Swarm aims for second-straight trip to NLL Cup

Photo credit: Kyle Hess

(DULUTH, Ga.) – The Georgia Swarm (11-7) can make its second-straight bid for the NLL Finals if it wins against the Rochester Knighthawks (11-8) on Saturday, May 12. The Swarm is hosting the East Division Finals at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Field at Infinite Energy Arena. Faceoff is set for 7:05 p.m. ET, and the game is presented by Axiom Corporation.

Country music band Thompson Square will host a 12-minute halftime show and a 30-minute postgame concert in the Atlanta Classic Cars Mercedes-Benz Goal Zone Club.

Tickets are going fast. To secure your seats for the East Division Finals, visit GeorgiaSwarm.com/Playoffs or call 844-4-GASWARM. Saturday’s contest will be the NLL Twitter Game of the Week and will also stream online at NLLTV.com.

The East Division standings went down to the wire, but Georgia was able to clinch first place in the East with two wins during the final weekend. One of the benefits of securing first place was a bye week while Rochester and New England squared off in the East Division Semifinals.

“The off-week was actually welcome,” Swarm head coach Ed Comeau said. “It was good. We had a good practice and got the guys together and talked about some things. At this stage in the season, especially off a back-to-back, having that off-week to heal up some bumps and bruises is always welcome.”

Rochester surpassed New England 15-11 last Friday in the East Division Semifinals, advancing to the East Division Finals for the first time since 2015. Georgia and Rochester clashed three times during the regular season, and the Knighthawks won the season series with two victories.

A significant amount of time has passed since the last time the two teams met. Rochester, after starting the season 2-6, went 8-2 the rest of the way to secure the second seed in the East. Georgia, who was sitting in last place at 5-7, went undefeated the rest of the season to earn the top seed.

The Swarm repeated as the top team in the East Division courtesy of a strong and consistent defensive unit and the offense getting close to its 2017 form.

Georgia’s defense with goaltender Mike Poulin was stalwart in the second half of the season, posting a 10.22 GA/GAME. Poulin established a new career-high in single season saves with 692 and minutes played with 1042:11. The veteran netminder finished the regular season with an 11.69 GAA and a .773 SV%.

“We expect a tight defensive game,” Comeau said. “Rochester’s been relying on defense a lot of years, and their defense this year has been really good, led by Matt Vinc in net. I think our defense has been improving over the last number of games, and Mike Poulin has been great in net.”

The Swarm offense, which started off averaging 11.75 over the first 12 games of the 2017-18 season, caught fire thanks to the inspired play of Lyle Thompson. Lyle scored 24 goals during the last third of the season, and the Swarm O averaged 14.17 GF/GAME during that span. Lyle leads the men in blue and yellow in points with 86 (46G, 40A), followed closely by Shayne Jackson and his 85 points (33G, 52A).

Rochester is known for its perennially strong defense. Netminder Matt Vinc had another strong year, posting an 11.37 GAA and a .782 SV%. Backing up the defense, the Knighthawks allowed 11.67 GA/GAME all season.

On the offensive end, Rochester feature the first American-born player to reach 100 points in the NLL, Joe Resetarits (37G, 63A). Rochester also enjoyed the return of former MVP Cody Jamieson, and he finished the season with 89 points (26G, 63A).

The Knighthawks’ transition game is particularly strong and was on full display last Friday against New England. Rookie forward Austin Shanks netted four goals against the Black Wolves, and transition player Brad Gillies recorded a hat trick.

“(Rochester) runs the floor and creates opportunities not just for themselves to get shots, but also for their offensive players coming off the bench,” Comeau said. “Certainly an area we’re aware of. Being successful in defending a team against their transition is not done by a single person or any one group of people. It’s a full team commitment.”

Georgia wants to repeat the success it had last postseason, where it swept its way to its first-ever NLL Cup in franchise history. But the team knows that it will not be that easy and is prepared for Rochester’s best. The good news for the Swarm is that it earned home floor advantage in the East and will enjoy the benefits that it brings.

“Comfort for your team, being at home, being in our own locker room, being in front of our fans,” Comeau said. “We’re happy to be at home, and we’re looking forward to playing in front of a good size crowd for our playoff game.”

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