August 6, 2010
By Alec Schimke
Schimke: What have you been up to this offseason?
O’Neill: Recently I’ve been on a scouting run through Ontario to watch some of our Junior and Senior players compete. I have seen a lot of Victoria games at home and I’ve also traveled to Vancouver to do some scouting. I’ve just been getting a good taste of what’s out there, especially with the players that we have earmarked for this year’s draft.
Schimke: Have any Swarm players caught your eye this offseason in terms of improvement?
O’Neill: There’s a few guys out there that we own that I’ve seen improvement in. We own Tyler Hass who is playing Senior “A” for the Victoria Shamrocks. This has been his first year of lacrosse since 2006, where he played in Junior “A”. He has done quite well in assimilating to almost our level of play with the Shamrocks. He will be in training camp this fall so we are pretty excited about that. We have had to wait a long time since drafting him in 2006 in the fourth round, but he was a basketball player at the time and now he is a lacrosse player. It’s exciting to see him grow because I get to watch him play a lot.
Another player that has been in our system and has done a good job this summer is Mark Jackson, who’s playing for the Six Nations Chiefs. One player who is not our property anymore, but was on our roster last season, and has been real impressive is Alex Turner with the Langley Thunder. He is scoring, and has stepped up and become one of the top guys on their team. I’ve also been impressed with goaltender Kevin Croswell, who is teammates with Turner in Langley.
Schimke: How are you looking to improve the roster in 2010?
O’Neill: Well next year with the 18-man system we will be able to do some different stuff. Right now we are looking at the kind of systems that we want to run and then trying to figure out which players will fit that system the best. It’s kind of a crapshoot and it’s a different bowl of wax than it was last year. So far everybody that was on the roster last season can still play for us in some capacity or another. Obviously there is a dispersal draft and then the entry level draft coming up so trades are always something that is out there. We have talked to people and have entertained some ideas about possibility mixing things up with new players and with our draft picks. It’s hard to say right now, but we will have a different looking team next year than we did last season just by virtue that every year there are changes. This year won't be any different.
Schimke: What positives have you taken away from last year’s 5-11 finish?
O’Neill: For starters we never had a Top 10 scorer in the league in our team's history and last year we had three (Callum Crawford, Aaron Wilson, Ryan Benesch). Ultimately they led us to all of our successes, and our near-successes, which were one-goal losses. I think the fact that we were in every game can be seen as a positive. We weren't getting blown out when we lost, we were right there. It's tough to throw last season away and say it was a lost season. Who knows what would have happened if a couple of bounces would have gone our way. We still went to the postseason and played Washington as tough as anybody in the playoffs. Heading into next season, I think we are on the right track. We need to continue to work harder and become smarter on the field as well as have a few more key players step up. Also, getting Ryan Cousins back will be instrumental.
Schimke: Is there a certain area of the team that you are looking to upgrade?
O’Neill: We still have issues all over the place. We need a little more depth on the lefty offense and defense and we could probably use a little more depth on the righty offense as well. Those are the things that we will probably look at in the draft. We are monitoring guys like Sean Thomson, who only played in one game last year and that was in the opening game. He is a guy that has a serious upside to him and was a former first round pick. It's important to also monitor what we have, and then there is the draft, and now a dispersal draft of the Orlando Titans, so everybody is going to get one or two good players for free.
Schimke: How do you anticipate the dispersal draft of the Orlando Titians affecting the league next season?
O’Neill: With Orlando leaving, we are now down to a ten-team league. What it does is it gets teams payrolls up and there is less room for rookies and younger players to just surface around in this league. It’s tough on them, and I feel bad for those guys. There is already a lot of talent available and teams are going to jump all over that and try to plug those players into their lineups to see if that’s the thing they were missing. Who knows maybe adding a player like that is the thing that prevents us from suffering one-goal losses next year.
I can’t predict the future, but I can see us adding a couple more veteran guys and certainly youthful energy is something that we lacked last year. We just didn’t have enough rookies on the team to kind of spark that hierarchy. It's important to have young guys that know that they are at the bottom, but at the same time still have the mentality to push the older guys for playing time. Every year the Swarm has had a lot of young guys and last year we still had a few, but Zack Greer was our only true rookie.
Schimke: What is your impression thus far of the 2010 draft class?
O’Neill: It’s decent. Like last year's draft, picks six through seventeen in the first round is a crapshoot. There are a lot talented players available there with different skill sets and talents, but I'm not absolutely sure that there are defined guys available in those spots. The top four or five players are for sure a lock and I could tell you right now where the first few guys will go in this draft. We also haven’t seen everyone declare yet, so we are still waiting on a few guys. Andrew Suitor put his name in the draft about a week ago so that is one mystery down. The other one is goalie Evan Kirk. It will be interesting to see he what does. If he comes in, he’s a solid top five draft pick.
Schimke: Last season you used the draft to select a big-name player in Zack Greer. What are your expectations for Zack next season?
O'Neill: First and foremost to continue the building of Zack. Last year that required us to define some roles and expectations for him, and that put a lot of pressure on him to just go out there and score. When he wasn't scoring he worked really hard in the trenches, and he didn’t complain. He stuck to it and showed a lot character. He had to pick up the nuances of box lacrosse somewhere. I think things will come for him. He showed stress when didn’t convert, and I think that was largely because he because he wanted to do well. This year there are no mysteries for him and there are no mysteries for us. He is going to know what he needs to get better at and we are going to help him with that. On top of his shooting ability he is also a great passer and we hope to get him out on the power play more in the future.
Much like any of our other younger players like Josh Funk, Joe Cinosky, and Kevin Buchanan, they weren’t such a mystery after their rookie seasons. This year there will be a lot more expectations in all of those guys. I really expect all of them all to blossom and to turn into the players we figured they would be when we selected them two years ago. They have the skills to be really good Swarm players in the future.
Schimke: How often do you stay in touch with the coaching staff during the offseason?
O'Neill: We all met in May in Toronto with John (Arlotta) and watched some games together and spent some time together. During that time, we started to come up with some ideas for this year. Myself, John and our Scouting Director Neil Doddridge also met again in B.C. John has really been interested in the Canadian side of the game, and took it upon himself to actually roll up his sleeves up and come and see some games with me. That was a really neat experience for an owner and it was a neat experience for me because I got to relieve my past through his eyes.
We will all meet up for the draft obviously, but we are close in contact all the time. I talk to Mike Lines almost every day and, I call Joe Sullivan and Aime Caines about once a week. There is a lot of communication back and forth about games and players we are watching as well as what we are seeing on Pointstreak. Obviously we are respectful of Orlando folding and what is available.
Schimke: A few weeks ago the Swarm had three players (Joe Cinosky, Zack Greer, Jon Sullivan) participate in the FIL World Lacrosse Championships in Manchester, England. How proud were you of those three players?
O'Neill: It was exciting lacrosse for sure. I saw the round robin game between Canada and the U.S., where Canada won. Jon Sullivan got to play a lot. He was on the field for mostly every moment from what I could tell for Canada so that was great to see. He has come a long way in the field lacrosse game and that was certainly something for him to be proud of. Again there’s Zack, he’s a big part of the Canadian team and made some big plays for them with his scoring ability. The same can said with the Joe. In all the games I watched, I never saw anything bad happen around him. He is pretty much a shut down guy and did a great job for the Americans. He is a recognizable talent in the field lacrosse game and he really has established himself as top tier player.
Schimke: What message would you like to send to Swarm fans about next season's team?
O'Neill: I think we addressed that we wanted to be a transition team last year and we had the guys in place, but you cant be a transition team if teams wont let you transition. We are going to try and modify all that this coming season, and continue to be an up-tempo team. We want to work on getting our players to really hustle and chase after a loose balls in the corner. We will get the guys to play a little more dangerous and reckless instead of the always-safe box lacrosse style game.
So we will see where it takes us. It would not hurt to take a look backwards at the 2008 Swarm team when we won four games in overtime. That team just played up-tempo and we have identified that we need to get back to that a little bit.