Blogs | 1/17/2012 12:00:35 PM | John Gurtler
How do you think Buffalo’s 14-10 win over Toronto went on Saturday night? Not bad for a team that didn’t have any preseason games or scrimmages over the 37-day span of training camp. The hours of rudimentary drills and conditioning paid off once their first game got underway.
Before the game, Bandits head coach and general manager Darris Kilgour was straight forward during his segment on the pregame radio show. “This year, the team is going to be more technical,” he said. “Be a machine. Do the same thing every single time. Trust your teammate and just keep moving forward.”
I thought it was an evenly matched game between two very strong teams. Toronto scored most of their goals back-to-back in spans of 11, 12 and 30 seconds. Buffalo carved their way rather nicely throughout the 60-minute frame and found their sync in the second half, which propelled their confidence.
Bandits goaltender Michael Thompson was very strong and made 41 saves on 51 shots. The Rock often shot the ball twice, sometimes three times, in one offensive possession, only to be denied by Thompson, who quite frankly looked to be in midseason form. The players fed off those saves by Thompson, clearing rebounds and making transition up the floor look easy.
Half of Buffalo’s goals were scored by the new players on the roster, including a hat trick from Luke Wiles and a nifty shorthanded goal by Kevin Buchanan.
Bandits captain Chris White likes what he sees. “They brought in a few different guys with different abilities,” said the 10-year veteran. “They’ve come into training camp and molded and meshed very well with the other guys so I think they are great additions.”
White was happy to have Billy Dee Smith back after he missed the 2011 season with a knee injury. “It’s always nice to get Billy back in your lineup. He’s one of those feared guys out there, plays an intimidating role, very athletic and strong and capable of shutting down anyone in the league.”
And talk about finding a niche in a game plan. 21-year pro John Tavares, the game’s greatest, fed and delivered passes with perfection. Six of those were marked as official assists. And the diving top-shelf empty netter at the end was a fitting way to ice the victory. Classic JT.
I thought the defense played especially strong in the second half. Any time that you can limit a team like Toronto to two goals per quarter is pretty darned good.
It looks like this Bandits team is focused. “Since the start of training camp, I’ve been saying that it’s ‘championship or bust this year,’” Kilgour said. “The last couple of years, we knew we were good, but it just felt like something was missing. This season, we have all the pieces in place. We just need to play together and make sure everybody understands what everybody else is good at. If we can make each other better, we’re going to be a really, really good team this year. We’re very excited. To be on this team this season, all of the guys should be very proud and they deserve to be.”
Looking at the overall roster with the new personnel, what does Kilgour see? “How many good players are actually on our team?” he said. “Three practice players this year were three regulars last season. Two of the guys who didn’t make the team were regulars last year. That’s a turnover of five guys. There is a lot of mixing and matching going on right now, but I think we have everybody in the right spot and I think they are beginning to understand their roles.”
You, the fans in Banditland, didn’t lose a step with your wild antics and cheers, not to mention some interesting dancing in the aisles. The players appreciated it, too. You could tell.
It must have been a different feeling for newcomers Luke Wiles, Kevin Buchanan, Matt Giles and Kyle Sweeney because they previously had to phase the Buffalo fans out when they played for visiting teams.
And how do you think rookies Jeff Cornwall and Jeremy Thompson felt when they hit the floor for the start of the game and saw over 16,000 fans on their feet hootin’ and hollering for their Bandits?
It was a good way for the Bandits to open the season. It got them tuned up for what is going to be a real challenge, playing against players who are just as good, game-in and game-out.
Buffalo’s captain is taking his coach’s words to heart. “We can’t beat ourselves out there,” White said. “If we limit our mistakes and force the other team into positions they feel uncomfortable in, we can take the games and work things the way we want them to and not let the other team dictate the pace of play. Our expectations are to win a championship. Our goal has been the same every year, but I think we can do it this year.”
The task continues on Saturday night against the Rochester Knighthawks at Blue Cross Arena in the “Button City”, the first of three regular season meetings between the teams. Former Bandits forward Mike Accursi had 10 points (3+7) in their 22-12 pounding over Philadelphia this past weekend.
The Bandits radio pregame show and coverage of the game begins at 7 p.m. on WWKB 1520 AM.