Swarming the Twin Cities: Players taking up residence

  • Article by: BOB TIMMONS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 17, 2012 - 8:40 PM

More players on the lacrosse team are settling in the Twin Cities, helping to foster cohesion and grow the sport.

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Swarm captain Andrew Suitor, left, and Jay Card got ready for practice on Wednesday at the Ralia Sports Center in Maple Grove as they joked with other players. They are among many Swarm players living in the Twin Cities.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Some members of the Minnesota Swarm have taken up their own "Occupy movement" this season, descending on St. Paul.

As many as 11 players are making the Twin Cities home, testing the confines of the travel-heavy life of the lacrosse professional. Many players live dual work lives, holding down regular jobs across North America during the week before jetting off for their weekend sports commitments. Their indoor seasons are a five-month blur: inbound flights for games, flights out postgame and, as Swarm veteran Ryan Benesch said, "picking yourself up and getting to work on Tuesday."

Work on Tuesday had been as a finishing carpenter in Kitchener, Ontario, for Benesch, who decided to pack his belongings and move in early January to St. Paul. Joining him on the 14-hour road trip was team captain Andrew Suitor, who also hails from Ontario.

Setting aside the flitting lifestyle for now, Benesch, Suitor and several teammates have found plenty to fill their days as locals. Nine of the players occupy three three-bedroom apartments at a St. Paul complex. Many have taken on high school coaching jobs. Benesch and Suitor will help the East Ridge boys' lacrosse team this spring. Others are assisting at Eden Prairie and Eastview high schools.

There also are intense weekly conditioning workouts, captain-led practices, and community outreach and player appearances. "I would like to see everyone in St. Paul," said Benesch, who is embracing his new home base.

Newcomers can certainly turn to defenseman Joe Cinosky for advice on putting down roots. An Easterner through and through, Cinosky came to the team in 2008 and stuck around. His summers may be largely spent elsewhere -- his outdoor pro team is the Denver Outlaws -- but he is anchored here as a player, head coach and businessman. In fact, he will coach the Gophers men's team against Wisconsin at the university's new Sports Dome on Saturday before he holds up the back end for the Swarm against Colorado that night at Xcel Energy Center.

Count rookie Todd Baxter among those settling in the area, too -- again.

Baxter's lacrosse history goes back to starring days at Eden Prairie High. Later, he did the same as a midfielder at the University of Denver, which was a surprise semifinalist at last season's Division I national championship tournament in Baltimore. Now, he is home and is encouraged by the Twin Cities' expanding lacrosse universe.

"The lacrosse community is pretty tight, especially here in Minnesota," he said. "A lot of guys moving in have a wealth of knowledge of the game."

Knowledge and talent. Benesch was last season's National Lacrosse League's scoring champ (46 goals/49 assists). Suitor will start in next weekend's NLL All-Star game in Buffalo, N.Y. Rookie Jordan MacIntosh also is a newly arrived Ontarian and will join Benesch and Callum Crawford as All-Star reserves.

Reconsidering that lacrosse know-how is part of Swarm owner Andy Arlotta's grand rebuilding plan. He said this season he and his front office expressly sought out and drafted players who would commit to living here, conditioning here and spreading the lacrosse gospel in a region where the number of young people taking up the sport is increasing every year.

In doing so, the team also cleaned house, bringing in eight rookies, including two in goalies Tyler Carlson and Evan Kirk. Both have been stellar so far.

"We can get these guys to bond," Arlotta said of the mindset. "Get more physically fit, create that structure for them and produce better results."

For a team that was predicted by some observers to be at the bottom of the NLL this season, the Swarm is better. In home contests last weekend, the team beat Edmonton 10-9 in overtime and followed that with a 9-6 victory over Rochester. The Swarm hadn't beaten the latter since 2008.

Saturday brings another challenge for the Swarm, who are 3-2 and tied for second in the five-team West. They will play undefeated Colorado (5-0) and hope to avenge their season-opening defeat.

Whatever the outcome, they are in it together, just as Arlotta and Co. planned it.

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