Jim Souhan: Swarm players enjoy spotlight while it lasts

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 13, 2012 - 1:22 AM

The sport of lacrosse offered another chance to see a local — but less celebrated — team succeed. But not this night.

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Assistant coach Bobby Keast gave direction during a break as the Swarm played Edmonton in the West Division finals. Edmonton (8-10) took control of the game early, building a 6-1 lead after one quarter and extending it to 11-1 by halftime.

Photo: Courtney Perry, Star Tribune

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Our local franchises have created an interesting choice for the casual sports fan. You can watch Minnesota teams in major sports lose, or teams from less-celebrated sports succeed.

While the Twins, Vikings, Wild and Timberwolves have failed for the past two seasons, the Minnesota Lynx won a WNBA championship. Saturday night, the Minnesota Swarm, the indoor lacrosse team based in St. Paul, played in the West Division championship game of the National Lacrosse League at Xcel Energy Center, with a chance to play host to the NLL championship game.

It was the biggest game in Swarm history. "We'd never made it past the first round of the playoffs before," said owner and president John Arlotta.

It turned out to be like making the cover of Sports Illustrated because someone dunked on you. The Swarm fell behind 11-1 at the half and was booed off the turf. The Edmonton Rush went on to a 15-3 victory, before an announced crowd of 6,491.

Rochester advanced to the championship game earlier Saturday with a victory over Toronto. A Swarm victory would have meant a league title game at the X. Minnesota sports fans may or may not remember that a bunch of Rochester players, during their last visit, got arrested after a disturbance at a Twin Cities TGI Friday's.

Charles Barkley never threw anyone through a plate-glass window at TGI Friday's. He preferred to get arrested in classier joints.

The Swarm players who live in Minnesota probably go to chain restaurants only when they can find the right Groupon deal.

Arlotta never played the game but became a fan and decided that this was as good a place as any to lose money. When his friend Craig Leipold bought the Wild, he called Arlotta and said, "I just realized I bought a lacrosse team, too. Want to run it?"

Asked whether the franchise is profitable, Arlotta looked shocked, then said: "No. This is the most expensive fantasy league I can possibly be involved in. I have a wonderful wife who lets me do this, even though it means she'll have less when I'm gone."

Ten of the 23 players on the Swarm roster live in the Twin Cities during the season, and three of them coach lacrosse at East Ridge High School. Considering the full team can practice together about once a week, you might think lacrosse is a hobby for many of the players.

"I've won two championships in my life," said Jordan MacIntosh. "This would probably be No. 1, as far as accomplishments. Especially to have it in my rookie season.

"Right now, for all the guys who live in town, lacrosse is life. We work out every day. Me, Andrew Suitor and Ryan Benesch coach at East Ridge. We spend a lot of time doing that, and a lot of time doing appearances around town. Obviously, we're not getting rich, like NBA or NHL players, but we're definitely getting by and having fun."

Arlotta calls lacrosse "the fastest-growing sport in America." He said attendance at the X is usually buoyed by group sales, "and with just one week before this game, we weren't able to rely on that."

The Swarm drew more than 11,000 for a game televised by CBS Sports Network earlier this season, and the network is covering the playoffs. "We're growing at a steady but slow rate," Arlotta said. "This is CBS Sports' first season, and my understanding is that they're very pleased."

The games are fast, loud and violent, with constant music and a running rap from the PA announcer. Indoor lacrosse is more physical than the outdoor game and requires more precise shooting and passing. It also requires, for some players, a virtual vow of poverty.

"I'll do this until my body doesn't let me anymore," said team captain Suitor. "Winning a championship here would be my No. 1 achievement, because this is where all the best players play."

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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