The Minnesota Swarm (3-2) host the Toronto Rock (4-1) for the first game of their weekend home-and-home series on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET at Xcel Energy Center. The two teams then head to Toronto for the rematch at Air Canada Centre on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. The weekend could have big implications on the season, as the Rock lead the East Division with the Swarm just one game back in second place. Watch Friday’s game live on UniversalSports.com in the U.S. and TSN.ca in Canada while Saturday’s matchups airs on NLL LIVE and TSN.ca.
The Swarm are coming off a big win in overtime against the Rochester Knighthawks last weekend at home. The defensive battle, ending with a score of 7-6, was finished when Callum Crawford scored his 200th career goal in overtime for the win. Crawford, who also has the highest number of goals in Swarm franchise history, is happy with his team’s resilient performance.
“We just have a good group of guys and there was a lot of little things that happened to lead to that and it just happened to be that it came off my stick,” Crawford said of his game winning goal. “There were some big loose balls from our offense and obviously stellar goaltending, so those were the key to victory, not really that shot.”
The win truly was a team effort, and defense was a strong factor. Zach Higgins was in goal for the five quarters and saved 34 of 40 shots – it was his first win in overtime. Corbyn Tao, who had 7 loose balls and went 2-2 on face-offs, secured a substantial loose ball that eventually led to the game-winning Crawford goal. Jordan MacIntosh, who has secured the second-highest number of loose balls in the NLL this season with 55, had two assists and 13 loose balls on the night. And that’s just to name a few.
“The guys really stepped up in that game defensively,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “We had good goaltending and we had guys working really hard in the corners and in-between the lines. Our ‘O’ played a really good first half, struggled a little bit down the end, but we still got the net and we tired out their ‘D’. We were able to get that win in overtime, which is always nice in front of a big crowd. So, we were happy with the outcome.”
Key offensive players to look for from the Swarm this weekend are rookie sensation Miles Thompson along with second-year forwards Shayne Jackson and Logan Schuss, who had a hat trick in last week’s game and assisted the goal in overtime. Swarm captain Andrew Suitor, who was the only Swarm player to score a goal in the second half and push the game into overtime, will lead his team onto the field with a win in mind on Friday.
As Minnesota looks forward to this weekend, they will focus on the task at hand: Friday night at “The Hive.” The Swarm will need each of their dynamic players to continue to step up in order to be successful against the top ranked Rock team.
“It’s huge, this is a big weekend but our main focus right now is Friday night at ‘The Hive’, so we’ve got to really reel that in and think about Saturday when it comes along,” Caines said. “So our main focus is get that win and try to get that separation on Toronto and focus just solely what we have to do in our systems for Friday night.”
Minnesota will expect to carry all the energy and momentum they built up last weekend into the games on Friday and Toronto will show up with all the preparation of a team coming off a bye week. Both teams will have a hunger for the title as they step onto the field – this is game that shouldn’t be missed.
“In terms of the double meet, a double weekend, that’s as fair as it gets,” said Rock head coach John Lovell. “This is an important weekend in the standings and we’re focusing on Friday night in Minnesota.”
Toronto’s only loss this season came on the road two games ago at the hands of the Rochester Knighthawks, a team the Swarm defeated in awe-inspiring fashion a week ago. Minnesota held the Knighthawks to just six goals in the game, including shutouts in the second and fourth quarters. The spirited, low-scoring tilt eventually needed overtime and Swarm star Callum Crawford answered the bell.
“Minnesota is coming off a very good game against Rochester, I have a lot of respect for what they did there,” said Lovell. “We’re coming off of an off week, so we’re ready and prepared.”
It’s been a long time coming for a matchup between the two teams. The last meeting, a 8-6 Rock win played at the Air Canada Centre, was nearly 10 months ago and since then, striking changes have been made to both clubs. Toronto boasts a new defensive core including the likes of Brock Sorensen, Jeff Gilbert, Brodie Merrill and Glen Bryan. The Rock, in a single offseason, transformed themselves from an average at best defensive team to a lockdown juggernaut in the East Division.
Heading into Friday night’s game, the Rock grip the second lowest goals against average in the NLL (10.60). The Edmonton Rush hold top spot in that category, allowing just 40 goals over four games.
“It works from that point on, the Rock brought in guys like Brock Sorensen and Jeff Gilbert from Minnesota and I’m sure they’ll have their hearts on their sleeves this week,” said Rock defender Glen Bryan, who will suit up for the Rock for the second time this season on Friday.
Though he hasn’t seen too much floor-time this season, Bryan is no stranger to the Toronto faithful. The soon to be 26-year-old (his birthday is this Friday) played his first two seasons with Toronto in 2011 and 2012. After a short two-year stint in Buffalo where he emerged as a full-time defender, he was reacquired by the Rock ahead of this season.
“I think we’re coming together as a group here, it’s been great to come back to Toronto and play with this bunch of guys,” he said.
A challenge for Bryan and the rest of the Rock’s defensive core will no doubt be the Swarm’s surprising hot offence up to this point. A season beyond a league-worst 180 goals scored in 2014, Minnesota has emerged as on of the league’s most dangerous offensive squads. Crawford, Shayne Jackson and Miles Thompson have all lit the lamp early and often this season as the three have combined for 74 points (34+40) thus far.
“It starts with the goalies on out,” Bryan said. “We’re pretty lucky to have guys like [Brandon] Miller or Nick Rose start on any given night and not miss a beat, we got confidence in both of those guys.”
Story by Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) & Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Scott Pierson.