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Crossover clash: Rock set to face Swarm in first round on Sunday

04/26/2013, 2:00pm EDT
By NLL.com's Swarm beat writer Jace Frederick and Rock beat writer Justin Millerson

Toronto's veterans up against Minnesota's talented young roster

The top overall seed in the playoffs, the Toronto Rock host the Minnesota Swarm, who crossed over as the fifth seed in the West, for their first-round Division Semifinal playoff game at Air Canada Centre on Sunday at 3pm ET. (Photo: Chris Fischbeck)

The top-seeded Toronto Rock face the visiting Minnesota Swarm, who crossed over as the fifth seed in the West Division, for their first-round East Division Semifinal playoff matchup at Air Canada Centre on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on TSN2 in Canada, Fox Sports North Plus in the U.S., and on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network outside of Canada.

With a bye during the Week #16 regular season finale, the Rock patiently awaited the results that determined their playoff opponent. As the standings worked out, the loser of the game between the Swarm and Colorado Mammoth landed the fourth seed in the East Division via the crossover rule to play the Rock. In a spirited affair, the Swarm fell to the Mammoth by a score of 16-14 late Saturday night to set the stage for Sunday’s game in Toronto.

“We’ll be feeling pretty excited,” said Rock captain Colin Doyle. “Having the week off and being able to watch all the games and seeing the desperation level across the league…we are looking forward to a taste of that ourselves.”

Sunday’s game will mark the third meeting between Toronto and Minnesota this season and despite the large gap in the regular season standings between the two squads, the matchup proved to be evenly matched. The previous two meetings featured the same 13-12 score (one ending in overtime) with each team earning a win.

“They’re a great lacrosse team,” said Doyle. “They got big, strong, talented athletes that are going to be playing hungry. As it’s been all yearlong, if you don’t show up with your best, you are probably not going to win the game.”

“I suspect this will be another one of those one-goal games,” Doyle said.

The Rock head into the post season for the 13th time in their 15-year history and with many mainstay veteran players on their roster, Toronto is treading in familiar territory.

“It’s kind of status quo for us, we’ve got so many veterans, nothing exciting really needs to be said. Everybody knows of the level that needs to come up at this time,” said Doyle, who has participated in every one of Toronto’s playoff appearances to date.

Conversely, Toronto goalie Nick Rose and breakout transition player Jesse Gamble – a couple of Toronto’s most important pieces this season – have combined to play just four playoff games.

“I think it’s an exciting time for them,” said Rock general manager and assistant coach Terry Sanderson. “I know they’re not happy about how our playoff run ended last year. Speaking with Nick [Rose], I think he’s very excited about coming out and putting in a big effort and see where this thing takes us.”

The two teams split a pair of early season matchups as both teams won at home by identical 13-12 scores, the second of which was an overtime win by the Swarm.

“They’re an explosive team offensively, they’ve got a real sound defense and (Rock goaltender Nick Rose) has been turning the ball away in the net,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “I don’t expect them to do anything but put a great game forward and we’re going to have to respond real quickly.”

After a 3-7 start, the Swarm won four of their last six games of the regular season to earn a postseason berth.

“We’ve just come together as a group so much,” said Swarm forward Ryan Benesch. “You can really start to tell guys are actually caring for one another and buying into the whole family system.”

The play of forward Callum Crawford, who won NLL Player of the Month for April, has sparked the hot stretch as the team’s interim captain has recorded 59 points (22+37) over Minnesota’s last seven games.

“Crawford’s been playing out of his mind the last seven games,” Benesch said. “He’s stepped up in a huge way. He’s took this team on his back and we’re lucky to have someone step up in that way.”

The Swarm look for some playoff success after their disappointing 15-3 blowout loss to the Edmonton Rush in the West Division Final last season that abruptly ended their playoff run.

“We got a taste of winning in the playoffs last year and we were a little disappointed with how everything went in the West Finals,” Benesch said. “That left a sour taste in our mouths and I don’t think guys want to taste that anymore. I think we’re excited, we’re ready to play and it’s just a matter of coming out there and doing it.”

Sunday serves as the first playoff game in the young careers of the Swarm’s four 2012 first round draft picks (Brock Sorensen, Shayne Jackson, Kiel Matisz and Alex Crepinsek), but Minnesota no longer really considers them to be rookies after 16 games of experience.

“Those guys have played every game, so there as experienced as they’re going to be,” Sullivan said. “I’m going to let them play their game, let them get themselves focused the way they always have and not try to change too much.”

Swarm goaltender Tyler Carlson started both of the team’s previous two games against the Rock. He stopped 81 of the 106 shots he faced, but Sullivan won’t commit to him as the starter for Sunday’s meeting.

“It’s tough to say right now,” Sullivan said. “I’ve got to see where (Carlson’s) state of mind is and how he performs. He’s looked good against Toronto but Evan Kirk’s looked just as well against other teams, so it’s tough to say really.”

Fox Sports North Plus is available on satellite on DIRECTV (Channel 670-1) and Dish Network (Channel 445), as well as locally in Minnesota on Comcast Channel 694.

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