The Botany Swarm lost 5-2 tonight, to the West Auckland Admirals.
And they deserved to lose. Not, I would argue, quite so badly as they did–I’m a Swarm fan, sure, but I don’t think the box score was wholly reflective of the run of play–but even at my most homer-ish I can’t begin to believe they should have taken the win.
A caveat: if you’ve read my (infrequently updated) blog before or follow my twitter, you’ll be aware I generally prefer to focus on the positives, as there are already more than enough people who apparently are only able to express their sports fandom through constant negativity. However, tonight was so intensely frustrating–especially after last season–that I have been compelled to dust off the blog. (Don’t worry, this will be much shorter than my usual blog posts… :D)
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It’s been a frustrating couple of years to be a Swarm fan. There have been bright spots — the TTCL was fantastic and closer than it could have been, both wins of the Toa Kauhanga Riri Tio trophy from the Red Devils have been everything you could ask for as a fan, and the Swarm finally managing to take a season series against the Dunedin Thunder last year with some blowout wins was some nice payback after a couple years being thumped comprehensively by them.
But what we saw in stretches tonight, and what we saw last week in the second game against the Stampede as well were some repeating patterns that are incredibly frustrating as both a fan and spectator.
The amount of time the Swarm spent in the box tonight was absolutely egregious. I don’t care if you think the reffing was terrible, I don’t care that even I thought at least one call was nonsense; that’s not the point. Be better than the call. The parts of the game that were 5-on-5, especially the first ten and last twenty minutes were played well, with good flow and tempo, and a fair number of chances. It was immensely frustrating to see all that go out the window in the middle of the game, and especially so to see who was taking the undiscplined penalties.
- Lead by example
The veterans in the line up are so incredibly valuable and important to the team’s past, present and future, but the parade to the penalty box so far this season is an example of exactly the opposite of what I want to see the younger players emulate. Frustration penalties and lack of discipline absolutely smothered the initial pushes of offense and momentum when the Swarm were getting chances on the powerplay. I’m pretty sure that we don’t actually want to encourage the [Name] Hospitality Suite memes that are springing up again on social media, right?
I realise this may be grating coming from someone who can barely skate let alone hold a stick, but when I go two games in a row wanting to yell “fucking hell, pass like you’ve met each other!” for an entire period then I think it’s fair to call out. The Admirals were largely tape-to-tape tonight and looked incredibly polished; the Stampede are probably the best in the league at puck management and making smart passes with good stick positioning away from the puck, but almost everyone on the ice tonight in a white jersey was making some poor choices about when and where to pass to, and flubbing reception of them. I’m sure it’s way more painful for them than me, but ouch.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though!
I do have a few things to laud, and like I said above: the first ten minutes were actually some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen in an Auckland derby. (Of course, like five minutes after I had that thought the Admirals had scored three times. Sucks to you too, Murphy’s Law.😦 )
- The Kids Are Alright
I’ve actually really enjoyed the Ball-Vortanov-Jonsson line since the preseason. They have been getting great chances every single game and honestly eventually they’re gonna start going in. I hope the Swarm stick with that one because it is fun as hell to watch (and not bad defensively, either.)
Ritchie Hopkinson has also been really fun to watch. In the preseason he pulled off not one but two absolutely perfect takeaways on Justin Daigle, who is not exactly an easy guy to get the puck off. That was quite the dramatic introduction for a player I hadn’t seen before at all, and he’s also been speedy and effective in the regular season. The short-handed break tonight was a nice chance.
Matt Taylor has also been good to watch; he scored in the preseason and he’s come close to doing so again last week and tonight. He and Hopkinson both seem to slot in and out of the top six without looking out of place, and he’s had some nice chances with the imports.
Good to see Logan Fraser back on the ice for the Swarm too. He’s another one of the kids you can tell has been getting more ice time in the Northern Hemisphere and his game has improved again too. Excited to see more of him, and he and Aaron Henderson didn’t do too badly at all tonight as a D pair.
Olie Hay has also picked up more bulk, speed and skills after a winter playing with the Brahmas in the NA3HL in Texas and that’s been awesome to see. (However, to my dismay, the propensity to land in the penalty box has not decreased in proportion yet.)
- Okay, Fourth Line, I gotta hand it to ya.
It was admittedly about two shifts before the wheels fell off in the first period, but a bunch of the guys who tend to play outside the top six had some of the best chances tonight, and definitely some of the best play I’ve seen from a couple of them. (I’m not sure if they’re officially the fourth line in anything but TOI, but hey, roll with me on this.)
Leith Thompson and Dion Guest in particular looked both faster and more confident tonight, and I did especially appreciate seeing Guest haul Thomas Clow out of a potential scrum rather than let anything else develop after the whistle.
- Team Europe: Shoot Left, Score–Right?
Another solid game for imports Sami Saastamoinen and David Lindgren, both of whom also kept the Swarm in the game to the point that I was hoping for a comeback pretty much right down to the wire. Unlikely, but it could’ve happened. The Swarm absolutely cannot and should not depend on their imports alone to win them games, but they also can’t complain about what they’re getting out of them so far this season. Saastamoinen’s goal was a beauty, and it was a pleasure to watch his stick-handling and skating all night. He might’ve only buried the one, but Rick Parry absolutely robbed him at least once and he had a few more good chances beside.
Lindgren is also fun to watch–he’s so strong on his skates and he (and Attwell and Vortanov, I must add) was doing yeoman’s work in the corners and battling for the puck. He had a couple of shifts where he more or less had the puck on a string and was unlucky not to score or pick up an assist. Both of them were consistently good at finding themselves in the right position to make or receive a pass and I especially enjoy the way that Saastamoinen seems to have good chemistry with long-time assimilated Swarm player Alexandr Polozov, who also had a strong game and has looked good this season so far. Polozov’s skating has always been one of the strongest parts of his game, and he was making and finding room out there tonight like it was 2010 or 2011 again.
It’ll be interesting to see how tomorrow’s Toa Kauhanga Riri Tio match goes, and how each team reacts to tonight’s game. Hopefully we’ll see a Swarm team that’s playing smarter hockey tomorrow, and a more even game both on and off the scoreboard. I’ll settle for them all laying off the swigs of Bad Decision Juice and a stern reminder there aren’t actually snacks in the penalty box.
Relatedly, confidential to the Swarm:
Guys. You’re actually pretty good at hockey. When you get your shit together, you are more than capable of beating any team in this league. However, when they manage to needle you into taking dumb penalties, roughing, retaliating or just generally rising to the bait of whatever chirping they’re dishing out, that’s when you seem to lose the plot and start messing up. Which, by the way, is exactly what the opposition want you to do, so maybe consider not dancing to the tune they want to play?
I realise it’s probably a case of the way society genders social responses, but I’ve always been perplexed at how few hockey players I’ve seen react to chirping/chippy play by laughing it off. Let me tell you: 1. It’s more effective 2. You stay out of the box where you can actually do your team some good and 3. NOTHING is more infuriating than being laughed at by the person you’re trying to get a rise out of.
Most of us watch the NHL, right? So here’s your specific example. I’ve seen Brandon Saad pull it off a few times, but the absolute master of this art is Marian Hossa. You know how when Marian Hossa gets guys chirping him on the ice he laughs in their face, skates right through them and then goes to score while they fume impotently?
Marian Hossa is smart. Be like Hossa.