After their first place in the East Division hopes disappeared with Toronto’s win on Friday, the Rochester Knighthawks (12-5) close out the 2015 NLL regular season with a road trip to The Hive to take on the Minnesota Swarm (5-12) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Watch the game on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada as Rochester gets a final prep for their first-round matchup at home against Buffalo in the single-elimination NLL East Division Semifinal on Friday, May 8 at 7 p.m. ET.
The Knighthawks eliminated the New England Black Wolves last Saturday night with a dominating 14-6 effort. As Brian Shanahan noted with his IL Indoor Power Rankings, this defensive effort by the Knighthawks marked the seventh time this season that they have kept an opposing offense to seven or less goals.
The game against the Black Wolves also featured a dust-up between Knighthawks defenseman Paul Dawson and New England defenseman Bill O’Brien. The last time the two teams faced off, O’Brien got in a fight with Rochester forward Stephen Keogh and put a beating on him. This time, Dawson returned the favor. Dawson posing for a selfie in the penalty box with a fan went viral on major national sports news outlets this week.
“Didn’t really plan on that going viral or whatever,” Dawson said. “It’s nice for the league to get some spotlight on national TV. It was just part of the game and it took on a life of it’s own. It’s good any time the NLL gets on national TV any way we can.”
“The stuff that happens in the past is in the past,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “At the same time, it’s nice to see when guys stick up for each other. Paulie knows his role. We expect Paulie to play every single shift for us, but he also has that side of him that needs to take care of business when the situation arises. It was good. We battled for each other and Paulie stepped up in a big way there for us.”
However, even though the first-round playoff bye is off the table, the Swarm game holds a lot of meaning for Rochester.
“We’re going into this game, treating it like any other,” Hasen said. “We’re going to worry about us, making sure that we’re sharp. Making sure that we’re nice and focused against a team that we have a lot of trouble with, especially in their barn. We’ve just got to make sure that all the pieces are together and we’re working the best that we can for an entire 60 minutes.”
“Minnesota is a team that gives us problems,” Dawson said. “And whether it’s the one game or the bye, you always want to go into the playoffs on a high note and playing well. So we want to make sure we dial in our systems and just finish on a high note. Come into the playoffs on a positive note with some confidence…
“It’s always about playing your game. Every game for us is basically the same. We have the same gameplan and same outcome that we want to achieve. But as I said earlier, it’s something we want to do, come into the playoffs on a high note and positive with everything clicking. It definitely is important. Minnesota is going to come play us hard. For us, we want to get first still and whether or not we get it, we want to come to the playoffs on a high note.”
As both Hasen and Dawson noted, the Knighthawks have issues when facing the Swarm. Back in Week 6, Rochester traveled to Minnesota and fell in overtime 7-6. However, the last time the two teams faced off, it was at the Blue Cross Arena and the Knighthawks came away with an incredibly decisive 10-2 victory back in Week 14. So what is it about the Swarm that can give the Knighthawks fits?
“Number one, they’re young,” Hasen said. “They try to prove themselves each and every shift. They play an entire 60 minutes. There’s not a time when that team is taking shifts off. They’re good for us. We have to make sure that we’re matching that kind of intensity and be able to push back as well. They’re a great team. They run the floor and every guy on offense can keep the ball and score as well. They put a lot of pressure on us… We’ve just got to be on point every time we step on the floor.”
For the Swarm, they will be bringing all the agility of a young team fighting to validate their spot in the NLL. Despite a losing record and early elimination from playoff contention, Minnesota is adequately prepared to show their full potential this weekend.
The season hasn’t gone as planned for the Swarm, who have experienced roster shakeups from injuries and trades all year long. The team has recently seen two leading players, transitions Jordan MacIntosh and Kiel Matisz, rejoin the lineup after time off due to injuries. MacIntosh is ranked 4th in the league with 160 loose balls and Matisz is making his impact after being out for several games. In addition to having top performers back in the lineup, the Swarm is concentrating on putting the spotlight on the young players who are trying to vie for their spot in next years lineup.
“We had a good effort. Getting Matisz and MacIntosh back in the lineup really helps our depth and they both performed well,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “The offense put up 12 goals, which was a goal of ours. We want to compete and see from the young players what they can do and put a good show on for our fans.”
The Swarm are expecting to pick up where they ended the last game, outscoring the West-leading Edmonton Rush 5-2 in the fourth quarter. Three rookie forwards Miles Thompson, Joe Maracle, and Shane MacDonald accounted for a total of nine points in last weeks contest. The team will continue to lean on the endurance of their young lineup combined with the experience of their veterans as they compete on Saturday night.
“It’s an amazing experience playing in this league every night,” said Swarm defense Alex Crepinsek. “There are a lot of young guys on our team, this is only five or six games into their career for them, so they’re always excited and we’re always excited.”
An infinite reason the Swarm will be giving it their all to close the season is for their devoted fans, who show up night after night. They bring an energy to the Minnesota turf that visiting teams can’t help but notice. Even with a 2-5 home record, the Swarm have seen the same type of excited energy from their crowd at every game and they are looking to hand their fans the win this weekend.
“We really feel like we owe it to our fans to step up and put on a show for them Saturday night,” Crepinsek said. “They’ve stuck with us through the last couple years and it would’t be fair to them to go out there and not give our best effort.”
Story by Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) & Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Scott Pierson.