The Minnesota Swarm enter the 2014 NLL season with something to prove. They came up short in their playoff run last year; this year, after some player moves and a shift from the West Division to the East, they're looking to prove that they deserve to be in the finals.
Inconsistent may have been the best word to describe the Minnesota Swarm's 2013 season. Midway through the season the Swarm lost three straight games, then followed that up with three straight wins. They finished the year with a 7-9 record, just squeaking into the playoffs.
Once in the postseason, they beat the tar out of the Toronto Rock—the winningest team in the NLL last year—by a score of 20-11. Their drive to the Champion's Cup was stopped by the eventual champions, the Rochester Knighthawks, the following week.
In the offseason, Minnesota made the most noise of any team with two big trades.
The first, in July, was to send star forward Ryan Benesch to the Buffalo Bandits along with transition Andrew Watts in exchange for draft picks. Then, in September, they traded goalie Evan Kirk to the Philadelphia Wings, again for draft picks.
The Swarm strategy for team building for some time now has been through the draft, and in September, they had four first-round picks for the second year in a row.
The first overall pick was highly touted forward Logan Schuss from Ohio State University.
Schuss joins a crew that scored the second-most goals in the NLL in 2013 (219). He will be expected to pick up a big piece of the offensive burden left by the departure of Benesch.
Veteran Callum Crawford will be counted on to be the leader of the offensive unit. His 95 points were tops for Minny last year and fourth best in the league.
Sophomores Shayne Jackson (63 points) and Kiel Matisz (62 points) should be ready to take on bigger roles. The Swarm will be counting on just that.
Matisz is part of what might be the best transition unit in the NLL.
Jordan McIntosh had a huge year in 2013, scoring 55 points, along with collecting 197 loose balls and winning 55.5 percent of his faceoffs.
Team captain Andrew Suitor will be back on transition after missing most of 2013 due to injury. He is one of the toughest guys in the NLL on top of averaging 1.2 points per game and 7.7 loose balls per game for his career.
Add in David Earl (102 LBs), Tyler Hass (71 LBs, 23 forced turnovers) and Brock Sorensen (51 LBs) and the Swarm have got a ton of depth, youth, size and strength on the transition unit.
On defense, Minnesota has a good balance of youth and veteran talent. Jeff Gilbert (64 LBs) and Greg Downing (72 LBs) are both entering their sixth seasons, Jeff Crepinsek (51 LBs) is a sophomore and Jason Noble was the second overall pick in this year's draft.
They've also added seven-year vet Mike Hobbins for some more experience and depth.
Tyler Carlson (11.04 goals-against average) will be handling the bulk of the goaltending duties this year. After sharing the responsibility fairly evenly with Kirk in the past two years, Carlson emerged as the No. 1 guy by the end of last season and will be expected to stay at the top of his game this year.
There are two big question marks for the Swarm in 2014.
The first is whether Schuss can adequately fill Benesch's shoes. Time will give us the answer, but early reports from Alex Urquhart, via In Lacrosse We Trust, are that Schuss has looked very good in preseason training camps and scrimmages.
The second is whether the Swarm are too young to take a run at the Champion's Cup. They certainly have the youth and athleticism that the NLL will require this year with smaller rosters and a larger schedule. But youth and athleticism doesn't always trump experience, and that could come back to bite them once again in the playoffs.
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