The Rochester Knighthawks (2-2) visit the Minnesota Swarm (2-2) at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Friday for an East Division showdown. Watch live on UniversalSports.com in the US and TSN.ca in Canada starting at 8:30 p.m. ET.
As Minnesota prepares to host a game at the Hive for the first time since its home opener last month, they will pull from the strengths of their play last week.
The Swarm trailed early against Buffalo last Friday and their rally in the second half came up short, but it didn’t lack the fortitude of a team ready to contend. Minnesota entered the second half with an eight-goal deficit, and managed to close the gap, but came up short with a 15-12 loss.
“The guys showed a lot of character and battled back and made it a game,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “Of course we want to get the win, but it just shows the heart of our guys in that locker room.”
To play for the win this Friday, Minnesota will aim to attack straight out of the gate and leave no question about their prowess.
“It’s been a little bit of an issue early in the year, getting down early in games,” said Swarm transition player Jordan MacIntosh. “So we’ve got to nip that in the bud, especially this weekend.”
For the extra push right from the beginning, the Swarm will look to Callum Crawford, who had eight points in the game last week, rookie Miles Thompson, who has lived up to the hype, and third year forward Shayne Jackson, who has steadily made an impression on offense. Jordan MacIntosh is expected to contribute heavily in transition and Logan Schuss should continue to make an offensive impact as he settles into his role as forward following an award-winning rookie year.
“We have a lot of weapons,” Caines said. “If we’re going to be successful, it will be by-committee with all those guys working together.”
A few key role changes have been significant for the Swarm this season, including the switch to defense for second-year player Kiel Matisz, who had three points and eight loose balls against Buffalo last week. So far, it’s been working well for the team.
“He’s one of those players that just wants to win,” Caines said. “So he’s happy with his new role and playing really well.”
Minnesota will also continue to pull from the efforts of captain transition Andrew Suitor, forward Corbyn Tao and defensive veteran Mitch Belisle as heavy contributors in the team play as they prepare for this weekend.
“I’m happy to see those guys flourish this year, they’re having a great year,” Caines said.
The Swarm have not played in front of their home crowd since a disappointing home opener loss last month and are excited to get back in their own barn. They expect an extra dose of stamina from the home crowd as they head into this weekend and are keen to show their home crowd a win against the three-time defending Champion’s Cup winners.
“We have a great crowd in Minnesota and they get behind us,” Caines said. “It’s going to be nice to be home and get that energy boost.”
“It’s exciting to be back home,” MacIntosh said. “Playing the defending champs – that’s always going to be a game that you’re going to be up for.”
The Knighthawks are coming off a 17-11 win over the Buffalo Bandits at the Blue Cross Arena this past Saturday.
“It was a good game,” said Knighthawks head coach Mike Hasen. “A game of runs. We were really good the first half. Offensively, we were moving the ball and defensively, we were putting them in lanes and making easy shots for ‘Vno’ to pick up. They went on their run in the third, and we were lucky we jumped back on our run in the fourth. We were able to finish it off with good lacrosse, good offense and good defense.”
“Obviously the last couple of games, our defense has picked up our slack after the first couple of weeks,” said Knighthawks defenseman Brad Self. “Buffalo went on a bit of a run there in the third quarter, but we’re a veteran group so we were able to weather the storm. It was an unbelievable game.”
With both teams in the East Division and sitting at .500, this game has early implications in the standings.
“It’s going to be a tough one,” Hasen said. “We both know we want to be on the right side of .500 when this weekend is through. It’s going to be tough.”
One of the keys to the Bandits’ third-quarter run was their ability to jump on the Knighthawks in transition. That part of the game will once again be a factor in this game.
“Minnesota has a lot of different weapons,” Hasen said. “Their transition game is probably second to none. They love running the floor, and when they do set up their offense, they’ve got five guys on the floor who can shoot the ball from any point, anywhere, and make you pay for it. It’s going to be tough. We’re in for another battle. Looking forward to it.”
“We’re going to have to be prepared,” Self said. “Stopping their transition, getting off the bench early, getting hard off the floor on the offensive end. Like ‘Hazer’ said, they have some weapons on offense as well that we’re going to have be prepared for. We’re going to be sharp right from the start of the game because we know they’re going to have lots of energy in their own barn.”
Rochester’s offense came alive against the Bandits, hitting double-digit goals for the first time since Week 1 against the Toronto Rock. With forward Stephen Keogh cleared to play, the Knighthawks offense is looking to get even better.
“He brings a different element to us,” Hasen said. “He’s a grinder. He’s going to put his head down and drive hard to the net. When he gets there, he’s got some great hands to finish both inside and outside. He works hard to get his teammates open. When he gets that opportunity to finish, he can definitely finish. It’s just another element on that right side that’s going to be good for us. To get Stevie back in the lineup, it’s going to create a little more havoc on opposing defenses.”
Which player Keogh might replace on Rochester’s roster has yet to be decided.
“As far as roster-wise goes, we signed Marty Hill to an active spot last week and he’ll bump back down to the practice squad,” Hasen said. “Keogh will be taking that spot. As far as lineup goes, we’ll see. We’ve got a good practice here tonight. We’ll evaluate how he’s doing. Come Friday night, we’ll have that decision made.”
Story by Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) & Jeremy Pike (@KnighthawksBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Scott Pierson.