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Just hold on, they're going home! Rock swat Swarm on road, 8-6

04/26/2014, 10:30pm EDT
By Swarm beat writer Maria Jollie for NLL.com

Toronto clinches first-round home playoff game with win over Minnesota

The Minnesota Swarm (4-14) fell to the Toronto Rock (9-9) in front of a season-high crowd of 9,056 at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night. The Rock earned a home playoff game with the win and will host the Buffalo Bandits (8-10) in the Semifinal of the NLL East Division.

Confirming their intense loyalty to the Swarm were the Minnesota fans who chose Fan Appreciation Night to fill The Hive with the largest crowd of the year.

“It was obviously a tough season and the best thing for me was coming out here and seeing everyone still showing up,” said Swarm transition player Tyler Hass. “It was really nice to see, especially today.”

Saturday’s game was reminiscent of the Swarm season this year - a slow start that picked up and came within reach of the win but ultimately lost. The final score was 6-8 with Minnesota scoring four of their six goals in the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, the young team recognizes all they have learned and look forward to applying their strengths in the season to come.

“It’s kind of what we expected with all these young guys,” said Swarm transition player Tyler Hass. “It was a huge learning curve and we’ve definitely learned a lot and it’s definitely already showing.”

Once again, two-time NLL Rookie of the Month Logan Schuss (2+2) led the offense for the Swarm. Shayne Jackson (2+0) notched two with Kiel Matisz (1+0) and Tyler Hass (1+0) each scoring one of their own. Swarm goalie Zach Higgins had 53 saves on 61 shots but the six goals delivered by his offense were not enough to support a victory.

“When we needed our goalies to play well, they did,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “Tonight we only allowed eight but we didn’t generate anything offensively.”

Despite a disappointing end to the season, the Swarm organization will not be deterred but will use this year as a stepping stone to a rewarding future.

“We’ve got a couple first round draft picks coming up again,” said Sullivan. “But we’re in a situation where we’ve got a plethora of young talent mixed with great character and personalities in this room. I think the changes we will have to make will be very minimal.”

“It just started to feel like the players started to get to know each other - started to play for reach other and they came together as a group. These guys don’t see each other until Friday night at practice, they play the game on Saturday, they go home. So it’s tough to bring them together, especially when they’re so young and they’re from all over the place. So next year is going to be just that much better.”

The combination of the Rock win and the Bandits loss gave Toronto the higher seed and the home advantage for the Semifinal playoff game. The team opted not to hear the outcome of the Bandits game so they could fully concentrate on the outcome they could control.

“I didn’t want our guys focusing on what was thousands of miles away,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “We needed to take care of business in this building here tonight in terms of getting a win and what happened out there was going to be a bonus for us.”

Despite the absence of Toronto’s leading scorer, Garret Billings who is out with an ACL tear, the Rock were able to capitalize on eight of 61 shots - enough for the win. Stephan Leblanc (3+1) was a prominent factor in the dominating Rock offense. Leblanc’s hat trick was supported by single goals from Ethan O’Connor (1+0), Josh Sanderson (1+3), Rob Helleyer (1+3), Kasey Beirnes (1+1) and Nick Diachenko (1+0).

“I think everybody on our offense has stepped up. We’ve had six guys playing hard for us all year and Garrett was one of those guys so he went down,” said Lovell. “The five that remain have played even better than they did previous to that.”

The Swarm have wrapped up their season but Toronto will continue as they host the Buffalo Bandits for the single-game elimination Division Semifinal as part of the new NLL playoff format next Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

“It’s going to be a tough game no matter where we play,” said Lovell. “To have the opportunity to play at home and give our fans another game - that’s just great for us.”

“It’s fantastic. There’s nothing like playing at home in front of your fans,” said Leblanc. “With our team especially, we’re a lot of local boys so we owe it to our families and they get to come see the games and our friends get to come see the games. For us, that’s huge because they support us all year long and they are a part of the team.”

Three Stars of the Game as selected by the media:

1) Brandon Miller
2) Stephan Leblanc
3) Zach Higgins

The Swarm have wrapped up their season but Toronto will continue as they host the Buffalo Bandits for the single-game elimination Division Semifinal as part of the new NLL playoff format next Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

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