The Vancouver Stealth (3-4) and Minnesota Swarm (3-4) will both look to get back to .500 when the teams meet at Langley Events Centre on Saturday at 10 p.m. ET. Watch on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.
The Stealth have the lowest face-off winning percentage and have gathered the least amount of loose balls in the National Lacrosse League. On the flip side, they have the highest shooting percentage. But most importantly, Vancouver sports a 3-4 record and sits in third place in the NLL’s West Division.
The Swarm — who tied the Stealth at 4-14 for the worst record in the NLL in 2014 — are also 3-4 heading into NLL Week 9 action.
“At the end of the day, it’s did you win or did you lose?” said Stealth head coach Dan Perreault when looking over the statistics.
And up until last week, the Stealth had been winning. Vancouver’s modest two-game win streak was snapped by the Calgary Roughnecks, who prevailed 16-13 for its first win of the season.
“Not the result we wanted, but that was a hungry team,” Perreault said about a Roughnecks squad which picked up its first victory in seven tries.
Vancouver trailed by just a goal heading into the fourth quarter before Calgary created some breathing room in the final period.
“A couple of things got away from us, so we are going to go back to our fundamentals, to improve on and focus on Minnesota,” Perreault said. “It is a work in progress, but some good things are happening and that is all you can ask for at this point.”
Entering play this week, Vancouver had the lowest face-off winning percentage (.382) and had gathered the least loose balls (347) among the league’s nine teams. But when the team does have the ball, they have made their shots count, with a shooting percentage of .217. The league average is .179.
“Sometimes it is just the ball is dropping for you,” Perreault offered about that above-average percentage. “And not wasting your shots.”
As for their lack of possession opportunities, that remains a work in progress. Mitch McMichael has taken the majority of the draws and admitted it has been a work in progress for him, especially after missing the entire 2014 NLL season. He has gone 60-for-147 in the face-off circle in six games this season.
“I am finally starting to hear the whistle a bit better and get off the front of it and try and give our face-off group more of a chance to get the ball and get possessions for our offense,” he said. “Lacrosse in general is a nearly-impossible sport — off the floor — to train for. It is just one of those things where you have to be out on the floor playing.”
Both McMichael and Perreault stressed that face-off success comes from the team working together as a five-man unit. McMichael is just glad to be back in uniform. McMichael said it was tough not to be able to help the squad last year, especially as they struggled in missing the playoffs. And he likes how this year’s team is coming together.
“We are slowly starting to gel together and figure some things out. It has just been great to get back on the floor,” he said.
With the season nearing the midway point, Perreault likes how the team is shaping up for the stretch drive. “The chemistry and the compete level is obviously very important to any team,” he said. “The guys are buying in on the team concept and the chemistry is very good.”
Meanwhile, the Swarm will try to unleash its potential this weekend. After losing a home-and-home series against Toronto two weeks ago, and with a bye week behind them, the Swarm will be ready to hit the field.
“We’re coming off a back-to-back with a bye weekend,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “So that gives us some time to heal and prepare.”
For a favorable outcome this weekend, Minnesota will need to arrive in Vancouver ready to perform as a team for the whole game on both ends of the field. This is something they struggled with in its last contest. In the weekend series against Toronto, they gave up a combined total of 30 goals in two games, while scoring just 13 of their own.
“In this league, with the compete level so high, we have to just be aggressive every shift,” Caines said. “I think it’s just playing into the system and trusting our teammates to be successful out the back door.”
It’s no secret the Swarm is crawling with loads of talent. Reigning NLL Transition Player of the year Jordan MacIntosh and the 2014 Rookie of the Year Logan Schuss bring their expertise to the field time after time. Rookie Miles Thompson has made waves this year, both as a fan favorite and as a top offensive performer, with 25 points (12+13) on the season. Shayne Jackson, with 30 points (7+13) and Callum Crawford, with 33 points (12+21) round out the leading scorers for Minnesota this year.
As oe of the Swarm’s many former first-round picks, Kiel Matisz has made the move from forward to transition this year and is adjusting well, with 15 points (3+12) and 41 loose balls so far this season.
“I’m enjoying the role and taking it game by game and learning from the assistant coach, Bobby Keast, a little more of the defensive aspects of the game,” Matisz said. “I’m just happy to contribute to the team in any way I can.”
The Swarm have actually been more successful on the road than at home this season, with two of its three wins being from the visitors bench. They will look for more of that success as they hit the road on Saturday.
“We really can’t take a shift off,” Caines said. “We have to trust our teammates and the system and once our guys start to do that, then we’ll get back to those games where we have success.”
This weekend will be the time for the Minnesota team to confirm its talent and play like they are ready to use it.
By Gary Ahuja (@VanStealthBeat) & Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Dan Brodie.