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Bandits notebook: Swarm’s move to Georgia expands league’s fan base

The Georgia Swarm hopes it has found a new home in suburban Atlanta.

The Swarm moved there from Minnesota in the offseason, hoping to find a way to survive and thrive in the National Lacrosse League. Georgia plays its games in the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, north of Atlanta. The facility can seat up to 13,500.

“It’s been great,” said Ed Comeau, who is in his first year as the head coach of the team. “The arena has been a great partner. We’re making inroads down there. Our scheduling hasn’t helped us with a couple of Sunday games, especially against NFL playoff games. On opening night, we had a really good crowd.

“We’re looking to grow it for the long haul. Our owners are committed to it. We’ve had a lot of good feedback. We’re excited to be in Georgia.”

The team averaged 8,699 per game in St. Paul last season. So far the Swarm have attracted 6,301 per game, so they are still attracting about half of their building’s capacity. However, the team no doubt has a less expensive lease in suburban Atlanta than it did in Minnesota, so that may give the team a better chance of making the economics involved work.

Lacrosse doesn’t have particularly deep roots in Georgia, so the Swarm are almost starting from scratch. They are putting some of their players to work as ambassadors of the sport in order to create interest.

“There are a number of guys that moved down to the market,” said Comeau, who was last a head coach in 2010 with the now-defunct Orlando Titans. “That was one of the things that jumped out at me at the opening news conference. People asked if players would be around for general instruction. The lacrosse community is growing, and there’s no shortage of people who will help assist in growing it.”

On the field, the Swarm improved to 4-4 after Saturday’s win over the Buffalo Bandits. They are hoping a great class of rookies will lead them to better days. Georgia had the first (Lyle Thompson), third (Jesse King), fifth (Chad Tutton) and sixth (Randy Staats) overall picks in last fall’s draft.

“We’ve got some good veterans but our veterans would be young guys on some teams,” Comeau said. “The challenge is to have” the rookies “learn how to be professional players. We know they’ve got the skill to play, but there’s training, preparation. … They have to learn how to do it consistently.”

If nothing else, Georgia is a welcome addition to the NLL for visiting players because of its weather. It’s usually warmer in Georgia in February than it is in Minnesota. Last weekend, when it was minus 11 or so in Buffalo, it was around the freezing mark in the Atlanta area.

“I think the guys like living down there,” Comeau said. “It’s not so bad to spend the winter down there and find some good weather. Teams coming to Georgia, they’re excited. We know they’ll bring their best because they are happy to be in the warm weather.”

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The Bandits are no longer the doormat of the league when it comes to the power play.

Buffalo headed into Saturday’s game with Georgia with a success rate of 53.1 percent with the extra man. That was fifth in the NLL. The team was 3 for 4 with the extra man Saturday. Last year, the Bandits were last in the league in the power play at 27.7 percent.

“Credit to John Tavares,” coach Troy Cordingley said about his assistant coach. “JT is the greatest offensive mind who has ever played the game. He’s installed some rules with regards to the power play. The ball is moving a lot more. We are burying our chances and taking a lot more quality shots. We’ve been successful, but we can still be a lot better.”

Last year, no Bandit had more than four power-play goals in the entire season. Ryan Benesch, Dhane Smith and Mark Steenhuis all shared the team lead. This year, Smith already has nine goals with the man-advantage. That’s one of the reasons Smith leads the NLL in goals with 29 this season.

email: bbailey@buffnews.com