Coming into last season, Minnesota Swarm owner and General Manager John Arlotta was thought to have lost his mind. Trading veterans away for draft picks and unproven talent, selecting players in a dispersal draft that had all but pledged to never play for the team, and declaring that all of it would improve his team. To top it all off, the Swarm then released their starting goaltender, went with two rookies in net, and then fired their head coach.
After the Swarm made it to the West Finals, and Arlotta won GM of the year, the only laughing came from the Swarm.
This off season, the Swarm saw the final payments from the trades, drafting ten players in the 2012 entry draft; four in the first round, including three of the top five picks.Think that's not impressive? That's fine, but when you take a look at who these guys are, and who the Swarm already had, there should be more excitement surrounding this team than anything Zach Parise and Ryan Suter can bring to the Swarm's landlords.
This season will be another exercise in chemistry building for the Swarm. Last year, the core of the team all lived together in the same apartment building here in town, leading to a number of stories coming out of "Neverland" and building a true family atmosphere around the team. This, in a league known for part time players who head home to work full-time jobs during the week.
The chemistry built last year led to career seasons for players like Ryan Benesch, Callum Crawford, and Andrew Suitor, as well as establishing the presence of rookies like Jordan MacIntosh, Corbyn Tao, Tyler Carlson, Evan Kirk, and Jay Card. The youth, speed, and athleticism if the players already on the roster coming into 2013 would have been outstanding. Add in four first round picks, and the levels of all three go off the charts.
The Swarm have added Brock Sorenson, a big transition player coming off reconstructive knee surgery. Just his size (6' 6" 220 pounds) would be enough to intimidate, but Sorenson also brings a skill level that would give opponents fits. He will add toughness to an already stacked transition squad, and should take some of the enforcing duties off of Captain Suitor's dance card.
In addition to Sorenson, the Swarm add Kiel Matisz, a power forward type who stands 6' 5" and 220 pounds. Matisz will open up space for Benesch, as well as adding his own scoring threat. Add to that the fourth overall pick Shayne Jackson, who is a pure goal scoring type, and is a left handed shot to compliment Benesch and Crawford's line.
Imagine staring down a line of Benesch, Crawford, Sorenson, Matisz, and Suitor / MacIntosh? The fans may as well just not sit down this season.
As we discussed just last week, the Swarm have few weaknesses. The defense, which lost steady presences in Joe Cinosky (now a coach at Duke University) and Rich Morgan (now playing for the Colorado Mammoth) has been strengthened with the addition of tenth overall pick Alex Crepinsek. They key on defense will be to even out the up and down season from last season, and if they can do that, the tandem of Carlson and Kirk in net will likely prove to be even better than they were last year.
Coach of the Year Joe Sullivan returns, along with his supporting staff of Aime Canes and Bobby Keast, giving the team the leadership they will need right out of the gates. Even the Swarm's vox, Jake Elliott, is award winning.
This team is stacked from top to bottom, which is exactly what Arlotta set out to do last summer. The rest of the NLL will be following the playbook Arlotta just wrote to rebuilding their teams in the coming years after they watch their respective teams get pummeled each week.
Scoring? Check. Transition? Check. Defense? Check. Goaltending? Check. Coaching? Check. Front office? Check.
Expect an exciting season from your Minnesota Swarm, folks. If you haven't been to an NLL game, come down to the X. Check it out. It will be well worth your time. Just be careful if you have a heart condition, because you're going to be back, and you're going to be excited. This is a league in which any team an win in any given game, but the Swarm have built a roster that should give them an edge in the majority of the contests.
The only thing standing between the Swarm and their first NLL Championship is the unknown. Injuries and chemistry are the only foes that will have a chance to slow this team down for long. Get on board now, ladies and gentlemen. The bandwagon is going to fill up fast.
The Swarm open the season on the road next Friday, January 12 against the Buffalo Bandits at 6:30 Central time, take a week off, then face the Toronto Rock on the 25th and finally coming home to the Hive on January 26th against an old foe in the Washington Stealth for the home opener. For the rest of the season, the longest the team is on the road is for two games, and will host two home games in March, a time when the team is normally forced onto the road.
All games can be watched live via YouTube this season, and can be found each week on MNSwarm.com. Hockey Wilderness will be hosting game threads for each game, and will have game previews and recaps, as well as additional stories throughout the season. We hope to see you at the X or here at Hockey Wilderness throughout the season.