Blogs | 3/5/2013 11:34:52 AM | John Gurtler
There’s something about playing in Toronto that takes ‘awe’ to another level.
No matter how many times I drive in on the QEW, the hustle and bustle seems to be of no end. The massive amount of building continues in waves as each arrival on the stretch that begins to narrow, there is a new structure adorned with a crane in constant movement to top yet another skyscraper be it office building or condominium.
Learning how to draft while driving on this mad stretch of highway, now I get the feeling of how they do it in NASCAR, hoping you never have to put on the brakes real fast for fear of a chain-reaction wreck. There is no site seeing when you’re on approach into this massive city while behind the wheel.
But you can’t but help to see these massive buildings rising on the horizon. Thankfully I know where to make the exit, and do so well in advance for fear those nosing in remain eager to drive aggressive.
It’s just as overwhelming on foot en route to the Air Canada Centre, with people in lines walking to somewhere, stone-faced and determined.
Upon entering the door #2 of the ACC, there is the aura of a busy building. From the Leafs, Rock, Raptors, concerts and events, the place is always busy. But the thing that impresses me is no matter what the event, the building is ready with staff and everything is pristine and ready to go. And everyone there is incredibly nice and genuinely sincere of your arrival.
Nestled in the lower corridors of the building, the Bandits, as a team, were in preparation of their rare Thursday night encounter with the Rock, the first of back-to-back games for the Bandits.
Each player was in serious mode in effort to transform themselves into warriors of the turf, knowing they had a big game ahead with their arch rival division foe. And no matter how many games they have played against each other, there is never any doubt; it’s always a wild Grade-A affair.
And the Bandits, from my view from the Foster Hewitt memorial press gondola, did not disappoint - from the opening draw to the empty net goal at the end. Lead changes, ties and goal-scoring runs of five each made the game enjoyable to call and watch. There were even a few times I caught myself watching instead of keeping track of the play, scoreboard and shot clock.
The real tale of the tape in the game was the turnaround by the Bandits in the fourth quarter, where they battled back after losing their 7-5 lead at halftime. In years past, the ghosts of lacrosse lore would always trip the team up and we all know some of the losses the Bandits have suffered inside the ACC, be it regular season or playoffs.
But Thursday night’s game showed why this year’s club has so much character and determination. They defeated the Rock as a team, with everybody contributing on the score sheet, including goals by four defensive players.
Now into the second half of the season, Bandits bench boss, Darris Kilgour, continues to fine tune his club who now face Western division teams in five of their remaining seven games.
“We have to be consistent, obviously the first six games we didn’t do a good job off the back door; let Cosmo down at little bit,” said Kilgour. “That made it real hard on the offense, they had to score a ton of goals just to keep us in the game and get a win. Hopefully we have that corrected and we can get the goals against around nine or 10. If we do that and we’re in every game we play and have a chance to pull it out in the fourth.”
And the Bandits did just that on Thursday night, playing as a unit and returned dividends to the coaching staff and general manager Steve Dietrich. This was a big win. Don’t get me wrong, the win in Rochester was huge and certainly developed the confidence and conviction the Bandits had in defeating the Rock.
“The Game that Coz (goaltender Anthony Cosmo) had in Rochester, the aura around the team is different,” said Dietrich Thursday night at halftime. “The defense is playing more relaxed, or they are pressuring more. They’re just doing everything with more confidence, because now they realize that Coz is going to stop them if they get behind. As long as our offense continues to go and Coz plays as well as he can, I think we’re going to be okay.”
Overall it was a good evening in a building that presents itself in fine manner. I enjoy taking the long way around to the press gondola, passing all the finely tuned suites that provide the massive walls of great photos from Maple Leafs hockey, and the great people who built the game to what it is today.
It is all about hockey at the ACC, but when the Rock play, they turn the place into their house and the fans appreciate it very much.
I was very impressed with the Rock’s game presentation. The look of their new floor and the tightness of the playing confines dressed in black boards and colorful ad displays brought about real definition.
There’s just something about playing in Toronto. I am sure there will be something new on our next visit at the end of March, both inside and out.
It’s very hard to match Banditland in the First Niagara Center, which I believe is the best in the business. But Toronto is a close second. Really, there is nothing like the Bandits home; the great environment game after game, and the Bandit fans that make it happen.
It was a welcome site the very next night in Banditland as Philadelphia came to town. There’s never a dull moment: from Kevin Kennedy’s anthems to Chris Swenson’s stoke-the-enthusiastic house with his patented calls and crowd-pleasing chants.
The Bandits played well enough to win Friday it but it wasn’t meant to be this time. Not to take anything away, it was just a game to move on and get ready for Colorado. I must admit I felt like the Beaver did when Wally punched him with a belly full of soda after the Wings scored the overtime goal.
Despite the heart-breaking loss, Mark Steenhuis – Buffalo’s unsung hero this year in my book – thinks this team is very strong. “I’ve been pretty impressed, we’ve been a definitely tight group in the locker room, which is first and foremost and nice to see,” said the all-star veteran transition player.
“I think we’ve seen flashes of what we can do on the floor, but it’s been up and down, you know rocky at times. We haven’t put together a nice win streak yet. That being said, I think coming out of Rochester two weeks ago was our best game as a team for a whole 60 minutes that we played all year, so I think we can start from that game and obviously learn from the games before that just move forward from here.”
Colorado is next on the home schedule for the Bandits this Saturday night. The Mammoth always make things interesting under the talents of John Grant, Jr., Gavin Prout and former Canisius College standout Adam Jones.
Radio coverage for the Bandits/Mammoth game will be on 1520 AM. The online coverage will be through YouTube on NLL.com. Coverage starts at 7 p.m. with the pre-game show.