The Buffalo Bandits (8-6) visit the Minnesota Swarm (3-12) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8pm ET. (Photo: Scott Pierson)
Three weeks ago, the Minnesota Swarm (3-12) hosted the Buffalo Bandits (8-6), and came out victorious in overtime, 10-9. Since then, both teams have suffered nothing but losses and will be hungry for the win this Saturday at 8 p.m. ET at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul. The game will be available live exclusively at UniversalSports.com, available to subscribers of Universal Sports Network in the U.S. and for non-subscribers in Canada only.
As they enter week 16, Minnesota is clinging to a shred of hope for their playoff aspirations. To remain in contention after this weekend, the Swarm must win at home and Toronto (6-9) must simultaneously lose as they host Philadelphia (5-10).
“It’s nothing new to us,” said Swarm defenseman Jeff Gilbert. “It’s been do-or-die games for the last probably five or six weeks. At the end of the day, we just gotta find ways to close out games.”
Though the Swarm can’t control the game between the Wings and the Rock this weekend, they can take charge of how they perform against the Bandits on Saturday. In the competitive National Lacrosse League, Minnesota finds their contention to be a motivational factor.
“Still being able to be considered to make the playoffs with our record is something to help motivate the guys to get some wins,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “It’s almost like that movie Dumb & Dumber: ‘So you’re saying there’s a chance.’"
While a chance for the playoffs remains, the Swarm are still trying to work out the glitches of a young team and put together an entire game. With the last three home games going into over time and only one turning into a “W” for Minnesota, every second will count against Buffalo.
“We’re in games, we’re they’re, they’re always tight but there seems to be a short little stretch where we either lose focus or a bounce doesn’t go our way,” said Gilbert. “That’s the difference between first place and last place, where we’re sitting right now.”
“It’s just finding ways to win and that’s within that dressing room and within the players to close out,” said Caines. “We’ve had opportunities to close out games and we haven’t done it.”
Minnesota will be hosting their last three regulation games and will look to culminate their season with full games of persistence and synergy in front of the home crowd, starting with Saturday.
“We’re gonna keep our game plans and work hard and hopefully have the defense, offense and goaltending click and put everything together,” said Caines. “It’s been a long season where we’ve had spots of brilliance and then the other end is not so brilliant. So it’s just about putting that whole complete game together and finding ways to win.”
Last week, the Swarm hosted Rochester on Friday for the first part of a home-and-home series. Despite two losses, Minnesota strengthened the bonds with their fans as they played in honor of Katy Miller, a dedicated Swarm fan who tragically passed away this September due to a heart condition at age 23. Swarm captain Andrew Suitor wore Katy’s name on his jersey to honor her memory and support her family.
“It was really emotional there at the beginning of the game when Suitor had the the jersey on and said he was playing for the family and for Katy Miller,” said Caines. “It was great to see Suitor be really unselfish and do something like that. In a professional sport I think it shows just what kind of character he is and what kind of fans come to our games and support us.”
“I’d gotten a chance to be really close with the family. I coach their son, he’s actually the captain of our junior swarm team and he’s gonna be coming out with Suitor this game, it’s gonna be pretty special.”
The Swarm will also be hosting the fourth annual Hive Cares night with the team sporting special edition jerseys this Saturday. Proceeds raised from the event will benefit the Randy Shaver Cancer Research & Community Fund, an organization that supports the cancer community in Minnesota by funding research, prevention, treatment and other programs relating to the cancer community.
“We just really have to concentrate on Buffalo - especially at a home game with The Hive Cares Night,” said Caines. “It’s going to be a special night so we’re just trying to motivate the guys for that.”
And it’s a team with that kind of integrity and dedication that will keep battling until the end of their season.
“Even if we weren’t in the playoffs, we would play the last three games as hard as we can and try to get wins,” said Caines. “And that’s what we’re planning to do.”
Meanwhile, the Bandits are reeling, losers of four straight games and desperate in their own right to end this skid.
After suffering a crushing home defeat to Calgary last week, a game that the Bandits led throughout until giving up seven goals in the fourth quarter and squandering a three-goal advantage, Buffalo now embarks on a three-game road trip, starting in Minnesota.
“We worked so hard to get to [8-2] and you get a little full of yourself and think you don’t have to do the little things anymore,” said Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgour. “We have to get back to being a disciplined team; we’ve been spending a little too much time in the box lately and just need to shut down other teams’ transition. Minnesota will be a great test for that because they get up and down the floor pretty well.”
Despite the four-game slide, Buffalo is still in a strong position in the East division playoff race. They still have a chance at first place and a first-round bye, and a win this week over Minnesota would guarantee at least one home playoff game.
“You don’t want to lose four in a row, but hopefully we’ve learned from this experience and we can be better for it in the end,” Kilgour said.
Bandits forward Ryan Benesch, acquired via off-season trade from this same Minnesota club, recognizes that his team’s mindset has to change.
“We went on a good little winning streak and I think we did get a little too high [on ourselves], that we were a little too good,” the 29-year old Kitchener, ON native admitted. “We’ve got to come into games expecting a battle, we can’t be complacent and get full of ourselves.”
Benesch has fit right in with his new team, leading the Bandits in scoring this season with 58 points (18+40). He credits much of his success to the legendary veterans with whom he’s playing on offense.
“At the start of the season, it’s a little intimidating being with a new team, especially to a team that has the living-legend John Tavares playing with you,” Benesch said. “You don’t want to let a guy like JT down and you want to kind of prove that you belong on the floor with him. I’m finding it more comfortable now, JT and I have been stall-mates all year so I’ve gotten the chance to learn from him and talk with him about lacrosse… it’s been an amazing ride so far.”