In 2017, the Georgia Swarm set the new offensive standard posting NLL records for team goals and assists on their way to claiming the franchise’s first Champion’s Cup. To begin 2018, despite maintaining their core attackers on offense, the defending champions started the year with an offensive showing unbecoming of their capabilities.
During their run to the title, the Swarm tallied 266 goals helped by 415 assists for an average of 14.7 goals and 23 assists per game. In terms of team totals, the league hadn’t seen numbers like that since 2002 when the Rochester Knighthawks racked up 258 goals and the Washington Power collected 380 assists -both teams were able to set NLL records with those marks in just 16 games.
One team, however, had never led the league in goals and assists by such wide margins. The Swarm put together such an impressive collective offensive masterpiece last season that they managed to score 35 more goals than the next closest team and pass the ball with such speed and fluidity to tally 74 more assists than anyone in either conference.
The 2007 Knighthawks and the 2005 Toronto Rock come to mind as similarly equal offensive juggernauts -each won the Champion’s Cup in their respective seasons- but last season’s Swarm inserted themselves in the conversation for best NLL offense of all-time.
So, when the Swarm scored just 11 goals on 44 shots on goal (11 SOG less than their ’17 average) in the 13-11 loss to the New England Blackwolves, it’s no surprise that the underwhelming performance didn’t sit well with the players and coaches.
“In our film session and in our practice this week, we really talked about what we didn’t do.” Swarm assistant coach, Dan Ladouceur, said during the team’s run up to their second game. “It was not smart lacrosse last game and we talked about things we can improve on.”
The Swarm’s Week 1 loss marked only the 5th time since the start of the 2016 season where they were beaten on face-offs, loose balls, and attacking the cage in a loss. “The principles of keeping the ball moving, keeping our feet moving and not staying on one spot of the floor. Those, along with their unselfish attitude. When they swing that ball and they don’t care who’s scoring and who’s helping as long as they have success as a unit.” Ladouceur says, is what makes this team so great.
It wasn’t that the team wasn’t implementing these principles in Week 1 -the Swarm were leading 8-5 at the half and tied 8-8 at the end of the 3rd- it was more that New England was able to stop those principles from continuing to dominate as they did early on in the game.
The Swarm couldn’t put together consecutive scores in the 2nd half or score on either of the Blackwolves two power-plays in the later part of the game. And, by the final whistle, it was only the 7th time, when both were playing, that Lyle and Miles Thompson either both didn’t score or only one of them scored in their careers’ -they are 3-7 when this happens as opposed to 17-4 when they both score.
“In talking with Miles and Lyle, I don’t think they felt that they were playing their game.” Ladouceur stated. “Specifically with Lyle, in my conversations with him, he thought he had to do something different this year, but, through watching film and having conversations [with teammates and coaches] he realized he doesn’t have to change a thing.”
According to Randy Staats, the first week of the season can come with some growing pains. “It’s the first game of the season.” Staats said while chuckling. “That’s no excuse, not by any means, but I think we were feeling each other out.”
Next week, with Jordan MacIntosh making his first start of the 2018 season at the X, the Swarm should be able to create more opportunities on offense to build off the chemistry they already have and score more goals.
Jesse King looked to be in great form with his three goals (four points) in his first game back after a year long absence due to an ACL injury, Staats continued where he left off last season with a hat trick and added an assist of his own, while Shayne Jackson had a pair of goals and assists; proof that the Swarm have some of their pieces already locked in this season.
If there’s anything that this dynamic group of still-developing, young players would tell you, it’s that they can’t be the best they can be unless they’re helping each other click. “If there’s one word I would use to describe this club.” Staats said, “It’s unselfish. There’s not one person in our offense that demands the ball or gets mad when he doesn’t get the ball, everyone one loves sharing the ball equally, that’s why we had so much success last year.”
The season is still early for the Swarm, but going down 0-2 on the year will start to put some pressure on the guys to start stringing together wins. If they were to lose this Saturday it will be the first time since 2014 where they lost the first couple of games of year.
However, it’s only a matter of time before the Swarm get the offense rolling like they were last season. As Staats put it, “We just need to do a better job capitalizing on our chances.” Once they start doing that, expect this team to take command of the Eastern Conference and put themselves in prime position to make another run at the Champion’s Cup.