The Minnesota Swarm (1-3) host the Toronto Rock (5-1) on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET at Xcel Energy Center. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
The Minnesota Swarm (1-3) look to get back on track when they play the Toronto Rock (5-1) for the second time in three weeks, this time at home at Xcel Energy Center on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on TSN2 and TSN Mobile in Canada, ESPN3 in the U.S., and on NLL on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network outside of North America.
Minnesota faces a Toronto squad that defeated the Swarm in a comeback win by a score of 13-12 in their Jan. 25 meeting at Air Canada Centre.
“To play Toronto in Minnesota is a great opportunity for us to bounce back,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “They’re a great team on a great roll right now playing under some good coaching. I don’t expect them to roll over. It’s going to be tough to get them. I think we’re prepared as much as we can be for this weekend.”
The Rock were heavily outplayed in the second and third quarters of their first meeting, allowing a season-high 10 goals over the 30-minute stretch as the Swarm took a 12-10 lead into the fourth quarter. However, Toronto recovered by shutting out Minnesota in the final frame en route to their third win of the season and first against the Swarm since 2007.
“No, I don't think we got caught off guard at all,” said Rock general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson in regard to Minnesota's quick style of play. “I mean our guys realize the [youth] on Minnesota. We just need to be a little more prepared ourselves.”
One major difference this time around will be Swarm captain Andrew Suitor’s presence in the lineup. Suitor missed the first meeting between the two teams while serving a suspension stemming from the end of the 2012 season.
Suitor should make things more difficult for Rock forward Garrett Billings, who racked up a game-high nine points (2+7) in their previous meeting. This is the second-consecutive week Minnesota will face one of the league’s prolific scorers, as the Swarm battled Colorado’s John Grant, Jr. last weekend. But the game plans for defending the two stars may vary.
“I would say you would go at them different,” Suitor said. “Billings is more of a passer and ‘Junior’ is more of a shooter. You have to prepare differently for every team. You can’t just prepare for Billings or Colin Doyle might go off on us for six and five [11 points] so we definitely have to prepare differently.”
Minnesota arguably had their worst performance of the season in a 15-9 loss to the Colorado Mammoth last Saturday. But Sullivan expects his youthful roster to rebound nicely.
“The great thing about young players is that they’re pretty resilient,” he said. “These guys all are hungry to win. They’re a bunch of guys that play for each other. I don’t see it as a problem for us to get ready play Toronto or any other team going forward. With our leadership that we have through Andrew [Suitor] and [Jeff] Gilbert and some other players, I’m pretty sure that we’ll pull through just fine.”
The Swarm scored just nine goals on 52 shots in Colorado, a number they hope to improve on with the possible return of forward Callum Crawford, who missed last weekend's game with a hamstring injury.
“He’s going to be back in the lineup this weekend, so we’ll see our production go back up,” Sullivan said. “He draws the best checker, for sure, and he steps up a lot. He sees the floor as well as anybody. What he brings is an awful lot for our offense.”
In what seems to be a growing trend this year, Minnesota has adopted a nostalgic man-to-man defensive scheme. The Rock first encountered this style of play in a game against the Philadelphia Wings in Week #3, an 8-7 decision that marked their only loss of the season so far.
“We are used to playing against a pressure defense,” Billings said. “It's what we see every week in practice...it's just natural we don't really have to think about what we are doing on offense. But there are a couple teams where they're playing the man-to-man, so you really have to go bang your picks and roll to the net and kind of play old-school lacrosse.”
Toronto maintained their lead in the East Division standings with a 14-12 win against the Buffalo Bandits last weekend. Although Sanderson said he was happy with the victory, he also noted there are a couple things that the Rock need to work on.
“There are still parts to our game that we want to clean up a little bit,” he said. “We weren't happy that we allowed 12 [goals].”
The Rock are now atop the league standings with an impressive 5-1 record – their best start since 2010, when they posted a franchise-best 6-1 record to open the season.
Much has been said about Toronto's strong defensive play and solid goaltending thus far. Through six games, the Rock have yielded just 59 goals, an average of 9.83 goals allowed per game. Toronto's offense, though evidently adequate, has played second fiddle to the team's defense. So far, the Rock have scored 68 goals with a modest average of 11.3 goals scored per game.
“I think our back end has been our strength here,” Billings said. “It's not like we've been putting up 16, 17 goals. We kind of eked out those wins, so we got to step it up a little bit."