The Minnesota Swarm (1-5) host the Edmonton Rush (6-0) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 7pm ET. (Photo: Adam Borgstahl)
The Minnesota Swarm (1-5) host the undefeated Edmonton Rush (6-0) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube as the Rush look to continue to their red-hot start and make history in the process.
Nik Bilic is well aware that the Rush and Swarm have had their moments of ill-will.
But Saturday's game between the two teams will be Bilic's first on the Rush side of the argument. Most of the grudge comes from the Rush's 15-3 pasting of the Swarm in the 2012 NLL West Division Final, and there's been other moments of the years including a memorable scrap when the Rush's Trent Smalley and the Swarm's Ryan Cousins duked it out before the game's opening faceoff.
Bilic will see things from the Rush perspective after coming over Minnesota as the bonus prize when the teams flipped first-round picks at the 2013 Draft.
"Definitely there's a bit of a rivalry," said Bilic. "Two years ago in the playoffs they knocked us around pretty good and it's probably still in the back of their minds. It's going to be physical and it's going to be a big game."
Bilic's return is a small piece of a giant puzzle that is Saturday's clash at the Xcel Energy Center.
"I can't be more excited about coming back but it's not about me. It's about keeping the streak alive," said the Rush's rugged defender.
The Rush haven't been too chatty about their undefeated start to the season. In fact, Billic's comment really is one of the lone times they've outwardly spoken about the streak - currently at 6-0 and with the opportunity to become just the third team in NLL history to reach a 7-0 beginning to a season (Buffalo in 1993 and 1996).
While they're admittedly having some thoughts about their successful start, the Rush are also well aware that slips can sink their undefeated ship.
"We're extremely happy to be where we're at but, realizing with how competitive the league is, that can turn around anytime if you're not paying attention to detail and not bringing your 'A' game every time out," said Rush assistant coach Jeff McComb.
"If you start looking ahead or looking around at something else, things can go south on you pretty quickly. Every game you're going into it's going to be a war."
"The difference between winning and losing in this league is razor thin. We might be 6-0 and they're 1-5 but in terms of talent level and coaching, it's an extremely even game and we're going to have to bring our 'A' game to be successful."
While the Rush maintain the NLL's best defense, the last three weekends of their undefeated start have shown a slide on the offensive side of the ball. The Rush averaged 15 goals per game in their first three wins of the season - home-and-home victories over Colorado and a clutch home-turf decision over Calgary - but the last three games have yielded a total of just 25 goals. The Rush slipped past Vancouver 9-8 thanks to a torrid comeback and then needed overtime to dodge Rochester at home 8-7. Last weekend, the Rush again managed just eight goals yet they eked out a two-goal victory in Philadelphia.
The Rush aren't expecting many more blowouts like the ones they mustered at home against Colorado (17-6) and Calgary (15-8), but they would like to start finding the back net with the regularity they did earlier in the campaign.
"There's some little things that have crept into our game that we want to correct," noted McComb. "From an overall perspective we still thought we were getting chances and maybe we've got to shoot a little better.
"From a systems perspective, there's two or three big things we want to correct in terms of making sure we're setting good picks, making sure we're swinging the ball, and making sure we're sharing the ball and not getting into one-on-one situations.
"We're a group that needs to share the ball. We're a group that needs to move the ball and work as a five-man unit."
Meanwhile, Minnesota is looking for a boost of confidence to send the team bursting out of The Hive as a remedy for their last place position in the National Lacrosse League standings. Putting a halt to the unconquered Rush would be just the push they need.
“That’s our main focus - we have to look forward,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “We have an opportunity to knock off the top team in the league and give us some confidence.”
But the Rush will not be easy to beat. The determination that has carried them this far into an undefeated season is assurance that this game will be difficult for the Swarm to win. And they will be no less intense when they visit Minnesota.
The Swarm also trust that they have the means for victory - a necessary belief for a team that has felt the frustration of zero wins at home and most losses as the result of a one or two goal difference. A bold hope is an extraordinary tool for the Minnesota team.
“We’re not really happy with our start right now, 1-5 is obviously not a good position to be in but we still have a lot of confidence in our group,” said Swarm forward Shayne Jackson, who scored a natural hat trick in last Saturday’s game. “Hopefully we can turn around here.”
Despite their losing record, the Swarm have shown a surge of offense as of late. In their last three games, the Swarm have scored over 10 goals, while the Rush have not scored more than nine goals in their last three. If Minnesota can step up their defense and continue the offensive output, things could start to look up.
“You just gotta believe in the systems that have been put in place by the coaching staff,” said Jackson. “If we play the way we can play then we can really make a game out of it.”
The Swarm will demand a challenging game and hope to stop the Rush from making history, but Edmonton is ready to go. With both teams heading into Saturday prepared for a monumental game, expect 100% effort from each side.
“We’ll give it everything we have,” said Caines. “We need to get in the win column and there’s no better way than beating the top team.”