The Minnesota Swarm are set to finish up an all too brief NLL regular season as they face a familiar opponent in the Colorado Mammoth. With the playoffs already set, it may be easy to see this as a throw away game for both teams. You can bet it will be anything but. The Swarm are hungry to avenge two losses to the Mammoth, both in games they were leading or tied at the half.
The team made the promise to themselves to finish the season at 9-7, are riding a three game winning streak, and finishing the season up at home. This all adds up to what should be a highly motivated Swarm team, ready to give the fans at the Hive a great send off.
The Mammoth bring in John Grant, Jr, the league's leading scorer. Asked how you shut down Grant, Jr. both Swarm captain Andrew Suitor and defenseman Joe Cinosky said, "You can't." Both Suitor and Cinosky mentioned keeping sticks on Grant, Jr. and getting in his shooting lanes, but that containing him seemed to be more likely than shutting him down.
On the back end, the Mammoth have Chris Levis, an all-star goalie who doesn't give up goals easy. Ryan Benesch said the secret is to get to Levis early, and then keep the pressure on, and "get him moving from side to side and try to wear him out as the game goes on." Benesch did mention that Levis is only an issue once you get past the Mammoth defense, no small task at all.
All three Swarm players were confident in the Swarm's game plan going into the final game of the season. Benesch said "every game we come in the same way. We have our scouting reports and our videos, and the coaches do a good job of making sure we know who we're playing, and who to match up on, and how to win." Asked how they win, Benesch said, "I can't tell you that, you'll have to wait and see."
The players that were at the Captain's practice at the Xcel Energy Center this week looked loose, focused, and in good spirits. Suitor and a handful of other players played a cross rink game of lacrosse using tiny nets and mini lacrosse sticks, while Cinosky and Rookie of the Week Jay Card took shots at the other end of the floor. At one point, Card took a bounce shot on the empty net, and the ball bounced so hard, it hit a light at the top of the building.
The Swarm desperately want to end the season riding high, and a win over the second team in the West, a team they will face again next week to open the playoffs, would go a long way toward that goal. They promised themselves they would finish 9-7, and the only way to fulfill that promise to themselves is to beat a team that has given them fits all year. To do so, the Swarm will need to find a way to continue their second half dominance of late, and get themselves off to a good start at the beginning, something they have struggled with.
Right now, though, the team looks to be hitting on all cylinders. The defense is playing well, the transition game is finding some success, the offense is scoring in bunches, and the goaltending has found a groove. These are all very good things going into the playoffs, and the players know it.
The only way the fans at the X will see this team again at home, is if the Swarm can make it to the NLL Championship game against a lower overall seed from the east. Not an easy path, but if they keep going like they are, there is no reason to think they can't do it.
The game tonight can be watch on national television, live, on CBS Sports Network at 6:30PM. Or, you know, you could get off your couch and come watch the game at the X. Like you have anything better to do?
Side note - If you want to catch some field lacrosse, Joe Cinosky coaches the men's club team over at the University of Minnesota. They are playing for their league championship today at 1:30PM at Woodbury High School.