(TORONTO) – The National Lacrosse League’s Georgia Swarm (5-1) faces its first doubleheader of the 2017 season this weekend. The Swarm squares off against the Toronto Rock (4-1) tonight at Air Canada Centre for a 7:30 p.m. ET showdown and then returns home this Sunday to battle the Rochester Knighthawks (2-4) at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena for a 6:05 p.m. contest. Both games will stream live on NLLTV.com.
On Sunday night, the Swarm is proud to host Native American Heritage Night, where the organization will honor its Native American athletes and recognize local tribal communities, including the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Tickets are available by calling 844-4-GASWARM or by visiting GeorgiaSwarm.com/SingleGame.
Tonight’s matchup features the top two teams in the NLL record-wise. The Swarm is looking to win their third-straight game against the Rock dating back to last season. Georgia is off to its best start since the 2008 season, and currently ranks No. 1 in the NLL in scoring offense. The Swarm is averaging 15.17 goals per game, which is the most since the ‘07 Rochester Knighthawks (15.56), who were also led by Swarm coach Ed Comeau.
“…The guys all know that this is a huge matchup for us,” Swarm assistant coach Dan Ladouceur said. “Honestly I’m expecting a pretty fast-paced game. It’s no secret that Toronto has really embraced their running game and transition game. They work to get out of their zone and create opportunities. We’re similar in that sense in that we want our guys to run the floor."
Georgia is led offensively by second-year forward Lyle Thompson, who has put forth MVP-worthy numbers thus far, ranking second in the NLL in goals (18) and fourth in points (40). Thompson’s game extends outside of the offensive end as he leads all Top 25 scoring leaders in shorthanded goals (3), loose balls (41) and faceoff wins (19). In addition, his .247 shooting percentage ranks second.
One of the main reasons behind Thompson and the Swarm’s success on offense has been their ability to share the ball and work as a unit. Against a stingy defense like Toronto, moving the ball will be one of the main keys to a victory, Ladouceur said.
“The whole concept of us moving the ball, and moving our feet makes us a difficult offense to play against,” Ladouceur added. “When you have guys in motion all the time, it’s very difficult for a defender to find himself, slide, or be in help position.”
The Swarm will feature a different look this weekend on offense, as Randy Staats was placed on the Second-Level Injured List yesterday. Staats sustained an upper body injury against New England on Feb. 11 and will be inactive for a minimum of 10 days. On a positive note, forward Johnny Powless will make his season debut against Toronto after he started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List. Powless scored 35 goals last season, which ranked third on the Swarm.
Toronto’s 4-1 start has been fueled by the NLL’s No. 1 ranked defensive unit, which is allowing just 8.4 goals per contest. Georgia’s defensive unit is tied for fourth, yielding 12.33 goals and is led by goalie Mike Poulin who ranks second in the NLL with a .780 save percentage. The Swarm’s penalty kill in particular has been stellar, killing off a league-high 57.1-percent of their opponent’s chances. What makes that figure even more impressive is that Georgia has featured five rookie defensemen in its lineup through the first six games of the season.
Friday night’s game will certainly have a different feeling for Ladouceur who spent the past few seasons as an assistant coach with the Rock, and prior to that, was a defenseman with Toronto for 11 seasons.
“I went into the arena today and I was telling our staff how I’ve never stepped foot in that visiting locker room before,” he explained. “It’s a whole new experience for me. Obviously the priority is playing and making sure the guys are ready to go out and win but just being back and in Toronto is exciting for me with this new organization.”
Once Friday’s game is over, Georgia will turn its attention to another divisional opponent, the Rochester Knighthawks. Rochester hosts the Rock at home Saturday night before it travels to Atlanta Sunday morning.
“They have some veteran players that have won championships and championship teams often find a way to get themselves out of skids they may find themselves on,” Ladouceur said. “That game is huge for us as it’s a divisional game, and they have all the tools to breakout at anytime. We don’t want to be the team that they break out against. They’re totally a different style team than Toronto per se, and we’ll be back Saturday to look at the game film and focusing on what we have to do.”
Sunday’s meeting is the first matchup this season between the two teams; Georgia won the regular season series last year, 2-1.