There are only three possible outcomes this weekend… one that’s desirable, one mildly acceptable and one wholly unacceptable. “We want to win both… that’s the goal,” says Caines. “We win one and we clinch a playoff spot… we win them both, we’re only a game back of first with three winnable games left to play at Washington and home against Philadelphia and Colorado.” Caines wouldn’t even entertain the discussion about the wholly unacceptable outcome (losing both), especially after this recent lost weekend in Edmonton and at The Hive.
Although the Swarm’s national television debut didn’t end as everyone associated with the team had planned, it did prove one thing… this team is absolutely capable of competing against the best in the National Lacrosse League. And make no mistake… the Buffalo Bandits are among the elite teams in the league, consistently ranked at the top of the NLL’s Power Rankings. “We gave up five transition goals,” says Swarm Assistant Coach Aime Caines, “and other than that, we had a pretty good game. Unfortunately those transition goals and the play of Buffalo goalie Mike Thompson made all the difference.”
Transition goals… we hear about them a lot but what exactly are they and, more importantly, what is the best way to prevent them? Simply put, transition goals are scored when the Swarm loses the ball either from taking a shot that misses the mark or is saved by the opponent’s goalie. A quick pass is thrown to a breaking opponent who scores. Caines: “We always cycle someone up top when we shoot so that if the goalie makes a save or we miss the net and their defenseman releases and runs toward our net, we’ve got someone to defend. Either one of our offensive guys has to release on the shot or we’ve got to get to the bench quickly so that our defense can get on the floor. Last year it was a major issue and this year we’ve been much better. But against Buffalo, we didn’t react quickly enough and they scored on us five times. That’s unacceptable.”
Those five goals clearly were the difference between beating one of the best teams in the league and losing yet another game to them (the Swarm is 2-13 all time against the Bandits). The coaches didn’t talk to the players after the game, opting instead to let Captain Ryan Cousins lead the postgame discussion in the locker room. As Caines puts it, “to give them a chance to talk through what happened on the turf and let them figure it out. We’ve said our piece… I hope they respond well to it.”
Unlike the difficult three games in five weeks stretch the Swarm just completed, when any momentum they had in late February died, the Swarm has little time to ponder what went wrong. The schedule is ramping up… four games in eight days, starting last weekend vs. Edmonton and Buffalo and culminating in this weekend’s back to back games against the West Division leading Calgary Roughnecks who just earned the top spot in this week’s NLL Power Rankings. These are probably the most important games of the season… both in the standings and psychologically. “This is a huge test for us,” says Caines. “We want to show ourselves and everyone else that we can play with the big dogs. If we want to win the division, we have to beat Calgary… and their 9-3 record is tied for the best record in the league with Toronto. We play well against them… we see them a lot and it’s definitely a rivalry game for us. We don’t like them and they don’t like us. It’s perfect.”
What’s most intriguing about these back to back games is that these are legitimately back to back… a home and home series beginning in Calgary Friday night and at The Hive Saturday night. “Our hardship is their hardship,” says Caines. “The game, the travel between games, the second game the next day. Everything we’re going through, Calgary is going through. There are no excuses. We may even be on the same plane as them like a barnstorming baseball team at the turn of the century. That’s a level playing field and we’re looking forward to it.”
There are only three possible outcomes this weekend… one that’s desirable, one mildly acceptable and one wholly unacceptable. “We want to win both… that’s the goal,” says Caines. “We win one and we clinch a playoff spot… we win them both, we’re only a game back of first with three winnable games left to play at Washington and home against Philadelphia and Colorado.” Caines wouldn’t even entertain the discussion about the wholly unacceptable outcome (losing both), especially after this recent lost weekend in Edmonton and at The Hive. With Colorado practically eliminated from playoff contention with a 2-8 record, these final five games are more to establish playoff seeds with the top two teams in the division playing home games in the opening round. You know that’s on the minds of everyone wearing “The Winged S”.
As the season’s progressed, I’ve highlighted players whose impact has been undeniable. There are three I’d like to discuss this week: Forwards Ryan Benesch and Aaron Wilson and Defenseman Shayne Bennett:
Benesch: What more can you say about “Benny”… he’s simply been outstanding. Benny leads the league in goals with 33 and is tied for fifth in scoring (goals and assists), but what’s truly remarkable is that he’s amassed those 33 goals in just 11 games. Do the math… Benny is averaging a hat trick each game. “He’s playing lights out right now”, says Caines proudly. “He’s playing such a smart game right now, even better than last year when he scored 28 goals in 15 games. And what’s more, he’s drawing more attention from the other team’s defenders which creates opportunities on the right side with Willy (Aaron Wilson) and Call (Callum Crawford). The impact is seen both on the score sheet and off of it. It’s fun to watch for sure.”
Wilson: There’s no one on the team more frustrated that Willy. Last weekend against Edmonton and Buffalo, he hit no fewer than five goalposts… just a fraction of an inch to the left, right or lower and we’d be talking about how the assistant captain is dominating. Instead, we’re left seeing him come to the bench angry at another missed opportunity. But look for Willy to come on strong these next five games. “He’s a leader who’s playing well but he’s just not burying the ball,” says Caines. “I know he’ll rise to the occasion… he’s delivered in many big games in his career (he’s a two time NLL champion with Toronto) and he will certainly be heard from in the next four weeks.”
Bennett: It was hard to take your eyes off the newest member of the Swarm against Buffalo. Signed in February primarily to take faceoffs, the 5’10” 210 lb defenseman was everywhere Sunday against Buffalo. Caines: “We originally thought he’d only be a faceoff guy, but he’s improved his defense and his toughness. He didn’t play last year after playing with Edmonton in 2009… he’s a high energy guy and a tough man. Everyone’s thrilled to have #15 in uniform.”