L to R: Kiel Matisz, Jordan Hall, Shayne Jackson. (Photo Credit: Kyle Hess)
(Duluth, GA) – For the first eight weeks of the 2017 season, the Georgia Swarm has clashed against tough opponents on its way to a league-best 7-1 record. With its unselfish offense and improved defense on the floor, Georgia stands atop the leaderboards in multiple categories in its best start in franchise history.
Georgia, undefeated at home (4-0) on Harrah’s Cherokee Field at Infinite Energy Arena, has the best offense in the league. The team has scored 119 goals – well beyond the next closest team’s total (Vancouver Stealth with 98) – and averages 14.88 goals for per game. The unselfish Swarm also leads the league in team assists with 185, again well beyond the next closest team’s total (also Vancouver with 160).
“We have had some great individual and team performances that have helped us achieve a great start to the year,” head coach Ed Comeau said. “We are very aware that in sports, it is the finish that counts. Our players and staff are working hard to build on our success going into the second half of the season. As the season progresses, the stakes become higher, and the success takes even more commitment and focus.”
Georgia has the best goal differential in the league with +24 and has the second-best shot percentage in the league with .193. The team is also leading the league in power play success (29 PPG) and penalty killing (56.4 PK%).
“I’ve been most impressed with some of those wins where we’ve had to come from behind and win in different ways,” assistant captain Shayne Jackson said. “If we want to go deep in the playoffs, that’s what you have to do. We all know it’s just a marathon season. We might be having a little success, but we just have to keep it moving forward, (make sure) that we’re worrying about each team each week.”
The Thompson Brothers are one of the many reasons for Georgia’s strong offensive production. Lyle Thompson leads the team and the NLL with 59 points (25G, 34A – both team-highs). Miles Thompson has made many highlight reel plays – including a SportsCenter Top 10 play – on his way to 24 points (15G, 9A) and leads the team with six power play goals. Jerome Thompson has been one of the team’s top distributors, ranking third on the team with 20 assists. He has also eclipsed his career-high in season points with 26 points (6G, 20A) – previous high was 24 points in his 2015 rookie campaign.
The Thompson Brothers made some history at the season opener when they were joined by eldest brother Jeremy Thompson of the Saskatchewan Rush. That night at The Hive, the brothers set a Guinness World Record for most siblings to play in a professional lacrosse game.
Acquired in the offseason via trade with the New England Black Wolves, Jordan Hall silently supports the offense. His 42 points (12G, 30A) are bested only by Lyle’s on the team. Hall also brings a clutch factor to the Swarm, showcasing this ability when he scored three goals in a row against his former team in the Swarm’s comeback victory on Feb. 11.
Jackson currently has 31 points (16G, 15A) and has scored four goals in two games already this season. Kiel Matisz has been effective around the crease, using his size and strength to record 11 goals and 13 assists.
#24 Jordan MacIntosh (Photo Credit: Kyle Hess)
Coming back from an offseason injury, captain Jordan MacIntosh has gotten back in a rhythm as evidenced by his explosive performance against New England on Feb. 11, scoring 9 points (3G, 6A). After a slow start in the faceoff circle in his first three games, MacIntosh has gone 56-for-97 (57.7 winning percentage) on faceoffs in the last four games while collecting 39 loose balls and causing five turnovers.
The 2016 NLL ROY Randy Staats showed no signs of a sophomore slump as he recorded 28 points (12G, 16A) in six games this season. Unfortunately, he was put on the injured list. Fortunately, Johnny Powless filled the gap, coming back from injury himself. In his two games back, Powless has already recorded 10 points (4G, 6A) and the game-winning goal in a frantic overtime game against top divisional rival Toronto Rock on Feb. 17.
“… It’s not because they’re packing the ball; it’s not because they’re out looking for numbers,” assistant coach Dan Ladouceur said this week. “Their goals are just byproducts of their talent and the way we move and share the ball … I love the fact that they often say, ‘Celebrate the little things.’ An assist is just as important to these guys as a goal. The level of unselfishness is strong.”
The front office made great strides to shore up the defense in the offseason. With a 2016 draft focusing on defensive picks and the free agent signings of veterans Mike Poulin and John Ranagan, Swarm vets Alex Crepinsek, Mitch Belisle, and Jason Noble are complemented by a wealth of hungry young talent.
The effect of these moves has been noticeable. With Georgia finishing the 2016 season having given up two more goals than they scored, the 2017 Swarm has scored 24 more goals than they have allowed.
“(Owner and GM) John Arlotta has done a great job of drafting and acquiring the players that we need for our systems,” assistant coach Sean Ferris said. “… We have a plethora of great players, and they’re very young. We’re in good shape. To get Ranagan in a free agent signing has been a pleasant surprise back there.”
Poulin has been steady between the pipes, leading the NLL with a 6-1 record and is second with a .793 SV%. In 401:29 minutes of play, Poulin has an 11.51 GAA. With the addition of Poulin, Brodie MacDonald has excelled as the backup, stepping up when called on by the coaches. In the Swarm’s second contest against New England, MacDonald replaced Poulin between the pipes and made 45 saves in 48 minutes. His performance helped give Georgia’s offense a chance to catch up and surpass the Black Wolves for a thrilling 17-15 comeback win.
#30 Mike Poulin (Photo Credit: Kyle Hess)
Ranagan, Crepinsek, and Noble are leading by example around the net. For loose balls and turnovers, Ranagan has 32/6, Crepinsek 41/5, and Noble 18/7. Belisle, in addition to being a defensive threat, showcased another aspect of the dangerous Swarm offense. In his first game of the season, Belisle found the back of the net against New England, taking advantage of their extra attacker and making them regret pulling their goalie.
2016 All-Rookie Chad Tutton continues to be a threat defensively in his second season, pressuring opponents and causing a team-high and NLL-leading (tied) 14 turnovers. In his third season with the Swarm, Ethan O’Connor scored two electrifying goals in the team’s first two games of the season and has gone 43/7 defensively.
Rookies Connor Sellars and Leo Stouros have both impressed early on. In addition to scoring two goals, Sellars has collected 21 loose balls and caused four turnovers; Stouros has collected 14 loose balls while causing 4 turnovers. Sean Young has also contributed greatly in the five games he has played in, stymying opponents in his rookie campaign.
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NLL Draft, Bryan Cole, started off the season with a bang with a goal in each of his first three games and has proceeded to collect 16 loose balls and cause four turnovers.
In his first box game ever, Liam Byrnes impressed. The fifth-round selection made the practice squad at the start of the season but got the go-ahead against New England on Jan. 20. Byrnes impressed coaches with his aggressive play as he collected two loose balls and caused one turnover in his debut.
“I think we play our best with almost a recklessness to us,” Poulin said. “When we play settled and contained in a tight box, we’re giving up shots that seem to find a way of going in. I think when we play a little loose and a little reckless with high energy, that’s when we’re at our best.”
Everyone interviewed commented on the team’s strong bonds together, how close everyone is this year.
“I think this year, the biggest difference I feel is the team just feels really very close,” MacIntosh reflected. “In any other championships that I’ve won in other leagues or with the Canadian National team, it’s something you kind of feel, and it’s not something you can fake, how close the team is … Everyone’s really excited to fly wherever we’re flying that week and see everybody. I think that’s the making of a really, really good team.”
#31 John Ranagan (Photo Credit: Kyle Hess)
Taking a merited bye week, coaches and players will reflect on how the season has gone so far and prepare for the road ahead in their quest for the franchise’s first Champion’s Cup.
“We’re going to use this time to really refocus,” Comeau said. “We’ll look at some videos and find some improvement opportunities. Next week, we’ll get back and start looking at Calgary, getting prepared for them.”
If anyone would know what is needed in the season to help a team go do deep in the playoffs, it would be Comeau. Georgia features the best offense (14.88 goals per game) since the Rochester Knighthawks back in 2007. Averaging 15.56 goals per game, Comeau coached the 2007 Knighthawks to a 14-2 regular season record and the franchise’s second Champion’s Cup win.
“This team’s a little younger, not maybe quite as seasoned as the 2007 Knighthawks were,” Comeau said about the comparison. “Certainly on both teams, there are similarities. Great goaltending like in 2007, a number of dynamic offensive players, and a defense that got the job done.”
Georgia will take to the road next week for two games. The team visits Scotiabank Saddledome to take on the Calgary Roughnecks Saturday, Mar. 4. Faceoff is set for 9:00 p.m. ET. The Swarm then travels to Mohegan Sun Arena to take on division rival New England for the third time this season on Sunday, Mar. 12. Faceoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET. Fans can catch both games LIVE via NLLTV.com
Georgia returns to The Hive for a rematch against Calgary on Friday, Mar. 17. Faceoff is set for 7:35 p.m. ET. Tickets are available by calling 844-4-GASWARM or by visiting GeorgiaSwarm.com/SingleGame.