HAMILTON, ONTARIO (March 26, 2022) – The two hottest teams in the NLL and two of the League’s most prolific offenses delivered on their promise to put on a show Saturday night in Hamilton, but it was the Swarm’s stifling defense and brilliant goalie play by Mike Poulin that walked away with top billing in Georgia’s crucial 10-6 victory over Toronto – their fourth-straight victory.
The Georgia Swarm (8-6) led wire-to-wire over the Toronto Rock (8-5) in the type of win that’s becoming emblematic of Coach Ed Comeau‘s gritty squad.
The night began with the news that league MVP candidate Lyle Thompson would miss the game with a lower body injury, forcing the Swarm to make a roster move that put Travis Longboat in the front line of the Swarm offense. But Georgia didn’t blink and after a 10-minute pregame ceremony marking Toronto forward Dan Dawson surpassing NLL legend John Tavares for the all-time lead in games played with 307, the Swarm got right down to business.
For the second week in a row, rookie defender Jeff Henrick opened the scoring with a bullet in transition past Toronto netminder Nick Rose after a great outlet pass from starting goalie Poulin. Just minutes later Brendan Bomberry extended the Swarm’s lead to 2-0 with a short-range shot past Rose.
Poulin was extremely sharp early on, a harbinger of things to come, blocking an uncontested one-on-one breakaway shot by Rob Hellyer to maintain the Swarm’s 2-0 advantage. Poulin held the prolific Rock offense to just one goal in the first quarter, blocking everything but Tom Schreiber‘s 10th power play goal of the season that cut the Swarm lead to 2-1 with 3:50 left in the first frame.
The Swarm’s Adam Weidemann had one of the prettiest goals of the night, as the defenseman shed two defenders in transition, fell to his knees, then laced one stick side high past Rose to make it 3-1. Shayne Jackson took a perfect pass from Bomberry with 26 seconds left in the quarter and bounced one past Rose to cap off an impressive 4-1 first quarter.
The Swarm’s NLL leading offense (11.92 goals per game) was off to a great start despite the NLL’s leading goal scorer looking on from the Georgia bench.
Toronto cut the lead in half, 4-2, with the first goal in the second quarter at the 7:58 mark as Zach Manns launched a laser past Poulin.
Bomberry got the goal back during a Swarm power-play with an aptly-named bomb from 25 feet in front of the crease with 5 minutes left in the half. It was Bomberry’s fourth hat trick of the season and only the second shot on goal in the second period for the Swarm, who now led 5-2 – a lead they would take into the halftime locker room. Things looked promising for a team that entered the evening 6-1 when leading at halftime.
Toronto came out aggressive in the second half, combining quick passes with well-conceived picks to find their rhythm offensively and score the first goal out of the halftime break – a crafty shot from Manns off a Schreiber assist to cut Georgia’s lead to 5-3 just 118 seconds into the third quarter.
Just a few minutes later, the home team’s man of the evening, Dan Dawson, fed Manns up top, and the youngster delivered with his third goal of the night to cut the Swarm to just one, 5-4, at the 10-minute mark of the third quarter. The Rock outshot the Swarm in the third quarter 17-9 as momentum began to shift for head coach Matt Sawyer’s well-disciplined club.
But Shayne Jackson made sure Toronto’s run didn’t get out of control with his fourth assist on the evening, feeding Bryan Cole in front of the crease as the Maryland veteran snuck one past Rose to put Georgia back up by two, 6-4, near the midpoint of the third.
Just when it seemed the Rock would chisel their way back into the game, trailing Georgia by just one goal, 6-5, after three quarters, the Swarm went on their characteristic fourth quarter run. Georgia clung to a tenuous 6-5 lead in the fourth, which started with a flurry as Shayne Jackson converted a breakaway opportunity to put Georgia back up by two. But the Swarm’s two-goal lead was erased a minute later when Brad Kri got a goal in transition to cut the margin back to one, 7-6.
Stephan Leblanc, who looks more comfortable in his role in the Swarm’s offense in his second game with the team, scored his second goal in a Swarm jersey just 29 seconds later to increase Georgia’s lead to 8-6. Leblanc took 8 of the Swarm’s 45 shots on the night, tied with Bomberry and second only to Jackson (9).
The score remained 8-6 as the Rock’s goalie Nick Rose vacated the net with 1:30 left in regulation to get a man advantage, but after a Poulin save, Kason Tarbell found himself with a loose ball and buried one into the empty net with 1:03 remaining to put the game out of reach with the Swarm now up 9-6. Just 30 seconds later TJ Comizio enjoyed the same scenario after Chad Tutton found him open in front of the empty Toronto net, easily burying his 4th goal of the night to put a cherry on top in the Swarm’s 10-6 win. It was fitting to have two Swarm defenders score the last two Georgia goals after a smothering defensive performance by the boys in white and blue.
The Swarm’s 50 goals in the fourth quarter this season is tops in the NLL, continuing Georgia’s fourth quarter dominance in the midst of their four-game winning streak. Georgia duplicated their first quarter 4-1 goal advantage, outscoring Toronto 8-2 in the first and fourth frames.
The Swarm’s defense was magnificent all evening, with Weidemann, Tutton, Cole, Joel White, and captain Jordan MacIntosh making life miserable for the NLL’s fourth best offense (11.50 goals per game) heading into the evening.
Poulin finished his masterful night saving 43 of 49 Toronto shots, a season-high for the starting goaltender passing the 42 he stopped against Halifax on March 12.
The Swarm also played extremely well in transition all night, providing multiple looks for a Swarm offense that had Toronto back on its heels for almost the entire 60 minutes of play.
With their fourth straight win, the Georgia Swarm (8-6) closed the gap to just a half-game behind the Toronto Rock (8-5) in the East Division standings. While the Swarm still hold the #4 seed in the East, they can improve their playoff seeding next week when they face the same Rock squad they dominated without Lyle Thompson.
The Swarm hope to have their MVP candidate Thompson back in the lineup for next Friday’s critical showdown at Sting City.
“We’re just believing in one another and doing the little things,” said reigning MVP Shayne Jackson (1G; 4A), who added 5 points in the statement win. “We don’t worry about what people say or think – we just keep taking care of business.”