As the countdown on the Swarm website moves inexorably toward Saturday’s home opener against the Rochester Knighthawks, the New Year has dawned and with it the new season for the Minnesota Swarm. It’s hard to believe it’s been over eight months since the team lost in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual NLL champion Washington Stealth. And if you ask Swarm Assistant Coach Aime Caines, he’ll tell you the coaches and team management are putting last year behind them and taking care of business building a championship club for 2011. “I’m not making excuses for last year but even though our record was a disappointing 5-11, we didn’t play as bad as the record indicates. We were never out of any games and the ones we lost we could have won. In the offseason, we didn’t re-build as much as we re-loaded and filled the holes we had.”
So without further ado… let’s unwrap your 2011 Minnesota Swarm.
Defense: Returning from last year’s defensive squad that allowed an average of just under 12 goals per game are: Jon Sullivan, Eric Pacey, Noah Talbot, Ryan Sharp (who won the Mann Cup over the summer with the Peterborough Lakers), Andrew Watt, Nick Inch and Joe Cinosky (who won outdoor lacrosse titles with both Team USA at the World Lacrosse Championships and with the Chesapeake Bayhawks of the MLL), Travis Hill (out for all of last year with a torn ACL… he’s trading his microphone for his stick and helmet) as well as former Captain Ryan Cousins mid-season. “It’s no secret losing Cuz for over half the games hurt last year,” says Caines. “We lost a veteran on the floor… our on turf coach which hurt us late in games, especially the overtime losses. He’ll be back for the second half this year which will be great.”
In the offseason, GM Marty O’Neill and team management added one thing on defense… size. “Plain and simple, we added some big, tough defenders”, says Caines. “Plus getting Travis back and Cuz, we’ll be very good, especially in transition where I felt we were a bit weak last year”.
New additions on D include: Rory Smith: “We got him in the dispersal draft from Orlando. He’s a big, tough enforcer, probably one of the toughest guys in the league. If you YouTube his name, you’ll see a bunch of great stuff (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaDL9BIcnXI, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=es-Ei5p57G0). But he’s not just a fighter… he’s an intimidating player who will make us much better on D.”
Tyler Hass (pronounced Hoss): “We drafted him three years ago… he’s been playing professional basketball for a while (with the Vancouver Titans of the International Basketball League) and has decided to make lacrosse his focus. He’s big (6’6”… with Rich Morgan they’ll be the Twin Cities’ Twin Towers) who can push the ball up the floor because he’s very quick in transition.”
Matt Kelly: “We hadn’t seen much of him but he really impressed us in training camp and earned a spot on the team. He played college lacrosse and football for Al Groh at Virginia… he’s a pure athlete who laid guys out in camp. He’ll add a much needed physical presence on the turf.”
Andrew Suitor: “He’s a smaller guy with a ton of energy who will become a fan favorite for sure. He’s everywhere… we drafted him out of Junior A 3rd overall in the entry draft and he really impressed us in camp. Trust me… the fans are gonna love this guy.”
Offense: Returning from last year’s team are the Swarm’s top three scorers (Callum Crawford (32 Goals, 64 assists, 96 points - third best in the NLL), Aaron Wilson (40 goals - third most in the league, 49 assists, 89 points), Ryan Benesch (28 goals, 55 assists, 83 points), as well as Tim Campeau, Zack Greer, Sean Pollock (who welcomed a new baby boy, Owen, in December), Kevin Ross and Rich Morgan (who’s moving from D to O this season). Caines: “We return our big goal scorers from last year which is great, but any of them would trade last year’s individual stats for a better record. We honestly don’t care where the points come from… we had three players with a lot of points but only won 5 games. We need to spread it out and score goals… especially late in games. That’ll happen this year”.
Added to the O is one very important and impressive piece of the puzzle, Mat Giles (pronounced Jiles), picked up in a trade with the Boston Blazers for Kevin Buchanan: “He’s a leader on and off the turf. This’ll be his 13th year in the league… he’s won everywhere he’s been and will have an instant impact on the turf. We saw it in camp… he can do it all. He’s a big body (6’4”, 245 lbs) who’ll give Pollock and Crawford plenty of room to work.”
Goaltending: Who’s that Goaltender? PATTERSON! “Nick Patterson is our guy… we’re sticking with him as our #1 goalie but this year I think we’ll give him more defensive support. It’s very hard to make saves when you can’t see the ball. Other teams set screens last year and we didn’t have enough size to move guys out of Patty’s way… we left him hanging. We’re confident in him, and we know we have a great backup in Kevin Croswell. He can do whatever we need, whenever we ask. We’re all set in goal”
Coaching: And finally… the all important coaching staff. Caines, who along with his wife Swarm Director of Marketing Brooke Caines welcomed baby boy Carter in June, understands expectations are higher this year and he sees good things heading into Saturday’s opener. “Last year when we went to camp, we (Caines, Head Coach Mike Lines and Assistant Coach Joe Sullivan) had to introduce everything. A new system, new coaches, new players,” says Caines. “This year, it’s all second nature. We saw it in camp… we fine-tuned things instead of teaching things and that bodes well for us. We’re gelling as a team in pre-season and we expect to come out of the gate in good shape”. All that being said, the proof will be plainly visible starting Saturday night, a crucial home opener for a team looking to make a statement early in the season. Caines: “We need that signature win and are looking for it on Saturday against Rochester. Last year we lacked confidence to seal the deal late in games. I don’t expect that to be a problem this season. We have the talent and we know we can win. We’ll send a message right away.”
Let the countdown continue!
The Toyota Professor