(DULUTH, Ga.) – The Georgia Swarm (16-5) took the first game of the NLL Champion’s Cup with a come-from-behind victory courtesy of a seven-goal run in the second half to best the Saskatchewan Rush (14-7) with an 18-14 victory. Broadcasted live on Twitter, 7,642 fans at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena watched Georgia hand Saskatchewan its first loss of the postseason and a performance from three-time GRAMMY® Award winning artist Ludacris.
Georgia will now travel to Canada to take on Saskatchewan at SaskTel Centre to try and finish the season with a Championship win on the road. Faceoff is set for 9:30 p.m. ET.
Georgia’s come-from-behind victory was led by Jordan Hall and some stellar defensive work from goaltender Mike Poulin and the equally dangerous Swarm defense.
“We’ve got three rookies at the back door, and they’ve been playing like they’ve been in the league for a lot of years,” head coach Ed Comeau said. “Our defense gets overlooked. People talk a lot about our offense because it’s been so good all year, but defense takes some time to get together and figure stuff out. They’ve been getting better, especially the last third of the season. We did a great job, and [Saskatchewan] has some pretty dangerous right-handed scorers, and we held those guys to one goal tonight from the right side. That was huge, and Poulin’s been strong for us all year and continued another great performance tonight.”
Randy Staats once again broke the ice by scoring the first goal in the contest, an underhand whip. Kiel Matisz followed up with a bouncer to widen the lead to two. Eldest brother Jeremy Thompson retaliated, and Curtis Knight followed suit to tie things up. Assistant captain Shayne Jackson fed a pass to Hall who scored after some fancy feints to retake the lead.
Good defense became the name of the game for a while until Mark Matthews tied things up with a power-play goal towards the end of the quarter. The Rush found themselves man-up again, and Matthews took advantage again to give Saskatchewan its first lead of the night. The first quarter ended with Saskatchewan up 4-3.
Saskatchewan controlled the pace in the second quarter. Aaron Bold made a game-high 11 saves in the quarter as Adam Jones, Ryan Keenan, Jeremy, Robert Church, and Knight were able to widen the lead by one more goal. Lyle Thompson found the back of the net for the only time in the contest, catching his rebound to feed the ball in. Hall scored his second goal of the night off another pass from Jackson, and Johnny Powless scored back-to-back goals. When both teams headed to the locker rooms at halftime, however, it was with Saskatchewan up 9-7.
While the two teams rested for a bit, Ludacris came out and performed live on Twitter and for the fans in the seats with Instagram stars @i_got_barzz and @weblazian.
In the second half, Church and Jones capped off Saskatchewan’s four-goal run, but the Rush’s offense would go quiet for a while as Georgia’s exploded. Hall started off the seven-goal run with a diving shot to put the team within three, 11-8.
“Going in at the half, we wanted to go in playing five-on-five,” Hall said. “I don’t know what the stats were exactly, but they were scoring man-up, they were scoring 6-on-5. So we just really wanted to eliminate transition from the offensive end and just try and play 5-on-5. We were kind of able to do that for a little while, and it paid off.”
Matisz followed suit shortly, and Hall and Jackson switched places as Jackson received a pass from Hall and netted it. Jackson received one more pass from Hall and lasered the ball into the upper left corner past Bold to tie things up with 13.5 seconds left in the quarter.
The final 15 minutes started with both teams tied at 11, but not for long as Hall scored within the first 17 seconds. Staats followed up a little over two-and-a-half minutes later with a low shot on Bold’s left side. Jeff Cornwall was one-on-one with Poulin in transition, but Poulin made a fantastic block with his right shoulder. Miles Thompson ended up with the ball and scored his first goal of the night, capping the seven-goal run with Georgia up 14-11.
Saskatchewan’s Jones took advantage of a penalty coming Georgia’s to score with the extra attacker. Still man-up, Matthews sniped the ball in to put the Rush within one. Penalty killed, Poulin would make a great save off another wicked shot from Matthews. Joel White caught the rebound and passed down the floor to Miles who scored his second goal in the contest. Thirty seconds later, Jackson gave the ball to Matisz for his hat trick goal.
Hall finished his stellar night with a left-hand whip past Bold, putting Georgia up 17-13. Doing whatever they could to come back, the Rush pulled Bold and went with the extra attacker. Unfortunately for the team, it stung them as Connor Sellars managed to get a pass to Bryan Cole for an empty netter. With 50 seconds left, Jerome scored the final goal of the night off a resilient faceoff win. Georgia killed the clock afterwards and took Game 1 of the NLL Champion’s Cup with an electric 18-14 victory.
Hall finished with eight points (5G, 3A) and Jackson with six (2G, 4A). Lyle, Matisz, Staats, and Powless all finished with five points, and Miles had two goals and two assists. Poulin made 37 saves on 51 shots to finish the night with a 14 GAA and a .725 SV%.
Matthews and Church led the scoring for Saskatchewan with seven points each (3G, 4A for Matthews; 2G, 5A for Church). Jones and Jeremy both finished with the hat trick as Jeremy went 14-for-22 on faceoffs. Bold earned the loss with a 17.13 GAA and a .679 SV%.
“With any series, any team will tell you all you focus on is the next game,” Comeau said. “We know they’re going to make some adjustments, and they play great at home—I think 9-1 at home this year—so it’s a hostile environment. We said, ‘They came to play in The Hive, and we’re going into a hornet’s nest.’ It’ll be tough there, but we’ll take that game and see what happens.”
If needed, Game 3 will take place back at The Hive on Sunday, June 18. Faceoff will be set for 5:05 p.m. ET. Tickets will be available by calling 844-4-GASWARM or by visiting GeorgiaSwarm.com/Playoff.
Play of the Game:
The best player tonight earned the play of the game. Starting off a furious seven-goal run, Hall took a pass from Sellars and made a diving shot into the net, starting off Georgia’s comeback in its historic night 13 years in the making.
“That’s the acquisition of the year, man,” Poulin said about trading for Hall during the offseason. “He’s been unbelievable for us. This group—there’s so many different personalities, and Jordan’s come in and fit right in, not just as a piece, but the glue that brings all the pieces together. I don’t know where we’d be without him. I really don’t. He’s been unbelievable.”
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