The Georgia Swarm wrapped up training camp in Toronto last weekend, winning both of its preseason games — a good sign for a team that’s won just 17 games over the last three seasons in Minnesota.
With the 20-man roster set, the team now turns its attention to the season opener on January 1 at the Colorado Mammoth and the inaugural home opener at the Infinite Energy Center on January 9 against the Toronto Rock.
“I said to the guys at the beginning of the year, ‘Our goals are really high, but there’s eight other teams in the league that also set very high goals. There’s lots of work to be done before you get to that level. There’s a lot of teams in this league that have a lot of veterans and have a lot of success,’” head coach Ed Comeau said. “We really believe we can be competitive. Our goal No. 1 is to be competitive every night and goal No. 2, we think if we do that, we’ll be able to get ourselves in the playoffs.
“That’s what we’re looking to do, and at that point it’s an anything happens situation. We believe in this group and we believe in what we’re trying to instill in the guys and the guys are buying in to the system. We’re excited to see kind of where it’s going to take us and certainly getting excited to get down to Georgia and play in front of hopefully a big, boisterous home crowd in a great arena.”
The franchise last made the NLL playoffs in 2013, but after using the last two seasons to accumulate a bevy of draft picks, the Swarm hope that the infusion of talent from having four of the top six in this year’s draft will help make them a contender.
“I think we’re all just really excited to get going,” forward Shayne Jackson said. “The past couple years, some of us, we’ve had some rough years as far as wins and losses are concerned, so we’re just really excited that we have this group that we have. We all believe that we’re going to be a good team and we can keep up with the top teams in the league. That’s kind of our mindset right now. We’re young, but we’re going to be fast and we’re going to play together and we’re just going to work hard.”
The firepower the Swarm have on offense is a big reason for the optimism ahead of their Peach State debut.
Jackson led the team with 78 points last season. Miles Thompson was right behind him with 62 points during his rookie campaign.
During the draft, the Swarm picked up Thompson’s brother Lyle, the NCAA all-time scoring leader, 6-foot-3, 200-pound lefty Jesse King from Ohio State and Syracuse stud Randy Staats.
Georgia also has some established scores in Johnny Powless (52 points last season) and Kiel Matisz (29 points) as well.
“It’s been great so far,” Jackson said. “Because everyone can play on and off ball. There’s not just one go-to guy that we’re going to need to lean on. We’re all going to be playing together, and to be successful, we all need to play together and play with each other and not be selfish. I think we’ve been playing good unselfish lacrosse these past couple games and we’ve played two very good teams.”
In the preseason, the Swarm defeated Rochester 12-11 and Toronto 17-12. Against Toronto, Staats, Lyle Thompson and Josh Gilliam scored three goals apiece.
King said the veterans like Jackson, Powless and Matisz have done a great job helping the younger forwards learn the ropes during the preseason. Despite the youth, the No. 3 overall pick said the team is full of guys who have won at the collegiate and Canadian Junior level before.
“People are going to be kind of wary of our offense because we have a couple rookie guys coming in, and a couple young guys,” King said. “As you can see, the last few games we’ve played in, we’ve managed to score a pretty decent amount of goals, especially for an NLL game. There’s just so many guys that are so talented. Lyle and Miles, they’ve got great vision. They’ve got just as good vision in box (lacrosse) as they do in field. I told you how well Randy plays. Shayne Jackson is a guy that as soon as I found out I was getting to Georgia, I’ve really tried to watch, being a lefty and seeing how he plays and what he does on the floor.
“Same with Johnny (Powless), they’re just so talented and it’s so fun because everyone is so capable of doing almost everything from carrying the ball and even working off ball. We might be a younger offense, but we’re a young offense that has a lot of experience. There’s a handful of Mann Cup championships in our offense from guys like Randy, Johnny and myself. Then Johnny’s got Minto Cups, Shayne’s got Minto Cups, which back home in Canada they’re really big deals for guys that are coming up through the minor systems of the their programs. I think it’s really going to be a lot of fun and I don’t think I’ve had as much fun playing box lacrosse, as I have playing with these guys the last three weeks, as I have in a long time. It’s a lot of fun.”
Comeau said he feels good about the six transition players currently on the roster.
Jordan MacIntosh was named NLL Transition Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014 for the Swarm. Last season he had 48 points and 171 loose balls. Joel White also brings experience to the unit with 182 loose balls last season.
The Swarm added rookie Chad Tutton from North Carolina in the draft with the No. 6 overall pick. As a senior for the Tar Heels last year, Tutton scored 33 goals and had eight assists.
“Jordan MacIntosh, he’s won Transition Player of the Year I think a couple times, he’s one of our leaders,” Comeau said. “He’s been phenomenal for us and we expect big things from him kind of in all aspects of the game. I think (Ethan) O’Connor has been running the floor well for us, as has Jason Noble. We’ve had a lot of guys contribute and we want to be a team that we’re going to be a threat to score if the ball is in our stick. We’re athletic so we want to push the tempo and not necessarily end in a shot every time, but we’ll certainly create some opportunities and maybe create some mismatches in the offensive zone by pushing the ball and not allowing the other team to substitute their defensive players on.”
The Swarm’s defensemen are the elder statesmen on Georgia’s roster. With an abundance of youth on offense and no one with more than four years in the league at the transition position, Drew Petkoff (five years in the league) and Mitch Belisle (seven years in the league) are the most experienced players on the roster.
Rookie Reid Action and third-year player Alex Crepinsek fill out the unit.
“We’ve got a number of guys, I think Mitch Belisle and Drew Petkoff are the guys who have been around the league for a number of years,” Comeau said. “We’ve got a number of guys that are in the four, five-year range, which is good. We know we’ve got some growing and learning to do back there, but we’ve got a great athletic group. We’re trying to work on doing things a little differently maybe than what was done in the past and the guys bought in. I think they’re going to come together and they’re going to continue to improve a lot. That along with our goaltending, we think if we can improve our defense, that by nature is going to improve our goaltending. Seeing either a lesser number of shots or a lesser quality of shots. That’s what we’re trying to do with this group.”
Only two teams in the league allowed more goals than the Swarm last season. But as Comeau alluded to, that didn’t have much to do with what the team got in the net from Zach Higgins and Brodie MacDonald.
Both goaltenders are back this season, with Higgins again in line to see the lion’s share of the action. Last year he had a .765 save percentage and MacDonald had a .742.
“We’re happy with them and we want to try to build some confidence with those guys by playing good solid defense in front of them,” Comeau said. “I know it takes a little bit of time, but our defensive unit and the staff are really committed to that. It’s great to see and the veteran leadership we have there is good with the veteran guys.
“It really helps. With the younger guys that are coming into that unit, the veteran guys kind of helped them and showed them what you need to do to be successful in this league.”