After starting the season 0-2, the Swarm has taken two of its last three games to enter into a three-way tie for third in the East Division, and a large part of the team’s recent success is standing between the pipes. Mike Poulin, in the second year of his three-year contract, is proving to be exactly what Georgia needs in its championship defending season, a solid veteran presence making key saves to keep the Swarm in games. After a strong 15-12 win against Calgary last weekend, the Swarm enjoys a bye week before heading to Vancouver on Jan. 27. Poulin took some time recently to talk about the improvements he has seen on the floor, getting a win in his old haunt, and the road ahead for the defending champs:
Describe the season so far if you could.
The word I’ve been using to describe it so far is “scrappy.” We’ve been in every game, and they’ve been close battles. Some of them we held the leads and lost them, and now we’ve had a couple where we’ve been able to come back and get the win. Obviously, every team wants to be 5-0 after five. Being 2-3 is on the wrong side of where we want to be, but we’re in a position where we know we can get to where we need to be or want to be, and that’s getting ourselves in a better position for a playoff run. It’s not disappointing the way we got here. We’ve been in every game, we’ve battled hard, and we’re starting to fix the mistakes that we made early on like giving up leads and giving up transition goals.
Is there anything else that you want to touch on that you guys have improved?
The big thing for me is our conditioning improved. At the beginning of the year, when you’re giving up leads the way we did – we were up by three and then up by four and we ended up losing those games – what happens is you need to ask yourself if you have the ability in the fourth quarter to close out games. There’s a lot of things that go into it. I felt the one thing that we were missing was the conditioning aspect, to be able to outrun teams and be able to just separate yourself. As the season has started to go on and we’ve found ourselves in tight games again, we’ve actually shown that ability to be able to outrun teams and finish stronger. The big thing for me is our conditioning level and our overall compete level has been a lot better than where it was at the beginning of the year.
Does a lot of that have to do with everybody gelling together?
We’ve certainly needed to gel. We added some new faces, and we still have a lot of guys the team last year, but a lot of roles have changed, too. We have Connor Sellars and Bryan Cole and Leo Stouros, who were at this point last year being looked at as young rookies. They’re a major cog in our defense right now, so their roles have drastically changed.
Our offense scoring at the clip they did last year, I think we all knew it was kind of unrealistic to match that production in this league. People catch on pretty quick to what you’re doing, so they’re adjusting to what they’ve done. A lot of new faces and a lot of new roles and responsibilities. It’s certainly been an adjustment period for the new faces and guys coming in, but at the same time, that’s why we have training camp and that’s why we’re expected to be professionals about it is to not use it as an excuse. Every team goes through it. Hopefully, we’ve been able to manage it.
It’s unfortunate we have a bye right now because I felt like after last week, there’s a lot of momentum going in our way. We’ll have to just make sure we carry that into Vancouver in two weeks.
Vancouver does have a similar situation, having a win last week before a bye week like you guys. Does that even the field for next week?
It really does. Like I said, a lot of times you’ll get a win and then you’re fortunate that you can get right back at it with your group of players and keep things rolling and the excitement level going. I’m sure both teams felt that way. For us to have a similar schedule, it doesn’t give anyone certain momentum. We’re both coming into it even. They’re at home, and we have to travel, but again, that’s all just part of the business.
Vancouver hasn’t exactly scored at a high clip right now, but they have the firepower to do it. We can’t just assume that they’re going to come out and play the same way that they have or have given up goals the same way that they have because things change really quickly in this sport. You can score seven in one week then twenty the next. You really can’t hang your hat on what a team has done so far to this point. A bye week, it might not give you the momentum that you want, but it also gives you that extra week of preparation and planning for a team that’s coming in. We need make sure we’re doing our best to get ready for whatever Vancouver can throw our way.
What’s it like having a target on your back as the defending champions?
It’s something that a lot of guys have experienced before. I’m one that hasn’t because I’ve never won a championship. It’s certainly a different feeling coming in. Teams are playing well against us, and it’s because we won last year that they’re using us as their measuring stick. They’re giving us their best shot to show that every team has a chance to win. There’s no team in this league that doesn’t realistically have a shot at winning a championship. So, we’re getting everybody’s best shot. But the way we started this season isn’t something we can hang our hats on in terms of target on our backs. We went 4-0 last year, and we had a target on our back then. With the start we’ve had, teams are looking at Colorado and Saskatoon as giving them their best shots, and they’re the ones with the targets on their back because they’ve had such a great shot.
I think I’m over it and closed the door on last year. I’m not really thinking towards people are coming in playing us like the defending champs because last year’s over. We’re a 2-3 team, we’re not 4-0, and we’ve got a long way to go in terms of being that championship caliber team again. Teams are giving us the best shot, but we certainly need to play better to show we deserve it.
Last year’s last year, but it still has to be nice to get that championship win in the first year of your three-year contract.
Yeah, I knew there was a lot of talent on this team, and I knew there were championship capabilities and opportunities. To be completely open and honest, I didn’t know it would happen in year one. I didn’t know we would be as good as we were last year right away, getting off to the great start we had and felt it just roll the whole year through. It certainly set us up nice for the next couple of years. We have an opportunity to keep things rolling. With as good as Saskatchewan is out West, they’re going to be looking to get some revenge on last year every game that they play now against us, sending a message to the entire league. With expansion next year, we know that our window is only so big before things really start to change for our team and every team. We really have to strike while it’s hot.
What’s important for us is to remember that we have an opportunity that’s in front of us to be great, to be one of the great teams of the NLL, but it’s not going to be there for long. You have to take this opportunity and run with it. We keep remembering how great last year was so that we can overcome the adversity we’ve had this year. Remember how good the feeling is so when times are low, we remember that we have an opportunity for things to feel pretty great if we can adapt.
Moving to more recent history, what was it like getting your first win in Calgary but not as a Roughnecks player?
It was awesome. Certainly any player will try and say that playing their old team and winning is just any other game, but no, for me, after the way things went last year in Calgary, getting our butts kicked, this one meant a lot. I know last year, my first time coming back to Calgary, there were some distractions, seeing some old familiar faces and having a few things come up in terms of coming back to Calgary might not have been what I needed in terms of my focus being where it needed to be. So this year, really made a point to treat this like every other game. It didn’t matter that I spent seven years in Calgary. It was just a refocus, and it paid off.
Love actually playing in that arena as a home player and a visitor. It’s a great crowd, a great atmosphere. They’ve done a fantastic job of building lacrosse out there, and it’s something I look at and would love to see in Georgia in years to come. There’s certainly a possibility for it. But that one was certainly an extra-special win for me.
Within that game, the second half really seemed like it clicked for the Swarm, especially for you. What was working for you in that final thirty?
Goalie in lacrosse is a funny position. You need to be able to give up fifteen goals and still mentally be strong enough to know you have a chance to win. For me, having the first half we did, I knew that we have the capability to come back and score at any opportunity and keep us in this game. So, I needed to contribute and try and make one save at a time. That helped us get one goal at a time to slowly close the gap. At one point, we were down by three, and then we went on that six-goal run. In lacrosse, that can happen at any point for or against. You just need to know that your team is going to come back, and you need the opportunity to win.
So as a goalie, you just really need to do your little part to slow down the other team’s momentum, and when you score, that next save is even more important to give you an opportunity get on a run. You don’t want to get a goal and have all the momentum going your way and feeling things are going well and them come down and make saves and score and next thing you know, it’s back where you were. I just really tried to hold the fort. In the fourth quarter, my defense played fantastic in front of me to give me the opportunity to see spots and control rebounds. They did a really great job of boxing out, making my job certainly easier.
What do you see in store for the remainder of the season for the Swarm?
I’m really optimistic about the way things are coming together. We have Ethan O’Connor back; we’ll have Chad Tutton back eventually from injury, which is just going to add another great presence at our back door. We know how good our offense can be and how well they’ve played so far. We know that if we can just kind of control things at the back door and settle things down, we’re in good shape to go on another good run here. The adversity at the beginning of the season, going 1-3, you can either be negative about it or understand that it’s an opportunity to turn things around and make your story even better when you go on a run at the end of the year.
I think we’re all pretty excited about being able to play lacrosse with our buddies. It’s such a great group of guys that we love going to play with every week. We might as well make the most of it and go have a good time and win some games.