Blogs | 1/8/2014 11:02:50 AM | John Gurtler
How do you stop a team like Toronto? How do you hold Colin Doyle, Garrett Billings and Stephan Leblanc from scoring buckets of points? How do you plan for the crafty play of Josh Sanderson, Bandit beater Kasey Beirnes, and the coming-of-age Rob Hellyer? On the other end of the floor, how do you figure out the Rock’s defense and goaltending of Nick Rose?
These questions and more have been etched on yellow tablet paper pads from sideline prognosticators like me. I’ve never pulled a lacrosse jersey over my head. Never cradled a ball in the webbing of a stick. Never took a swat from the hard plastic head on the side of my body. Nor have I been crossed checked into the boards.
Furthermore, I am not sure I would be able to perform a pick-and-roll properly, or slide according to what side of the floor is being challenged. And all of the internal systems and sets so secretly held by the coaching staff, I never know what they are doing in there.
But I have been around team sports for quite some time to know it takes a team fully prepared, focused and willing. And that’s my call on this weekend’s set of games against Toronto and, ah sir, Philadelphia - again.
The December 28 loss to the Wings exposed Buffalo with the challenges of today’s indoor lacrosse game: It’s fast, relentless and powerful, and there are two less players on the bench. There is no longer a player who has perfect shooting strings and dominates all night. There isn’t the hot hand or heavy hitter on one side of the floor or other.
This is a solid team game that requires tiger-like instincts, the strength of an ox, endurance of Kenya’s best, and the mindset of meeting any task head on to help the team.
And now that I’ve strayed from the storyline, you know what amazes me about all of the above? In addition to all of the requirements needed to play the indoor game, every player has a day job and family life to juggle. I truly admire the players of the NLL for their dedication and “love of the game.” Not to mention, most of them also play in the summer.
Okay, enough of the shaky hands and crackling voice. I’ll ease up on the emotions.
Toronto comes to Buffalo on Friday night as a team full of talent and confidence, coming off a 16-11 victory over Calgary. They are a team loaded with sharpshooters and playmakers. It’s not unusual for them to have a player like Garrett Billings record double-digit points like he did last Friday night (1+9), along with five goals from Stephan Leblanc.
Two other players always seem to give the Bandits fits: Kasey Beirnes is able to find the twine multiple times; and Rob Hellyer, with his wood-shedding his talents with the club, has now taken a leading role with Blaine Manning becoming part of the coaching staff. Hellyer even had a “hell yeah” night last Friday with three goals.
Always in the mix is trusted veteran Josh Sanderson with his play making and scoring ability. The Rock defense represents the team name quite well, and goaltender Nick Rose is nimble for his size, moving side to side.
The transition game and close-range shots will be key for the Bandits. The defense and goaltending will take care of itself. There is a good mixture in that group.
That should be the same plan for the Sunday afternoon game in Philadelphia. Regardless of the Wings size and power, the Bandits need to take care of business as a team.
The thing I like about sport is there’s always another game. And Friday’s home meeting against the Rock makes a perfect place setting for the Bandits to turn the tables and start 2014 with a victory.
Being ranked last going into this two-game weekend is enough to get the fire in the belly stoked. “Let’s get one for Troy.” Better yet, let’s get one for the whole gang - Banditland included.
Then others will begin to ask, ‘how do you stop a team like the Bandits?’
Game coverage on Friday begins at 7 p.m. with the pre-game show on ESPN 1520. Sunday’s broadcast gets underway just before the 4 p.m. opening faceoff.