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Swarm stick together, earn first 'W' with 11-10 win over Wings

01/18/2014, 2:15pm EST
By Wings beat writer Julie Kayzerman for NLL.com

Minnesota goalie Higgins game's First Star in NLL debut win over Philly

The Minnesota Swarm (1-2) earned their first 'W' of the year by defeating the Philadelphia Wings (1-3) on the road by a score of 11-10 at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon while doubling their goal count for the season.

“We knew this [performance] would come it was just a matter of time,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “The guys persevered and showed the kind of character we knew they had. Where they fell short in games past they didn’t tonight.”

However, the game left Wings head coach Blane Harrison “frustrated and disappointed” as the team clearly fell behind in the second quarter. “This is like the third loss that we’ve given up six goals in the second quarter and not scored a whole lot… you can’t win any games when you dig that kind of hole, so we’re going to have to figure that out and come back tomorrow and make it happen.”

The first period belonged to the Wings as they came out fast and strong, scoring three goals in first three minutes of the game. Forwards Kyle Buchanan, Jordan Hall and Garrett Thul contributed a goal each while Kevin Crowley assisted two of the three goals, forcing the Swarm to make a goalie change putting in Zach Higgins for Tyler Carlson, as Higgins made his debut in the National Lacrosse League.

“It’s pretty exciting, the nerves are still going, the adrenaline is still pumping but it feels good to get the win for my team,” Higgins said after the game. “I’m going to give the credit to the defense, they helped me out. Once I made the first save the nerves settled down but my defense made things easy for me.”

The change in goalies seemed to make all the difference in defense of Minnesota who tightened up well in front of the rookie.

“He did well,” Wings captain Brodie Merrill said on Higgins. “It didn’t really change our approach at all. If anything we wanted to test him a little bit, and he responded.”

Wings goalie Evan Kirk made save after save in the first, falling only to Swarm’s forward Shayne Jackson who put his team on the board to end the quarter 3-1 in favor of the Wings.

However the second period marked a loss in momentum for the Wings early in the second as they let Minnesota take the early lead with Josh Gillam scoring a power play goal and Jordan MacIntosh putting up another quickly after to make it 5-3.

“I mean we got up a little bit and got a little bit complacent there,” Merrill said. “It might be in our head a little bit right now. We have to turn the page and not dwell on it. We were able to fight back and it’s been a good sign for us early in the year that we’ve been pretty resilient and been able to get back in the games and give ourselves a chance, [but] we just haven’t been able to finish.”

Highlighting the team’s resiliency more than anyone on the Wings was forward Jordan Hall, who fought back minutes later with a breakaway goal, sniping the ball into the top right corner of the Swarm’s net, cutting the lead by one.

The Swarm came right back out though, scoring during a Wings power play and sneaking another past Kirk to end the second with a three goal lead after outshooting the Wings 31-25.

The Wings seemed to find their game in the third, playing with more heart and determination, earning them a goal by forward Tracey Kelusky who reached the top left pocket after a perfect set-up from Buchanan.

Hall found his third goal of the night a minute later with a powerful shot into the Swarm’s net.

Wings defensemen assistant captain Brett Manney sported several interceptions, yielding excellent fore-checking opportunities for the Wings to capitalize on.

As their resiliency certainly earned them a moral victory, the Wings still need to find a way to finish the games with better results.

“There are some good signs there and you got to hope that it’s going to pay off later in the season,” Merrill said. “It’s just a few subtle things, a few subtle breaks or changes in momentum in a game that have really been the difference for us this year, so hopefully if we can continue to stay the course, learn from our mistakes and keep striving for continuous improvement, the results will show.”

However, despite the comeback, the Wings had a lapse in defense on the penalty kill, letting Gillam put another point on the board for the Swarm. Veteran Kelusky responded shortly after though, coming out on fire during a Wing’s power play, giving his team another goal, assisted by Hall to end the quarter down a goal.

With 58 seconds into the fourth quarter, Minnesota caught Kirk with their ninth goal of the game. As the Wings trailed by two, it was Forward Ryan Ward with the breakaway, sniping one in the bottom right corner of the Swarm’s net, giving Merrill his third assist of the night.

The clock left 7:18 to go when Thull ran one behind the net for an impressive wrap- around goal to tie up the game 9-9, but two minutes Minnesota caught Kirk off-guard for goal number 10.

As the Wings looked ready to respond, it was Minnesota’s Kiel Matisz who capitalized on the power play, making it 11-9.

With a minute left in game time, the Wings came back to cut the lead by one with another goal from Hall, giving an exciting end to the game as the Swarm held off Philly to take the win.

“I like the resilience of this group and the character of this group that we’re showing,” Kelusky said. “No one’s pushing the panic button by any means because I think there’s a lot of things that are within our control that we can fix… but at the end of day we’ve dug ourselves in a bit of a hole but I’m confident in this group and the guys we have because again, that resiliency goes a long way.”

The two teams will finish their home-and-home series by heading to Minnesota for the Swarm's home opener at Xcel Energy Center on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

“We’ve been waiting for our home opener and it couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s going to give us the opportunity to get back to .500 and get closer to our goal,” Sullivan said. “Look for an outstanding team. We’re young, we’re exciting, and we’re productive. Once the ball begins to fall for our offense they are going to gel real quick. It’s going to be an exciting team to watch.”

The Wings will have to shake this loss off quickly in preparation for round two.

“Ultimately you just have to hit that reset button,” Kelusky said drawing from his experience in the league. “Anybody can win and you just have to get mentally focused and really have to let that one go.”

Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:

1) Zach Higgins
2) Jordan MacIntosh
3) Jordan Hall

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