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Youthful Swarm open NLL year with road test

01/08/2013, 11:30am EST
By Jace Frederick, Swarm beat writer for NLL.com

Minnesota starts season in Buffalo on Saturday night

The Minnesota Swarm and their 2012 leading scorer Callum Crawford will open the 2013 NLL regular season on the road against the Buffalo Bandits on Saturday night. (Photo: Scott Pierson)

A young and talented Minnesota Swarm team looks to get off to a fast start in their 2013 National Lacrosse League season opener on the road on Saturday, Jan. 12 against the Buffalo Bandits (0-1) at 7:30 p.m. ET at First Niagara Center. Watch the game live on the NLL on YouTube on The Lacrosse Network.

The Swarm, who rode a youthful resurgence to a 10-6 record and a franchise-best West Division Finals appearance in 2012, are looking to build on last season’s success.

“We had a great run towards the end of the season, and that was great, but when it all came down to it, we did fall short,” Minnesota head coach Joe Sullivan said. “It looks like we’ve solidified where our opportunities were from last year and we’re going to look forward and do what we can.”

Minnesota got even younger in the offseason. The Swarm, whose average age is under 25-years old, had four first-round selections in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft. Minnesota has five rookies on its current active roster.

“We have a lot of youth,” said Swarm defenseman Jeff Gilbert, who forced a team-high 26 turnovers in 2012. “Training camp, it was very competitive this year, much like last year.”

“Everybody’s mentality is that nobody’s spot was safe on the team,” Gilbert added. “I’m excited for the year.”

While Sullivan said Minnesota’s staff does not want to place too much pressure on the rookie players early, all of them will see action.

“They’re all going to play,” he said. “They’re going to play as much as they deserve to play.”

Buffalo is looking to bounce back from a season-opening 13-8 road loss to the Philadelphia Wings last night in addition to their disappointing 7-9 record in their 2012 campaign that ended in a first-round exit at the hands of Toronto.

“Last year was not acceptable at all,” Buffalo assistant coach Rich Kilgour said. “We identified the problems of having to be more athletic and bring some younger guys in just to bring that enthusiasm and get up and down the floor.”

Kilgour said the Bandits’ 19-11 loss in Minnesota last season was a major indicator of the team’s deficiencies in the open floor.

“They pretty much ran us out of the building,” he said.

Kilgour said the Bandits added “10 or 11” new players to this year’s roster, about half of which are under the age of 25.

Minnesota’s defense finished last season strong after giving up 37 goals over its first three games. Avoiding a similar rough start on the back end will be key to getting 2013 started on the right foot.

“Early on last year (we had) a lot of new faces and implemented a new system, so it took a few games to get used to it,” Gilbert said. “We have our own little system in Minnesota. It fits to the tune of our athleticism and, with time, hopefully we’ll be peaking at the right time.”

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