organization would like to wish a heartfelt thank you to all who have supported the team throughout their decade in Minnesota. For information on 2015 Hive Memberships, visit MNSwarm.com or call 888-667-9276.