Blogs | 4/9/2013 2:08:50 PM | John Gurtler
It takes a team to snap a streak.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse – it did.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s game in Minnesota will go into the Bandits franchise record books but you’ll have to go look for it – if you really want to. It’s just not right.
“Something happens. The ups and downs of the NLL game, they will always be there,” said assistant captain Shawn Williams. “But it’s controlling the downs especially, and we just haven’t able to control the downs to any point, and it just gets deeper and deeper. You can feel the heads lower – it’s not necessarily a pout - but just a general feeling of ‘uh-oh, here we go again’ type of thing.”
And how do you handle the downs? “You elevate,” said the 16-year veteran Williams who has experienced it all in the NLL. “You’ve just got to be able to adapt and manage things. And the people that can do that are the ones that can survive.”
I had a teacher in junior high that would always make a brash statement when things were not going well. “Cheer up, it’s going to get worse,” he would tell me when I had a bad attitude towards my coursework. And his comment would make me more frustrated during the heated moment. But it worked in reverse psychology as it made me challenge my energies towards trying to improve my attitude and doing the work. But it took a collaborative effort.
It’s a long and winding road.
Saturday’s road trip in St. Paul, Minnesota, started off on a good foot as the weather allowed me to take a brisk six-block walk to the arena in order to watch the game-day shoot around. The players seemed focused and eager to prepare for the game against the Swarm as they loaded their equipment onto the hotel shuttle for their ride over.
St. Paul is just coming out of what looked to be a heavy snow year as the grounds and scrubs around the sidewalks looked as if they had been pressed flat by a large amounts of snow, which was layered through the winter months. Frozen, discolored blocks remained in depth which were shadowed by tall buildings that curtained the sun from melting. But change was on the way.
I reflected on the same for the Bandits, that a change was in the offering on this game day. Why, I even went into the massive Minnesota resource library - built in 1921 and the largest in the country at the time - that was on my walking route. Certainly one of the analysts could direct me to the “stop a losing streak” section.
The placed reeked with knowledge as the large caverness room was illuminated by the brilliant morning sun and bankers lights placed evenly on the long wooden work desks that allowed a 50-yard open span between isles of books and records, floor to laddered ceiling.
Gary, the attendant who greeted me, seemed prepared for the challenge as he had every losing streak in sport, which included many he recited from rote, starting with the Minnesota Sox in 1892. In effort to stop the verbal list, I picked the Sox, who had lost 23 in a row.
He wandered to and fro, from ladder to ladder, returning in a flash with a small agate looking piece of paper. He proudly recited the print with a short sentence which simply stated the Sox had snapped their 23-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over Mt. Rose with no hero on the mound or batter from the box; simply a “splendid team effort.” That’s all I needed.
Just one block before the Xcel Energy Center, an absolutely gorgeous venue, I gravitated towards the recently built St. Paul Science Center, which is across the street. This is a must see place if you plan on visiting the area.
I thought it would be a good idea to do a flyby in the contorted fiber area, where science lab workers untangle energized fiber wires, moving energy towards an open mass. This is to eliminate the fiber from losing power, consecutively. Kind of like a losing streak, one after another and another.
I stopped one of the lab workers and asked, “How do you stop the fibers from losing power?” He simply said: “You take those fibers with equal energy and combine in mass, which sorts through the inverted fibers with negative energy and eventually they straighten to a positive field. It takes a group to turn them around.”
Now, I am mentally charged.
By the time I reached the Bandits shootaround, the team was operating at both ends of the field, split offense and defense. Every one of the 22 players on the floor seemed attentive to the task of installing the game system for the evening ahead against the Swarm. There was a tremendous amount of positive energy amongst the players, coaches, training staff and myself for that matter.
The team spent a full hour on the floor going through drills and rotations of plays as instructed by head coach Darris Kilgour, and assistant coaches Dan Teat and Richie Kilgour. Everything looked solid, from the shots to the saves.
John Tavares came over to me following practice, as he was spending time working on his shot, and said “Pick a number between 1 and 20.” I said “18.” That’s how many goals we will score tonight. He told me to pick another number; I chose eight. Tavares said that will be the number of points one of Bandits will score. You couldn’t ask for more positive energy from the captain.
And the character of the club inside the room? “It’s unbelievable, obviously, the history is right in front of you with Darris at the helm and you have his brother and Johnny T across the locker room, and Chugger (General Manager Steve Dietrich) up top; it’s all there,” said Williams. “The character in the room is unbelievable. You would think a slide like this could splinter and separate, there is none of that; we’re a very tight group, family atmosphere and that’s the way we like it.”
I walked back to the hotel with Darris as we enjoyed a casual conversation about the weather and sports in general. It was a great moment to just kick a few comments here and there and stay clear of any talk about the Bandits play of late and the losing streak. It was a good break from the burden of the ongoing conversation I have with him during the pre-game show and other reporters covering the team.
The team lunch Saturday afternoon was calm and controlled with game prep conversation. One of the newest roster members of the Bandits, Drew Petkov, received a “shoe check” blot of dressing on his shoe in appreciation of his teammates. Good bonding as a team and more positive vibes.
Post lunch included a video tape session of various Minnesota formations and sequences of plays, both for the offense and defense group, as presented by assistant coach and scout Rusty Kruger. Darris watched as well. The focus seemed to be there. Questions were asked. Solutions were given.
Yes, it’s a collaborative effort to stop this six-game slide. History and science proves it takes a team to get out of this mess. But it has to be just eating away at a player like Shawn Williams.
“I’m good. Perspective is always the key. You come home to your wife and three kids, which always makes it OK,” said Williams. “The NLL is a lonely league for players because you’re on your own a lot. You must make sure you get your workouts in and doing what you are supposed to be doing and accountable to your team when you are away and once your with them, just do what you have to do.”
As a team, to stop this losing streak, that’s what it will take.
From a losing streak to perfect season, make sure you check out Budd Bailey’s story in Wednesday’s Sports section of The Buffalo News, which celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Bandits perfect season. A great spark of enthusiasm for all of us!
It’s another road trip this week – a long one – to Seattle and then up to Everett, home of the Washington Stealth.
Tied with Edmonton for the top spot in the West standings, the Stealth are coming off a 12-11 victory over Calgary. They are 4-2 at home and playing 500 of late. Lead by Rhys Dutch, fourth overall in league scoring, and goals and points in every game (37+44=81). Lewis Ratcliff (27+30=57), Athan Iannucci (21+24=45) and former Bandit Brett Bucktooth (15+24=45) round out the top forwards.
Buffalo’s Jay Thorimbert is second in league faceoff wins at 61 percent (and Bandits all-time leader), and he’ll go head-to-head with third-place draw king Bob Snider, who is at 60 percent on the season.
Goaltender Tyler Richards is Washington’s workhorse with a 7-4 record and .806 save percentage.
The Stealth defensemen like to get involved in the offense with Mike Grimes, Tyler Garrison, Jeff Moleski and Kyle Sorenson, all in the top 10 of NLL defense scoring. Matt Beers leads the league in penalty minutes with 60.
Radio coverage for Saturday’s Bandits/Stealth game will start at 9:30 p.m. with the pre-game show on WWKB 1520AM.