The Minnesota Swarm (4-8) host the New England Black Wolves (3-7) this Friday night at 8:30 p.m. ET at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. With both teams anxious to emerge from the bottom of the East Division, the game will be the beginning battle for a late playoff run. Watch the game live on NLL LIVE in the U.S. and and TSN GO in Canada.
Both teams have reinforced their rosters with a trade involving the captains from each side. Minnesota acquired transition player Joel White and a second-round selection in the 2017 NLL Draft from New England in exchange for transition player Andrew Suitor.
“I think Joel coming in the lineup will give us energy and that leadership that we’re going to miss with Suitor leaving the lineup,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines.
Suitor, a fan favorite of the Minnesota crowd, accumulated 15 points (9+6) along with 60 loose balls in his time with the Swarm this year. White has collected 10 points (7+3) and 117 loose balls so far this year, and the Swarm will look to him to perform with the same authority for Minnesota.
“He’s a good player, he doesn’t make many mistakes. He’s a captain, so he’s a leader and that’s what we need,” Caines said. “We’re going to expect him to come in and do the same things he did on the Black Wolves. We’re excited to have him.”
Another key roster change for the Swarm was their trade of forward Logan Schuss in exchange for Vancouver Stealth forward Johnny Powless. Powless, who has 39 points (7+32) on the season, has seen his fair share of Champion’s Cups and Minnesota expects a significant influence from him right away.
“I think he’s going to come in and make an immediate impact, he’s a very talented player,” Caines said. “He’s a proven winner. He’s won three Championships and a couple Minto Cups so he knows what it takes to win and we’re going to look for him to have some production right away.”
The adjusted lineup will also provide the opportunity for younger players to step up, like rookie Pat Miles, who has three assists in the four games he’s played.
“Being able to take a bigger role for me now is exciting, it’s a dream come true,” said Miles.
The Swarm, who won its game against New England last Sunday by a score of 13-9 to snap a six-game losing streak, are 2-1 against the Black Wolves this season. Both of the Swarm wins have been in the New England barn, so the Swarm will aim to show their home crowd a win this Friday night in “The Hive”. The last time the Black Wolves visited the Minnesota, the game was an intense bout until the very end, but New England came out on top to win 10-9.
“We want to get this even series against the Black Wolves and it’s going to take 100% effort,” Caines said. “We had a battle last Sunday and it’s going to be another battle, especially with the trades and the personal battles that’ll be going on. I think it’s going to be exciting and the crowd’s going to be into it for sure.”
Friday night’s game will be the first of a two-game weekend for the Swarm, who head to Rochester to play the Knighthawks on Saturday night. Equipped with a renewed roster and fresh off a win, the Swarm will arrive on Friday ready to rally with a playoff berth in mind.
“With some fresh guys in the lineup, it’s going to be exciting to coach these guys and make the final run to the playoff,” Caines said.
“With these two games coming up against New England and Rochester, being in our conference and chasing that playoff position, I think we should know that it’s all about business this weekend,” Miles said. “It should just come natural to us to play hard and well this weekend.”
“It seems all we do this time of year is watch film on each other,” said Black Wolves head coach Blane Harrison. “This is going to be the fourth time that we’ve played the Swarm, so I think we’re pretty familiar with each other; albeit and notwithstanding the moves that were just made. I think we know what their strengths are and they probably know what our strengths are. To me, in general, this game is all about limiting and litigating your own personal mistakes and mental errors.”
“This weekend’s a big weekend for us. We’re in a death grip with Minnesota right now. This is a big game for us; it helps get us into a situation for tiebreakers and divisional playoffs if we can win this one. Then we’re both chasing Buffalo,” added Harrison.
During Sunday’s loss, the Black Wolves outshot the Swarm in every quarter, but Minnesota was able to get more shots to hit the back of the net. The game was extremely physical on both sides, and Friday’s game will be no different after the Suitor trade.
“We’ve had our eye on Andrew for a while,” Harrison admitted. “We had an opportunity to get someone like Andrew, who clearly brings heart and soul to every locker room and every team he’s been on; that’s something that we saw we were missing. We coveted it and it worked out that we were able to get him in the lineup.”
“I’m very excited to get going with the Black Wolves this weekend,” Suitor said. “It’s going to be a bit different, probably get booed inside The Hive there instead of cheered for, but that comes with the territory of playing the game. I can’t wait to get going with New England here and hopefully make a big statement this weekend and drive it towards the playoffs.”
Though swapping captains is a rare trade, it was not the only action the Black Wolves saw as the clocked winded down on the NLL trade deadline. In the biggest blockbuster of the week, New England sent forward Kevin Crowley to the Toronto Rock in exchange for forward Garrett Billings, who is sure to have an impact on the Black Wolves’ overall performance this weekend and moving toward the end of the season.
“It’s going to be an interesting one because obviously his numbers and his fans speak for themselves,” noted Harrison. “He’s become a perennial 100-point guy and there’s not too many of those guys in the league. We had an opportunity to go after someone with that kind of skill set and you really have to have due diligence and effort. You also have to trade talent to get talent. We have to be a little bit patient with him, as he’s coming off his first game in a bit. He’s going to have some rust on him a little bit, so we have to let him get into the rhythm.”
With the final four weeks of the season beginning, it is now or never for teams like the Black Wolves and the Swarm. There is a small enough window of opportunity that things can happen for the teams floating around fourth or fifth place in the division. However, if they do not take advantage of the opportunity, it will slip away along with their hopes for a possible postseason run.
“I think they’re all big wins now,” Harrison said. “I think the window has kind of closed on us, so it’s for ourselves. Every game is a big one and it starts Friday night. We don’t have the luxury of blowing any games away or leaving anything on the table. That’s really why we made the changes and we made the deals we made this week. We wanted to bring guys into the locker room that recognize that and recognize the seriousness and the urgency and the desperation we need to make a final run here.”
By Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) & Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Adam Borgstahl.