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Unfamiliar foe: Swarm and Rock to go toe-to-toe

01/23/2013, 12:00pm EST
By NLL.com's Swarm beat writer Jace Frederick and Rock beat writer Justin Millerson

Teams meet for first game since 2009, live on TSN2 and ESPN3


The Minnesota Swarm and Toronto Rock will meet on Friday night, the first regular season game between the teams since 2009, at 7:30 p.m. ET at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.

The Minnesota Swarm (0-1) will get back into 2013 National Lacrosse League regular season action by hitting the road to take on the Toronto Rock (2-1) on Friday night at Air Canada Centre at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Watch the game live in the United States on ESPN3 and on TSN2 and TSN Mobile in Canada. The game will air live on the NLL on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network outside of North America.

The game will be Minnesota’s second contest of the young season. The Swarm were idle last weekend following their 13-12 loss in Buffalo on Jan. 12 when they lost their lead late.

“It’s kinda tough, especially after a loss like that, to lose like that and then have to sit on it for a week,” Swarm defenseman Jeff Gilbert said. “We’re all chomping at the bit to get back out there on the floor.”

Gilbert, an Ontario native who won the NLL Champion’s Cup with Toronto in 2011, said Friday’s game has some added meaning against his old team and being so close to home.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have it circled,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting to get back there and play with those guys again, obviously on opposite sides of the floor this time.”

The loss to Buffalo places an added importance to the Swarm’s meeting with Toronto as Minnesota attempts to avoid starting the season in an 0-2 hole.

“Two tough road opponents right off the bat so we have to come prepared and be focused for Toronto,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “We’ve had two weeks to prepare, watch film and get our guys ready so that’s our main focus is to be ready for Toronto.”

The Swarm allowed five power play goals in their season-opening loss to the Bandits, something the defense looks to improve on moving forward.

“Giving up five is never acceptable,” Gilbert said. “That was one of our main focuses in practice this week as well as watching film.”

Friday night marks Minnesota’s first regular season meeting with the Rock since 2009.

“We’ve scrimmaged (Toronto) the last few years so we know a little bit about them,” Caines said. “We haven’t played them in a real game in three years and I think that helps. They don’t know that much about us as well so they have to prepare for us and we have to prepare for them. It will be interesting for sure.”

Minnesota topped the Rock 13-10 in that 2009 game. Since that time, the Swarm have added a number of young pieces to the lineup, four of which coming out of the 2012 NLL entry daft. Rookies Brock Sorensen, Kiel Matisz, Shayne Jackson and Alex Crepinsek, each drafted in the first round, were able to crack the Swarm’s lineup in their season opener against the Buffalo Bandits. 

“They are the type of team who drafted so well the last couple years and coming in with a very young club, I think they want to push the ball maybe as much if not more than us,” said Toronto general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson. “I think it's going to be a very fast game, something I think we can handle.”

After what proved to be a devastating, one-goal loss against the Philadelphia Wings in Week #3, the Rock will try to forget the past as they prepare for their second back-to-back weekend in less than a month.

“The [Philadelphia] game stung us a little bit and the best way to forget it is to have a  real good effort on Friday night against Minnesota and we will worry about Rochester [on Saturday],” said Toronto Rock forward Josh Sanderson.

For the Rock, this weekend will be their second back-to-back mission in just 12 days, however this was downplayed by both Josh and Terry Sanderson during Wednesday’s coaches media conference call.

“I believe with back-to-back games, especially if you struggle in the first one, you want to get right back at it,” Terry Sanderson said. “We've been fairly successful in back-to-back games [in the past], so I don't think it's really a big issue from our standpoint.”

Through three games, the Rock have had a relatively balanced attack offensively. Colin Doyle (2+12), Garret Billings (3+11) and Kasey Beirnes (6+4) have each recorded ten or more points. With eight points each, Josh Sanderson (5+3) and Stephan Leblanc (4+4) are not far behind. 

“I think it's just the way we are structured,” Terry Sanderson said. “[We] are a group that likes to move the ball around. We feel very comfortable with our offense.”

According to Terry Sanderson, Toronto Rock defenseman Damon Edwards is expected to return to the lineup this weekend after suffering a hamstring injury in the Rock's season-opening win against the Calgary Roughnecks.

After their game on Friday night, both teams will play again on Saturday as the Swarm will return to Minnesota for their home opener at Xcel Energy Center against the Washington Stealth at 8 p.m. ET, while the Rock will travel to Rochester to play the Knighthawks at 7:30 p.m. ET at Blue Cross Arena.

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