The 1993 movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray was a critical and box office success, even garnering 32nd place on Bravo’s list of “100 Funniest Movies”. In the National Lacrosse League, however, there is nothing funny at all about the fact that this Swarm season resembles the movie in one horrible way… in each of the four home losses, the Swarm snatched defeat from the jaws of victory:
- January 22nd vs. Colorado: The Swarm led 14-13 with less than two minutes to play only to give up a late goal with 1:44 left in the game and the overtime goal just 3:42 into the extra period.
- April 3rd vs. Edmonton: The Swarm led 11-6 after three quarters, only to be outscored 6-1 in the 4th quarter, including the game-tying goal with 14 seconds left and the overtime killer just over five minutes into the extra session.
- April 9th vs. Rochester: The Swarm tied the game on a late goal by Aaron Wilson with under 2:30 to play in the game but just 45 seconds later, the Knighthawks scored the game winner 12-11.
- April 17th vs. Philadelphia: The Swarm led 10-7 heading into the 4th quarter and 12-11 with under a minute to play. They eventually lost 13-12 in overtime.
“To lose the way we’re losing is draining,” says Assistant Coach Aime Caines. “We’ve got to learn to put teams away when we have the chance. If we have a four-goal lead, why not make it 5 or 6… or 20? We played well on Saturday (against the Wings) the same way we’ve played well in each of our heartbreaking losses. We keep finding a way to lose and it’s frustrating.”
While each loss seems eerily similar on paper, last Saturday the team seemed to have lost its edge even before Bruce Cusick’s introductions. Late Friday night, when word came down that Colorado lost to Boston, the Swarm clinched the fourth and final playoff spot in the West Division. That had to have an impact on the psyche of the team. “I definitely think that took the edge off,” said Caines. “I kind of wish we didn’t know the outcome of Friday’s Colorado game. If so, I think we would have played with a lot more determination and the outcome would have been a lot different.”
This weekend’s regular season finale at The Hive is similar for their opponent, the Orlando Titans. After last weekend, they sewed up the top spot in the East Division. They also play on the road at Philadelphia on Friday night, giving the Swarm a perfect setup for a momentum swing heading into the first round of the playoffs one week from this Saturday at either Washington or Edmonton. Caines: “To be honest, the setup isn’t important to us. We want to see execution on both sides of the ball. We’re approaching this game like a playoff game. We need momentum heading into the playoffs and this Saturday is the perfect place and time to get that momentum.”
Regardless of the outcome against Orlando, it’s been an amazing year for the Swarm’s big three on offense. Captain Aaron Wilson and forwards Callum Crawford and Ryan Benesch have been nothing short of outstanding this season. Each is in the upper echelon of the National Lacrosse League in goals and points.
1. Lewis Ratcliff - Washington Stealth (45)
2. Aaron Wilson - Minnesota Swarm (38)
16. Callum Crawford – Minnesota Swarm (29)
21. Ryan Benesch – Minnesota Swarm (26)
1. Josh Sanderson – Calgary Roughnecks (31G, 66A = 97 points)
T2: Callum Crawford – Minnesota Swarm (29G, 60A = 89 points)
T2: Lewis Ratcliff – Washington Stealth (45G, 44A = 89 points)
3. Aaron Wilson – Minnesota Swarm (38G, 47A = 85 points)
11. Ryan Benesch – Minnesota Swarm (26G, 53A = 79 points)
Caines: “Those three have been playing great, no doubt about it they are carrying us. Any success we have comes from those three sticks. Big players are playing in big games… they’ve got to continue to play at this level as we begin our playoff run.”
Lest you fear the Swarm’s unimpressive record heading into the postseason bodes poorly for their playoff chances, the NLL’s history books prove regular season records aren’t that relevant. Tim “The Hedgehog” Campeau and Rich “Tundra” Morgan played on the 2008 Portland Lumberjax squad that finished the regular season 6-10 only to go on an unprecedented playoff run:
- Division Semifinal: Won at San Jose (now Washington) 18-16
- Division Final: Won at Calgary 16-12
- Champion’s Cup: Lost at Buffalo 14-13
Caines: “We know history and we know we can go deep into the playoffs. Someone’s in for trouble… we need to take this aggression out on someone. I wouldn’t want to play us in the playoffs”
For more evidence that the Swarm is doing everything they can to break the five-game losing streak and head into the postseason on a roll, Crawford, Benesch and Campeau are staying in Minnesota this week to train and stay focused. That’s one way to make sure Punxsutawney Phil stays in his lair… sick the hedgehog on him!