Preseason game report: Minnesota 14 @ Colorado 10

Lacrosse season is back! The 2014 NLL pre-season began on Friday night, with the first inter-team scrimmage. The Minnesota Swarm took on the Colorado Mammoth at the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre in Oakville, Ontario. Being the lucky bastard fellow I am, I live about 30 km from the TRAC, so I attended this game with my son and several hundred other lacrosse fans. For an exhibition game in the Toronto area with no Toronto team involved, there was a pretty good turnout; the facility holds about 800 people in the stands, and it was mostly full. Of course, I imagine if they announced “everyone who is a relative or close personal friend of one of the players, please leave”, the place would empty out pretty quickly.

While this was an exhibition game and the final result really didn’t mean anything, most of the players knew they were being evaluated and so they were playing pretty hard. There were hits and penalties but no fights. It did look like a preseason game in some respects, in that we saw more dropped passes, passes made to nobody, passes missed because the receiver wasn’t expecting them, things like that. I even saw John Grant attempt an over-the-shoulder shot from in close and miss the net. (That was during the pre-game warmup; Grant did not play in the game.)

I don’t have a problem with music at lacrosse games, in fact I’ve been a supporter of it through the years. But the more games I see without it, the more I think I prefer the game without the music. As with all games at the TRAC, this was even more bare-bones than that – no music, no PA announcements of goals or penalties, no national anthems, no cheerleaders, no instant replay. Just pure lacrosse. It was great.

The Swarm decided to go with the 18-man lineup, as they will have to in the regular season, while the Mammoth seemingly had bucketloads of people dressed, some of whom only played one half or the other. Both teams swapped goalies – Tyler Carlson and Tye Belanger started and played the first half, and Zach Higgins and Dan Lewis played the second half. A few players on the Mammoth were notably absent: as I said Grant did not play though he was there, while neither Casey Powell nor Gavin Prout were anywhere to be seen. I was specifically looking for Prout, after the rumours of his release by the club. I also don’t remember seeing Jarrett Park or Mat MacLeod, though it’s possible I simply missed them. But just about everyone else on the Mammoth roster (listed here) played.

For the Swarm, it was harder to tell. Not only did they not have names on their (ugly gold practice) jerseys, but at least some of them were wearing the wrong number. I specifically tweeted the Swarm asking about a big impressive-looking guy wearing #19, who I figured was probably a rookie since nobody on the Swarm wore #19 last year. I thought this kid was looking pretty comfortable – was it maybe Logan Schuss? But he’s not that big, is he? Turns out it was Kiel Matisz, just wearing a different number. (Matisz is 6’5″, Schuss is 6’0″.) I didn’t see #98 or #20 out there – did Callum Crawford and Andrew Suitor actually play? I have no idea. Obviously since the Swarm only dressed 18, there were a few people left out, and it’s not like Crawford or Suitor will have trouble making the team. I imagine they’ll be playing tonight in their game against Rochester while others sit out.

It’s hard to talk about how the teams looked as a whole since it was pre-season. Were the Swarm the better team? How did the Mammoth defense look? Who’s going to take over for Ryan Benesch on the Swarm’s left side? Each team was trying out different players and different line pairings and different offensive and defensive strategies, so such an analysis would be meaningless. Both teams were missing some top players (I think that’s true for the Swarm, anyway), so a crippled Swarm team defeated a crippled Mammoth team.

Some other game notes:

  • Mammoth forward (and former Bandit) Carter Bender was wearing a black helmet with orange on it. I imagine they’ll get him a new one if he makes the team.
  • Bob Snider had a few of the signature Snider face-off wins (simply grab the ball with the back of your stick as if the other guy isn’t there), but Jordan MacIntosh certainly gave him some trouble on most of them.
  • Drew Westervelt looked pretty good for the Mammoth, though he only played the first half. It was amusing to see the 6’5″ Westervelt next to the 5’8″ Cody McMahon.
  • Joey Cupido looked pretty quick on transition – he had at least one breakaway chance, and a couple of other times sped up the floor, leaving the Swarm people covering him in the dust.
  • Dan Lewis looks too skinny to play pro lacrosse, let alone be a goalie. But he was pretty effective last night, looking to make the team ahead of draft pick Dillon Ward.
  • All four goalies played very well. Each one of them made some pretty impressive saves, though it was hard to tell if they were close to mid-season form or if the shooters were just not.
  • When there’s no music and the ball hits the goalie in the chest, you can really hear how hard it hits. Props.
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