The Minnesota Swarm will host the Washington Stealth for their 2013 NLL home opener at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. (Photo: Richard Olson)
The Minnesota Swarm (0-2) will renew a West Division rivalry when they host the Washington Stealth (3-1) on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET for the Swarm’s home opener at Xcel Energy Center. Watch the game live on the NLL on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
After Washington’s 12-10 win over Edmonton last night, Minnesota comes having suffered a heartbreaking 13-12 loss to the Toronto Rock on Friday night.
“That’s always a tough battle for us,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “That’s one of our Western rivals. Both teams seem to get up for that game. We’re going to be excited, especially because it’s our home opener.”
Minnesota will get a boost to their roster as team captain Andrew Suitor is expected to return to the lineup following his two-game suspension to start the season.
“It’s going to be a big uplift to our team,” Caines said. “He’s our captain. He brings a lot to the table just with his leadership alone. It’s going to be a big boost for us. I know he’s anxious to get back in the lineup.”
The Swarm will need Suitor’s leadership and toughness as they attempt to defend Washington’s physical forwards. Stealth forward Rhys Duch had 14 points in his two games against Minnesota last season.
“They’re big guys,” Swarm defenseman Jeff Gilbert said. “They’re one of the most potent offenses in the league. That’s my opinion. It’s a good chance for our defense to prove that we’re capable of defending one of the best offensive units in the league.”
Saturday’s contest will mark the second game of the weekend for both teams. Minnesota takes on the Rock in Toronto Friday night while Washington will be in Edmonton to battle the Rush. Over their history, the Stealth have a record of 11-14 on the second leg of weekend doubleheaders. Since 2010, the Stealth are 5-2 when playing the night before and won both of these games last season.
“This is our one doubleheader weekend of the season and we know it’s tough mentally and physically but everybody does it,” said Stealth general manager Doug Locker. “Historically, teams playing on the second night usually do pretty well and I expect both teams are going to be pretty fired up and ready to go.”
The Swarm coaching staff will not disclose who will be in net in either game this weekend between their second-year goaltenders Evan Kirk and Tyler Carlson. Kirk got the start and recorded 45 saves in Minnesota’s 13-12 season-opening loss in Buffalo on Jan. 12.
“We’re not going to show our cards,” Caines said. “Last year, we did a rotation and this year, we’re going to have a game-time decision.”
Minnesota hopes its youth will provide an added advantage in the second half of the back-to-back situation.
“It will be big for us to dictate pace of play,” Gilbert said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to take it to them.”
This is the first of three meetings between the two teams this year, two of which will be played in Minnesota.
Last season, the Stealth struggled against the Swarm, dropping two of their three matchups. The only head-to-head win came in a similar situation last season when the Stealth concluded a doubleheader weekend with a 20-13 victory at Comcast Arena, the Stealth’s biggest offensive output of the season.
The Stealth look to reassert their offensive dominance this week after the Edmonton Rush managed to shut down several of their top scorers last Sunday. Forward Lewis Ratcliff and Cliff Smith, a two-time NLL Offensive Player of the Week this season, were both held scoreless for the first time this year, significantly minimizing the team’s scoring balance.
“If you had asked us at the end of last year if we could start our first three games [like this] I’m sure we would have signed up but actually living throught it is a little different,” said Stealth forward Athan Iannucci. “We would have liked to be 3-0 obviously but Edmonton’s a good team and we just couldn’t put a full 60 [minutes] together.”
Some bright spots in the loss came from Duch, who managed to score his third hat trick in as many games, as well as Iannucci and transition player Bob Snider, who each netted two goals in the losing effort.
The Swarm, who made it all the way to the West Division Finals last season before getting ousted by the Edmonton Rush, made what was probably the biggest splash in the NLL Entry Draft this past year selecting four players in the first round.
One of these selections was Ohio State University standout Brock Sorensen, the younger brother of Stealth captain Kyle Sorensen. This will mark the first time that the brothers have faced off head-to-head in their NLL careers. Brock was selected second overall in the 2012 NLL Entry Draft, the same draft spot that the Stealth selected Kyle at in 2006 when he entered the league.
Even with the Stealth’s first loss last weekend, they are still confident that they are heading in the right direction after a league-worst 4-12 record last year.
“In the big picture, we are really happy with what we are seeing in terms of continuity with our players,” Locker said. “We’re thrilled with the way the younger guys have stepped up, the veterans have meshed well together on both sides of the ball and we’re pretty happy to be off to [this] start.”
The Stealth hold an early half game lead in the division and realize the importance of these games with respect to the standings as the season progresses.
“It’s already a tight race and they’re divisional opponents,” Iannucci said. “At the end of the season, always a couple of teams scrambling for wins and we’d like to get them now so that we don’t have to worry about it when the season starts to come to an end.”