Minnesota Swarm born in turbulence, making history
Ten years of Minnesota Swarm lacrosse are building on a rich but nearly lost history of lacrosse. Born in a turbulent time for Minnesota sports, the franchised dovetailed into and stabilized the effort to reintroduce NHL hockey to Minnesota. Now a stand-alone entity, the Swarm are solidifying their place in the history of lacrosse in the Midwest.
Gone from the landscape of local Native American tribes for as many as 60 years, Minnesota lacrosse in 2004 was fighting to emerge from club level for high school athletes, collegiate competition and post-college teams. The introduction of the Minnesota Swarm to the National Lacrosse League (NLL) did not mark the introduction of lacrosse to the Midwest. That most likely occurred nearer the commonly accepted timeframe of 400 years ago for the initiation of the Creator’s Game, but the varieties of lacrosse played by the Dakota and Chippewa on the lands that became the state of Minnesota were mostly fading memories of elders and brief mentions in the records of European explorers and traders and later American settlers.
In the fall of 2004, the NHL and the NHL Players Association were engaged in contentious contract talks, which eventually led to the cancelation of the 2004-2005 professional hockey season. Minnesota Sports and Entertainment (MSE), the owners of the Minnesota Wild, were also charged with the management of Minnesota’s new sports venue gem, the Xcel Energy Center. Just a few short years after the city of St. Paul, with the State of Minnesota, and an investment group headed by an advertising executive turned sports equipment manufacturer had set out to reimagine the property that contained the multipurpose St. Paul Civic Center at the corner of Kellogg Blvd and West 7th Street to bring back NHL hockey, which had been missing from the Minnesota sports landscape for about a decade. The Minnesota Wild filled the skates of the North Stars that departed for Dallas, and the Wild’s arrival would be celebrated with a phenomenal number of sellouts. While events in the State of Hockey seemed to be building into an amazing return on investment for the city, state and investors, the long-term health of the league was very much in question. Hockey went on the shelf, and the management would need to identify new reasons to keep the lights on at the X.
MSE introduced the Swarm in October of 2004 as a way to stabilize the scheduling calendar at the X. In a twist of fate, a building constructed to return NHL Hockey welcomed the older relative of hockey, lacrosse. When the gates of the X opened for the 2005 NLL season, lacrosse played at its highest level debuted on the bluffs above the banks of the Mississippi River, which downstream flows by a city named for the game. The Swarm would fill not only a gap in history, but the team also filled a geographic space on the lacrosse map.
Minnesota was not so much an outpost in the NLL in 2005 season as it was the center of the doughnut. Located between the tightly arranged teams of the east in Toronto; Buffalo, NY; Rochester, NY and Philadelphia; and the more geographically dispersed teams of the west in Phoenix; San Jose (CA), Portland (OR), Denver, Calgary, and Edmonton. The Minnesota team landed in the eastern division of the league. Teams in Anaheim (CA); Vancouver, BC; and Montreal, Quebec played in 2004, but they would not survive to play the 2005 season.
The NLL is a dynamic organization, and the addition of the Swarm is far from the most recent changes in the league. Chicago, Boston and a franchise that started in New York, but went on permanent vacation after a season in Orlando, have all entered and exited the league during the existence of the Swarm. The Portland Lummberjax were cut short by a lack of corporate sponsorship and difficulty finding a location to play. The Arizona Sting folded when hard economic times including failing real estate and transportation costs struck the fan base and owners in Phoenix. The expansion pushed the Swarm to the western division of the league where the team resides today with Calgary, Edmonton, Colorado and the Vancouver Stealth
New ownership was found for the Swarm in 2008 when MSE was sold, and the new MSE ownership desired a stronger focus on hockey and running the X; and John A. Arlotta and Andy Arlotta became the keepers of the HIVE. The Arlottas have continued to reach out to the community building ties with the Native American community in Minnesota. A keystone piece of this has been the Swarm’s efforts in supporting the Lax4Life camp held annually at the Fond Du Lac Community Center just west of Cloquet, Minn. In the Twin Cities, the Swarm continue their support of the lacrosse community. The support of winter lacrosse opportunities for youth and high school is a main focus.
With the summer camps and traveling teams wrapping up, the Swarm are preparing for the free agent draft in Toronto this September. But the much more important date for anxious Swarm fans has yet to be announced. That is the date for the 2014 home season opener with the much awaited announcement by PA guy Bruce Cusick bids, “WELCOME TO THE HIVE!”