Minnesota Swarm 2012 Preview: Are They Ready for an NLL Title Run?
The Minnesota Swarm finished the 2011 National Lacrosse League season tied for second place in the NLL West Division, with an 8-8 record. They then bowed out of the playoffs in the first round to the Washington Stealth, who went on to represent the West in the Champion's Cup game.
This year, the Swarm is looking to build on last year's successes and move toward a championship of their own.
Minnesota was very active in the offseason. More than half of their 23-man roster is made up of new faces.
There was good news and bad news for the Swarm coming out of the Boston Blazers dispersal draft in the offseason.
The good news is they acquired three solid players in veteran defenseman Mitch Belisle, who collected 70 loose balls last year, transition Greg Downing (78 loose balls) and former All-Star goalie Anthony Cosmo.
Belisle and Downing will help to shore up the defensive end for the Swarm. The bad news, however, is Cosmo has not signed with Minny and is currently on the team's holdout list.
With Cosmo out of the picture, that leaves the lion's share of the goaltending duties to veteran Nick Patterson. Patterson had a solid 11.08 goals against average last year for the Swarm, earning him a starting spot in the NLL All-Star game.
His numbers may be improved this year with a better defensive corps in front of him.
In addition to Belisle, the new-look defensive group also includes Jeff Gilbert (55 loose balls), acquired from the Toronto Rock. Returning from last season are Joe Cinosky (20 loose balls, 8 assists) and Matt Kelly (15 loose balls).
Downing joins a transition group that features two members of the 2011 NLL All-Rookie team.
Andrew Suitor led the Swarm with 108 loose balls and was the team's faceoff man, although his 39.2 percent success rate in the faceoff circle needs to improve. Tyler Hass scored eight goals and picked up 44 loose balls.
Highly touted draft pick Jordan MacIntosh will also enter the transition mix and could challenge Suitor for faceoff duties.
Returning veterans Rich Morgan (14 points, 35 loose balls) and Andrew Watt (21 points, 70 loose balls, 13 forced turnovers) round out what should be a solid transition squad.
Up front, the offense should once again be powered by Ryan Benesch and Callum Crawford.
Benesch became the first Swarm player to lead the NLL in scoring last year, tallying 95 points and 46 goals. Crawford grabbed up a solid 70 points, giving the Swarm a strong one-two punch.
Kevin Ross (35 points) and Jamie Shewchuk (30 points) are back in the offensive set, which should be bolstered by rookies Jay Card, Joel Henry and Corbyn Tao.
Although they lost their two preseason scrimmages, with the addition of new faces and plenty of youth, the Swarm should be ready to come out of the regular season gate firing and make their presence felt.
Their season opens in Colorado against the Mammoth on Jan 14.
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