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Stories/Op-Ed

Season Preview: Minnesota Swarm

Not much went right for the Minnesota Swarm last season, unless they were playing the Philadelphia Wings or Buffalo Bandits. The Swarm beat each of those teams twice, but those 4 wins were the only victories of the season, leaving the Swarm with a lot of wounds to lick this past offseason. Even then, all 4 of those wins were by a single goal, so fixing the offensive production became the offseason priority and while Minnesota did add potential remedies, other issues have crept into the scenario for the 2015 National Lacrosse League season. How the Swarm respond will dictate just how successful, or not successful, this new season will be.

2014 record/playoffs: 4-14 record/no playoffs.

Top 3 returning scorers: Callum Crawford (26 goals, 54 assists for 80 points), Jordan MacIntosh (23-38, 61), Shayne Jackson (18-33, 51).

Key additions: Miles Thompson (F, draft), Ethan O’Connor (T, trade), Nick Cotter (T, return), Brodie MacDonald (G, trade), Shane MacDonald (F, draft), Dean Hill (F, free agent), Mitch Belisle (D, return).

Key losses: Logan Schuss (F, hold out), Josh Gillam (F, Physically Unable to Perform), Scott Jones (F, released), Jeff Gilbert (D, trade), Brock Sorensen (D, trade), Tyler Carlson (G, trade).

Outlook: Considering this was a team that was 1 win away from playing for the 2013 Champion’s Cup, last season’s 4-14 record certainly was a fall from grace for Minnesota. This is a squad that has oodles of young talent thanks to a stockpile of first-round draft picks in recent years, but getting it all on the same page has been a challenge for coach Joe Sullivan and his staff.

The challenge for the 2015 season looks to be much the same. There’s been a lot of turnover from 2014 and that’s to be expected for a team that failed to win back-to-back games even once last season. As to why the Swarm have struggled so, there are plenty of fingers pointing to the trade that shipped Ryan Benesch out of Minny before the 2014 season, and his presence on the left side certainly was missed. Rookie Logan Schuss was expected to fill that role and he did, but his growing pains were evident early and by the time he found his groove, the Swarm were playing catch-up and the season ended without a playoff berth.

A job situation has Schuss on the hold-out list for 2015, meaning the Swarm are back where they started in trying to balance the offense. Veteran Callum Crawford is a proven producer, and rookie forward Miles Thompson has shown great promise in preseason games. But he’s on the right side with Crawford, so that leaves Shayne Jackson as the forward Minnesota will turn to for primary production on the left side. Minnesota brought back veteran free agent Dean Hill and rookie Shane MacDonald will bring a potent stick to add to the depth on the left, but the bottom line for Minnesota is it needs more from the left if it wants to avoid being predictable and keep opposing defenses honest.

The transition took a bit of a hit with the trade of Tyler Hass, regarded by many as one of the top trannys in the game. Along with Jordan MacIntosh, the duo gave Minnesota a lethal presence in transition from the right, but the pluck of Hass certainly will be missed. Still, the Swarm have Andrew Suitor and David Earl to keep the transition game rolling, and a trade for Ethan O’Connor adds to the depth. When it comes to transition, the Swarm appear to still be in great shape and their pace in exhibition games in December shows they’re ready to be a running team.

On defense, Minnesota will be without Brock Sorensen and Jeff Gilbert, who were traded during the offseason. So the Swarm will be counting on a handful of returning players to mesh with a few newcomers to stabilize the back end, which also will feature a new goalie in Brodie MacDonald. Tyler Carlson was traded to the Edmonton Rush for MacDonald.

In losing Hass in a trade to Vancouver, the Swarm gained veteran defenseman Mike Grimes, but he was placed on the holdout list, so who knows when or if he’ll be part of The Hive. That leaves the defensive core of Alex Crepinsek, Greg Downing, Jason Noble and Kiel Matisz to work with some familiar faces that are back in the NLL in Nick Cotter and Mitch Belisle. Both are known for their physical defense and that’s an aspect the Swarm really need a lot of, but how quickly they’ll adjust to live games after a year away remains to be seen.

With the wealth of lacrosse talent across the U.S. and Canada, it’s difficult to not field a talented roster in the NLL. Minnesota has done that but still, the Swarm are a team that’s really on edge and which side they fall to is the issue most pressing. It’s a situation where there are enough gaps to either propel them to greatness, or enough gaps to keep them mired in mediocrity if the chemistry doesn’t come together quickly.

In a basic sense, things did not go well at either end for Minnesota last winter. The 219 goals-allowed was better than only 2 other teams and the 180 goals-for was worst in the league. And while there are new faces on the Minnesota defense, there at least is some NLL experience there and that can bode well for cohesiveness. Up front is a different story and the challenge of getting an offense to click can be a monster. Timing, spacing and anticipation are everything when it comes to offense and there isn’t much room for forgiveness in the close confines of box lacrosse. If the Swarm can get it together on offense while also getting more production from the left side, it can be a happy season in Minnesota. If not, it has the potential to be another long season.

Story courtesy of ILIndoor.com.

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