Blogs | 2/5/2013 10:46:10 AM | John Gurtler
Game day this past Saturday started out like any other game day with the Buffalo Bandits, as they continued their three-game homestand in the warm and friendly confines of First Niagara Center.
Let me preface: a tremendous amount of work goes into preparing for a Bandits game and it starts with the overnight change crew, who, for the February 2nd game, had to take the basketball configuration out from the Friday night performance of the Harlem Globetrotters.
That includes a change-up of two floors, reinstalling the glass onto the dasherboards and flying the protective netting at the respective ends; then rolling and pressing the Bandits playing turf to the sub floor that rests upon a dirty sheet of ice.
Bandits equipment manager, Ted Cordingley, and team trainer, Dr. Sherry LaShomb, along with their crews arrive zero-dark early in the morning, preparing a long checklist of items in the confines of the Bandits domain, nestled right across from the Sabres massive team rooms.
For me, I follow the same enthusiasm I’ve had for 30 years covering teams with the “I can wait to get to the rink” attitude. As John Muckler, former Sabres head coach and general manager, used to tell me every game day, “this is the best day of my life.”
The shootaround was scheduled for 10 a.m., with a full complement of Bandits players including those on the practice squad, injured reserved and players unable to perform.
It’s the first chance of the day to get loosened up, go through a series of stretches and exercises and then start to rev the body up by taking part in a series of drills. Many include running the length of the floor back and forth in patterns, passing and stick-handling along the way, finishing up with shots on the goaltenders.
From that point, mixed in with a series of hydration stops, the team gathers for a pre-game talk with head coach Darris Kilgour, which includes some points on the game some eight hours away. The team then breaks into groups, offense and defense, both ends of the field, and they go to work refining the game plan in store for the Toronto Rock.
It’s all pretty much a timed out to a full 60 minutes, nothing more, and then right off as the visiting team takes to the field as the double goose eggs mark the new hour on the arena clock.
From there, the Buffalo players retreat to their dressing room to change and shower in preparation for their next assignment, which on this Saturday was to spend some time with Stones Buddies, an annual affair with the Bandits players and children for Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo.
Their day started with a special invitation to watch the Bandits go through their gameday shootaround.
All of the Bandits players then went up onto the concourse and mingled with those in attendance from the Stones Buddies group, signing autographs, posing for pictures and spending time with many of the kids, along with their parents and friends. It’s one of the many events the Bandits players take part in on gamedays to brighten up a day of a youngster.
The hour-long session culminated with a luncheon and more laughs and smiles.
With not much time to rest, the Bandits had to be back to the arena, dressed in game uniform by 5:15 p.m., in preparation for the annual team photo, shot out on the turf in a baron, but soon to be rockin’ First Niagara Center.
It was all business, with a few chuckles, as the players and staff assembled in charted rows, three to four high. It was the first time to have all the players in their new black home uniforms, side by side, looking straight into the lens of team photographer Bill Wippert’s camera.
I wanted to take a quick shot with my phone camera but didn’t get the chance. The attempt was to capture the team in a serious tenor as game day had turned into game prep. And here is my point. With all of their scheduled events over the course of the day, the team was focused on the game ahead, now one hour and 50 minutes away.
There is something about game day turning to game night that’s just so exciting, it never gets old. Everything is set and ready to go, a.k.a. the stage is set.
Arena lights in full glare, music on a lower but pacing mode, seats upright, ushers in formation, scoreboard and arena light panels gleaming, a calm cadence of discussion abounds; and the dull bonk of the lacrosse ball hitting the dasherboards off of the sticks from the players gives a method of rhythm.
You can faintly hear the early arrival of fans waiting in mass out in the arena entrance atrium; a faint “let’s go Bandits” lacing through the open concourses. The Bandettes are assembling for their smiling welcome to fans, Chris Swenson, PA announcer since the Bandits first game, is checking his mike.
The players gather for their first warm-up as a team, then returning to the dressing room for the final dress of their game uniforms. Then it’s back onto the floor where the fans await the full throttle of the game some 20 minutes away. It’s the formal warm-up before battle.
And then the houselights go dark, the spotlights glide around and the rest is left to the most loyal fans a team could have. They call it Banditland.
The music, the videos, the bagpiper, the Bandit player spotlight introductions and Kevin Kennedy singing the anthems in his game night orange suit, too.
From the stance of the team photo, I could tell the players were in for a battle with their hot rival Toronto Rock. Yes, the game had its moments with penalties; but the Bandits gave it a solid effort right to the end.
I thought the turning point in the game was the Rob Marshall goal for Toronto, 10 seconds after Aaron Wilson’s second goal of the night had tied the score at seven, capping a five-goal Bandit run.
The Bandits couldn’t get Rock goaltender Nick Rose to move side to side, as the big protector between the pipes seemed stoic at times turning aside 45 of 57 Bandit shots
Tough, too, was the shorthanded goal by Colin Doyle in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. It was crazy a fourth with power plays and shorthanded goals.
But the determined play of Mark Steenhuis, after having his helmet cross-checked off by Damon Edwards, was amazing. First off, I am glad Mark is alright from what looked to be a vicious hit to the head. But when he scored seconds after that pop to the head that sent his bucket rolling, it proved the long-standing signature of a Buffalo Bandit: talented and tough.
Seemingly under his composure after the goal, Steenhuis stood strong to the crowd and made swash-buckling moves with his locks a flowing; this brought the house down with a non-stop roar.
And looking like Captain Jack Sparrow’s right hand man, Steenhuis turned back in the flow of frolic accepting the chant “yea, this is my house.”
It was a very entertaining game with strong goal scoring, good individual efforts, including Jay Thorimbert’s 64 percent success rate on faceoffs and 11 loose balls. Anthony Cosmo came up big with 32 saves.
A piece of the puzzle missing was the team’s captain, John Tavares, out with a muscle strain. His presence on the floor, with the uncanny playing demeanor, makes all the difference.
Game day turns to night and then it’s all over. I can’t wait to get back to the rink, for it truly is the best day of my life.
The Bandits are right back to the home turf this weekend with Rochester for the third and final game of the homestand. Faceoff is at 7:30 p.m. Our radio coverage begins at 7 p.m. with the half-hour pre-game show on WWKB 1520AM.