The preseason bar for professional expansion teams is generally low.
The San Diego Seals are raising that bar.
The Seals have nine wins and already clinched a playoff spot in NLL’s Western Division. What’s left for San Diego is to clinch the top spot in the division and a first-round bye.
Friday’s game against the Georgia Swarm will be the second part of a three-game road stretch for San Diego. The Seals are the only team in the Western Division with a winning record in away games (4-3). San Diego is coming off perhaps its most dominant performance from both ends of the floor against Calgary where the Seals rattled off 16 goals, one away from matching their season high, and they held the playoff-bound Roughnecks to two goals in the second, third and fourth quarters.
San Diego dominated Calgary in front of an opposing crowd of more than 10,000 fans, so Georgia Swarm head coach Eddie Comeau doesn’t expect to see the Seals stumble after Friday’s 7:35 p.m. faceoff at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Ga. just because of a change of scenery.
San Diego’s franchise is new to the league, but its squad is a mix of veterans and young, rising talents. San Diego’s top points scorer, forward Garrett Billings, is in the midst of his ninth year in the league, and forward Dan Dawson is polishing off his 18th year in the league. Brodie Merrill sets the pace in transition, now in his 14th year. He is two years removed from his third Transition Player of the Year award in 2017.
It doesn’t surprise the Swarm that a team with a quality foundation of experience, such as San Diego, is making moves in its inaugural season.
“People are going to say they surprised people, and no one expects an expansion team to have that kind of success,” Comeau said. “You look at their roster, and it’s no surprise to us.”
San Diego’s five-game winning streak matches Georgia current five-game winning streak.
Georgia Swarm forward Randy Staats can’t remember a time when he and his brother Austin ever played against each other. When the two clash on Friday night in Georgia, there will be a reunion of Staats relatives in the stands and on the field.
San Diego’s leading scorer is 20-year-old rookie Austin Staats, Randy’s younger brother by roughly six years. Randy was the NLL’s 2016 Rookie of the Year, and Austin is doing his best impression of his older brother for San Diego in 2019. The first overall pick in the 2018 Entry Draft, Austin has 31 goals, which ties him for sixth in the league. That’s one spot behind Randy, who’s tallied 33 goals.
Austin may have something to hold over Randy by season’s end. His 31 goals through 13 games is on pace to break Randy’s mark of 36 through 18 games in his 2016 rookie season with Georgia.
“It’s going to be different playing against him,” Randy said. “I don’t think I’ve played against him ever, really. It’s going to be interesting but it definitely doesn’t change what we have to do with regards to getting hard on and off the floor offensively, shutting down their transition and playing a tough game.”
Frank the tank vs. Mike between the pipes
Perhaps San Diego’s ability to prevent goals has been its best quality this season. Goalie Frank Scigliano is ranked third in goals against average (11.02) among goalies that have played 700 or more minutes this season. His save percentage rests at .795, good enough to tie him for second in the league. The man he’s tied with is the same goalie that will settle between the set of pipes across from him on Saturday, Georgia’s Mike Poulin (10.75 GAA).
Scigliano is working on perhaps his best professional season. Since he was drafted in the second round of the 2011 Entry Draft, Scigliano has posted one season with a higher save clip and GAA than this season. During his rookie year, Scigliano posted a .799 clip and 10.70 GAA, but he played slightly more than 168 minutes that year.
Scigliano’s 6-foot-3, 285-pound frame is the final safety net for a defensive line led by eight-year pro Cameron Holding and former first-round pick Tor Reinholdt.
“They play real pressure defense and want to force people into bad shots and bad decisions,” Comeau said. “We’ll have to be smart in how we attack and shoot the ball. Frank is a big goalie and covers the net well, but he also moves well. We’ll have to be patient not to take outside shots that don’t have a chance of going in and only gives their offense a boost.”