2/15/2018 2:55:00 PM / John Gurtler
To paraphrase Alicia Keys:
The Bandits are hotter than a fantasy, so bright they can burn your eyes. You can turn but you will never forget their name. Everybody stands as they go by. They are on top of the world with their feet on the ground and burning it down.
This team is on fire!
The numbers don't lie. Over the last four games, the Buffalo Bandits are the best team in the National Lacrosse League.
Dhane Smith is the leading scorer in the NLL, Josh Byrne leads all rookies in scoring by 19 points, Steve Priolo is the best defenseman, Nick Weiss leads the NLL transition group in scoring, and the Bandits goaltending has been very strong.
At 6-3 on the season, with a four-game winning streak in tow, the Bandits lead the East Division as they go into yet another slumber week (the third bye week of five), returning to live action at home February 24.
"This is a good team with great dynamic, really young, and a lot of positive energy," said Bandits defenseman Reid Acton. "It starts with the coaches and trickles down to the players. It's just a really good group having a lot of fun right now. I think we've settled in now to a comfort level where we are playing confident."
It all started back on January 13, right after the Bandits lost in overtime to Vancouver, where the players challenged each other to become closer and to work as a team. And to a player, from bench to turf, that togetherness began to gel in the second half of the January 19 game in Saskatoon. Down seven goals to the Rush, the impossible became possible.
And the harvest has been a little short of amazing.
"This team is awesome. We have a great group of guys in the room," said Jordan Durston, who has scored 25 points in the last four games (6+19). "We have a team that does not give up; always working hard constantly. If you show up any night and work hard, there is no reason why you shouldn't come up with a win."
Averaging 17 goals in this four-game spurt has really spun the opponents’ heads because of the speed at which the Bandits play.
"We are pretty young and I think we are real fast," noted Durston. "I don't think I have ever played on a faster team. JT [assistant coach John Tavares] loves to touch the ball around with everyone, and I think honestly that’s how offense should be played.
"Everyone is touching the ball and everyone is picking. We are one big offensive unit and I love it."
Even the players take note.
"What a dynamic offense we have, and I know first-hand from playing in practice when I see guys like Josh [Byrne] and see what they do in games," Acton said. "And we've been victims in practice to it.
"For us, it's a lot of fun to watch these guys, similar to the defense, I think they are kind of finding their groove right now. Different guys can have big games, and it’s just a whole team effort right now."
And that goes for the tandem goaltending crew of Alex Buque and Zach Higgins.
"I think our goalies have been playing well and it gives the defense confidence, and, I think it works the other way too, when the defense is playing well, the goalies are feeling very confident," Acton said.
Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley is very happy with his club's performance, but like any coach, he’s cautious.
"We are getting better,” he said. “We are a young team and we have a lot of young guys in the line-up every night, but we are definitely a hungry team and we are gaining confidence as we go.
"We just need to continue doing things for the team, and the little things we preach, and we will be successful."
At the halfway point of the season the Bandits are:
2nd in the league with 128 goals scored
1st in loose balls with 731
2nd in shots with 675
2nd in shooting percentage at 19 percent
1st in shot-on-goal accuracy at 75 percent
Probably the most impressive stat in the last four games, the Bandits’ goal differential is +17. The defense is getting better.
"I think it’s just repetition, going over every defensive situation, watching video and talking about what teams are doing to us," Cordingley said.
"Going over it in practice and continuing to teach the same things, the guys are understanding it more and we are not as panicky and little bit more patient. I like that we are positioning ourselves before we pressure so that we are containing our man inside out."
In addition to Durton's impressive numbers the last four games, Smith has 29 points (13+16) adding to his league leading 21 goals and 35 assists for 56 points. Mitch Jones, sixth in NLL scoring, has 28 points in his last four games (7+21).
Byrne has 22 points (12+10 adding to his rookie league leading 17 goals and 19 assists). Callum Crawford has 18 points in his last three games (7+11). Nick Wiess, who leads all defensive players in the NLL scoring, has scored four goals and three assists in his last four game.
Goaltenders Buque and Higgins sit one and two in the league for the most saves in a game (55 and 54, respectively) for the first-half.
Not bad for a team that seemed to be wandering aimlessly in a rubber raft stuck to the ice boom out in Lake Erie.
"We need to continue to play what makes us successful and we continue to run and push the ball. We have a young team here and they are hungry. Just unleash them and let them go," Cordingley said.
And congratulations to Coach Cordingley, who earned his 100th and 101st head coaching victories last weekend. Only two other coaches, Derek Keenan (129) and Darris Kilgour (121) have crossed the century mark.
"I was surprised. I had no idea that it was the 100th win. I am just after the next win here and that’s the way the mindset is for our team," he said.
Let's all enjoy the moment. We have until the 24th!