Yeah, Season Openers are cool and all, but there’s nothing quite like a Home Opener. And fortunately for the Georgia Swarm, they get to enjoy their first game of the season on Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena this Saturday, Dec. 14 when they welcome – politely, of course – the Philadelphia Wings.
The Swarm love Home Openers so much (they’re 4-0 in them!) that they’re celebrating We Are Sting City Night, honoring their fan base and home barn. Tickets to help them remain perfect in Home Openers are at GeorgiaSwarm.com/StingCityNight or by calling 844-4-GASWARM.
There are two main reasons for the aforementioned politeness, but it starts with the fact that this is…
THE WINGS’ FIRST GAME OF THE SEASON
Yep, the Wings are the only team in the NLL that have yet to play a game this season. They’ve been stuck in the middle of the standings for two weeks, but Saturday will fix that one way or another.
This is a relatively unchanged team up front with Brett Hickey returning from injury and Jordan Hall departing in the offseason to wear blue and yellow. That offense was a force in 2018-19, finishing fourth in the NLL with 12.11 GF/GAME.
Defensively, the team has shifted a bit more, most noticeably in goal. None of their netminders from their inaugural season are back (Davide DiRuscio is still on the PUP list), and instead, they’ve brought Zach Higgins and Brandon Miller to man the net.
For a team that finished last in 2018-19 with 13.67 GA/GAME, there’s nowhere to go but up, and the Wings are riding on the hope that the offseason changes they made will help them improve in their sophomore season.
That’s one reason for a warm welcome; the second is the Swarm have some…
BRAND SPANKING NEW TURF
It’s so springy, you guys. And it looks sharp, too.
Fun fact for the Swarm, it’s also the second time this season they will have played on a new turf. The Rochester Knighthawks displayed their own new turf, and the Swarm enjoyed it so much that they left the northeast with a 14-4 win.
If you were named Thompson on that night, chances are you did some damage. Lyle and Miles certainly did, accounting for half of the Swarm’s 14 goals on Nov. 30. Mike Poulin played the best game of his career – which came just last season on March 22 against the Toronto Rock – by only allowing two goals to get past him.
Think on that. Poulin somehow keeps raising the bar. Just like a fine scotch, the Kitchener, Ontario goalie…
GETS BETTER WITH AGE
In his age 34 season, Poulin set new single game highs for GAA and SV%, holding the Rock to just five goals against. Those new bests? A solid 5.00 GAA and .904 SV%.
Two weekends ago, Poulin scoffed at those numbers and said a real goaltender holds an offense featuring Shawn Evans, Holden Cattoni, Curtis Knight, and Dan Lintner to just two goals across 50:50 min., finishing his night with a 2.36 GAA and .947 SV%.
That’s…that’s just silly.
But it highlights just how good a 2019 Poulin’s having. After one of his best NLL seasons, he went on to win a championship with the Peterborough Lakers over the summer and be named the Mann Cup MVP, then participated in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships to help Team Canada win their fifth consecutive gold medal in the international competition.
Credit should be spread to his defensive teammates on Nov. 30, and Poulin will be the first one to tell you how excellent his teammates were at getting in lanes to block shots and disrupting passes all night long.
For the Swarm to see success against the Wings, they’ll need more of the same. As was mentioned earlier, the Wings have a fine offense, or as Swarm head coach Ed Comeau put it…
“THEY’RE MASSIVE HUMAN BEINGS”
Let’s look at some numbers from last season:
The average height and weight for the right side is 6-foot-3 and 204 pounds. And these are guys that know how to use their size to their advantage and force their way to the cage if they so choose. It doesn’t help that they’ve all got some great outside shots, too.
Their lefties are smaller but feature either crafty veterans in Kevin Buchanan and Cory Vitarelli or talented young guns in Matt Rambo and Blaze Riorden.
The Swarm defense has their work cut out for them, but that’s the way they like it. Taking on a talented offense and proving that last week wasn’t a fluke performance is bound to be their focus.
Not to revel in one game too much, but it’s crazy to think that the Swarm defense played that stellar without…
JORDAN MACINTOSH AND JOEL WHITE
The Swarm coaches now have a good problem to wrestle with: your defense played so phenomenal without two of its talented veteran defenders that now you have to figure out who gets to play and who are your healthy scratches.
When your roster is as talent laden as the Swarm’s is, it’s an unfortunate reality that two players will have to sit. But it also is a boon. Now the Swarm have options and can adjust throughout the season to make sure guys stay sharp and healthy as the season winds along.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there are the Wings to contend with. The last time they were at Sting City, they put a 19-14 hurting on the Swarm. Short memories are key in professional sports, and it’s a new season with new rosters for both clubs.
The Wings have a lot of questions about their back end that will need to be answered in their Season Opener. The Swarm have less questions about themselves after a phenomenal road win, but they will have to be diligent and focused to make sure they come away with a win and spoil the Wings’ first game of the season.