This past Saturday was a reunion of sorts for the 2017 Champion’s Cup winners, the Georgia Swarm. It was the first time since Game One of the 2017 NLL East Division Final that transition players Chad Tutton and Joel White, as well as forwards Kiel Matisz and Jordan Hall were all suited up and on the bench ready to face an opponent together. As the band Thin Lizzy wrote to open their chart-topping 1976 song, The Boys Are Back In Town, “Guess who just got back today, them wild-eyed boys that had been away.”
“We’ve said all along,” Swarm assistant coach Dan Ladouceur noted. “[Each of the returning players] aren’t magic pills. It’s not like we insert them and then everything is right again. But, they’re definitely pieces of something bigger.”
While each of the newly returned players may not be an instant solution to winning more games, Ladouceur did make clear that both on and off the floor, guys like Tutton, White, Hall, and Matisz make a significant impact on the team, particularly the younger players.
Rookie transition player Zed Williams was forced into various roles from the getgo this season while Tutton and White were out. Ladouceur admits that being in that situation is tough on a young player who is trying to acclimate to the high-quality of play at the NLL-level.
“It’s a tough spot for Zed,” Ladouceur said. “Typically we ask an offensive player to be at the [defensive] door and to learn about how to play on defense and then also be a threat in transition. On the defensive said of the ball, I can honestly say we’ve seen marked improvements from him and also his ability to transition on the offensive end. We’ve asked him to do a lot of things as a rookie; it’s pretty tough, we’ve asked him to do a lot. It’s hard to key in on one aspect of his game and get really good at it when we’re changing his role as often as we have. But, he’s responded, and we’ve seen marked improvements.”
Williams has collected 41 loose balls and caused nine turnovers over the nine games he’s participated in this year – he also has added eight points (five goals and three assists). While those are decent from a rookie in his ever-changing role, it does not make up for the physical, gritty defense of Tutton who caused 22 turnovers in 2017 or the dogged play of white who recorded four caused turnovers, scooped up 31 loose balls and tallied nine points (3 goals and six assists) in the four Swarm playoff games last season.
Even though Williams is likely to see a significant decrease in his playing time with the team’s veteran transition players back in the lineup, he says he is always ready to contribute in any way he can, “Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m ready to do it to help the team win,” The rookie said.
Nevertheless, many of the team’s other key players such as the Thompson brothers, Miles and Lyle, Randy Staats, Mike Poulin, Jordan MacIntosh, and Shayne Jackson to name a few, have been trying to string together wins with an incomplete lineup that has looked far less potent than it did last year. Now with four core pieces of last year’s lineup back and ready to play, this team is prepared for a stronger second half of the season to grab a playoff spot.
“At the begging of this year,” Lyle Thompson said. “We were telling ourselves, ‘don’t look at last year.’ But now, it’s nice to look at last year as a teaching point and look at what we did last year that made us successful. This year, it has been about going through adversity and learning from it.”
There has been a sharp offensive decline from the Swarm’s record-setting season last year. Whereas last year the Swarm averaged 14.78 goals per game, this year they are only posting 11.91 per game. Even more remarkable, the Swarm had the league’s second-best power play in 2017 at 55.56% but have barely cracked the 30% mark this season by capitalizing on a league-worst 32.56% of man-up chances. To put their scoring woes into further perspective, last year the team’s goal differential was +53 while this year it is -10.
Lyle Thompson is putting the responsibility on himself as one of the team’s most gifted scorers to help his team get better on 5-on-5 chances, but especially on the power play.
“I think the only thing we need to do on the power play is to shoot the ball more accurately,” the youngest Thompson brother said. “I put it on me; it’s my fault. I’m the point shooter, and I have to be a threat and have the defenses respect me as a shooter. If that doesn’t happen, the guys alongside me, the crease-men, they don’t get those better opportunities.”
Lyle will be getting help from transition pieces like Tutton and White who will help to create chances throughout the game.
“The transition pieces are obviously a very important part of the Georgia Swarm,” White said with excitement. “I think that Chad brings that energy, and myself, I can help bring the ball up the floor; we add a different dimension to be able to get up the floor quickly for our unbelievable offense.”
The hope that this team can play better in the second half of this season than they did in the first half is palpable. It is clear that this newly reunited Swarm team is no longer the 5-4 team that is currently sitting fourth-place in the East and out of the playoffs.
“For me personally,” Ladouceur said. “Having these guys back and having the team gelling – we’re always talking about having the team gelling – when you’re on this side, it’s really exciting, and you can actually see the differences with the guys and how they interact in the locker room and during warmups. Seeing that now is giving me a sense of confidence that going forward we’re on the way to where we need to be, and that we’re rolling and peaking at the proper time of the season.
The players are echoing their coach’s confidence heading into the back-half of the 2018 season. “I know we can beat any team and I’m confident that we’re going to win,” Lyle said. White added, “Being part of the lineup again this past weekend felt pretty good. I think we have a group that is starting to click at the right time as we head down the back-half of the season.”
The Swarm will need to mesh quickly, though. With their next four games against East Division opponents and five of their last seven overall against the East, the pressure will surely be on them to sneak back into a playoff spot.
The confidence is back because the players are have returned to a more recognizable group to last year’s squad. As the song says, “The boys are back in town, the boys are back in town, again.”