April 10, 2012

Suitor, Young Swarm Eye Playoff Berth

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com

There are a few players that Minnesota captain Andrew Suitor says the Swarm could not win without, including rookie transition player Jordan MacIntosh, who Suitor thinks should be in the running for rookie of the year.
© Alex Carroll/Swarm

Run when you can. Walk if you have to. Crawl if you must. Just never give up.

Those are Andrew Suitor's words to live by in his biographical sketch on the Minnesota Swarm website, and he means what he says. He hurt a leg during his team's 13-9 win in Philadelphia last Friday but he's not about to let that keep him out of an all-important National Lacrosse League showdown with the Washington Stealth.

''I'm fine,'' he says. ''It's just a bit of a charleyhorse. I'll be good to go Saturday.''

A win would clinch a playoff berth for the Swarm (6-7), who are doing better than might have been expected given an off-season roster overhaul and in-season coaching and goaltending changes. Oh, top scorer Ryan Benesch has missed the last three games with a concussion, too.

Just never give up.

''We've definitely had our ups and downs,'' says Suitor. ''Being such a young team, our consistency struggles a bit but I think we're getting into a groove now. We want to win the next couple and get a playoff spot.''

Minnesota is 3-5 on the road.

''It's harder to play in other people's barns,'' reasons Suitor. ''We've got a young team with 11 rookies. You go into Buffalo or Denver and there can be 18,000 people screaming at you. Not to make up excuses. We've got to come out harder on the road and win those games.''

Minnesota is 3-2 at their Xcel Energy Center home in St. Paul, where they play the last three games of the regular season beginning with the key clash with the Stealth this Saturday.

''We love playing in front of our fans,'' says Suitor. ''We get extra motivation from them. Hopefully, we can keep winning in front of them. That's what they come to see to see and we want to continue to put people in the stands.''

Washington is a better team than Minnesota on paper but games are not won on paper and the Swarm are making a habit of surprising people.

''It's the most important game of the year for us,'' says Suitor. ''Washington is a great team. They're battling for a playoff spot as are we. We'll have to have our A game. Washington is clicking right now so to slow them down we're going to have to have one of our best games of the year.''

The Swarm are doing something that is extremely rate in pro sports: they are rotating a pair of rookie goalies, Tyler Carlson and Evan Kirk. Kirk was outstanding in Philadelphia so it's Carlson's turn to start this weekend.

''We have all the confidence in the world in both of them,'' says Suitor. ''It doesn't matter if it is Evan or Tyler. They've been nothing but spectacular all year. We're always pumped up to play for whichever one of our goalies gets the start.''

Just never give up.

Suitor, 22, is only in his second NLL season but is so highly regarded by the coaches and management that he wears the captain's C. The 5-foot-11 transition specialist is tough as nails. He's one of the many NLL players from Orangeville, Ontario, where he was a big part of two Canadian championship junior teams. He also attended the Hill Academy just north of Toronto where the Merrill brothers, NLLers Brodie and Pat, run the athletic programs.

''I'm defense-minded but when the opportunity arises I like to push the ball up the floor, make a pass, or take the shot and bury one for the boys, and I try to vacuum up as many loose balls as I can,'' he says.

One of the rookies who has impressed him most is teammate Jordan MacIntosh, who also has a transition role.

''Jordan is awesome,'' says Suitor. ''He's done everything and more.

''It's good he's getting recognition in talk about rookie of the year. I understand Kevin Crowley [in Philadelphia] and Adam Jones [in Colorado] are having big years and putting up a lot of points. But Mac should be right there. He's playing a huge role for us. I don't think we'd be where we are without him.''

MacIntosh is fifth in the league with 123 loose ball pickups and Suitor is seventh with 98.

Getting Benesch back against the Stealth would be a big boost. If he's not ready, Kevin Ross will again step up and fill the hole.

''Ryan is our go-to guy,'' says Suitor. ''He's our moneyballer.

''Not having him means other guys are motivated to fill that role. Kevin has done a good job at it. It's the same at other positions: if one of us goes down the rest of us are going to play that much harder.''

Just never give up.

Two invaluable contributors on the back end have been Jeff Gilbert, the 6-foot-4 D-man acquired from Toronto after he helped the Rock win the championship last May, and Swarm vet Rich Morgan.

''Jeff Gilbert should be in people's thoughts for defenseman of the year,'' says Suitor. ''He draws top matchups every game.

''He's been the backbone of our defense. He's another guy I can say, I don't think we'd be where we are without him. He's an unbelievable leader.''

The 6-foot-8 Morgan is one of the NLL's biggest players.

''Rich doesn't get as much credit as he deserves,'' says Suitor. ''He is so consistent.

''He's a big body for us back there. You know when he's out there that he'll move anybody with that frame he has. He's a quiet leader and a great guy for us young guys to learn from.''

There is a solid and growing Swarm fan base.

''It's awesome,'' says Suitor. ''The fan support we get is great. It's a lot of fun to play in Minnesota.''

Suitor and his teammates are used to being underestimated by now. Nobody gave them a chance to do anything this year. But they never gave up.

''We know in our dressing room what it is that we want to accomplish,'' says Suitor. ''We have a goal and we're going to continue to work towards it.''

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