Blogs | 1/22/2014 9:24:03 AM | John Gurtler
Timing is everything.
The Bandits’ 2,740-mile sojourn to Denver, Colorado last weekend, was, in effect, perfect timing. Everything went without a hitch. From the travel and accommodations, to the consistent play of the team that produced a 16-9 victory over the Mammoth.
Individual player performances were exceptional, including a hat trick from defenseman Steve Priolo, and an eight-point night by Ryan Benesch. Not to mention the six-point performances from Dhane Smith (4+2) and the league’s ironman, Shawn Williams (0+6). Even hometown kid Joe Resetarits scored his first two goals as a Bandit.
The defense was outstanding and goaltender Anthony Cosmo made 34 saves to earn the victory.
Buffalo’s tempo and consistency throughout were the keys.
From the bottom of the rankings to the second best in the NLL in a couple weeks, the Bandits are making the best of it. Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley noted last week that it was amazing how everybody was writing the Bandits off a few weeks ago. “But they made a few adjustments,” said Hamley. “And now they are like every other team in this league – good.”
While the Trailways bus brought us from the tree-less tundra airport to the massive cosmopolitan setting of downtown Denver, the four hours and 20 minutes of total flight time was right on schedule. That even included a transfer of planes at Midway in Chicago.
A smooth load-in to the City Center Marriott Hotel found the team in partners with ranchers, cattlemen and cowboys. They were also visitors in town for the 108th National Western Stock Show, a three-week extravaganza of horse trading, bull auctions, equipment selling and rodeo. It was only fitting that a pack of Bandits had made their presence known – in a good way.
I introduced myself to a trio of cattlemen who were sippin’ some of Jack’s finest, and asked them where they were from. “South Dakota,” one said in a raspy, crackling voice. “We’re all ranchers from there.” You could tell they’d spent their lives outdoors, dealing with the blistering sun in the summer and the relentless horizontal cold wind of the winter. It was plainly evident in the creases that lined their faces and hands.
“And how’s about you - where ya from and what’s ya doin’ here?” I explained we were in town from Buffalo, NY for a National Lacrosse League game against the Colorado Mammoth. One of the gents, a 42-year veteran of Denver’s stock show blurted, “You get the same weather we do,” which brought a round of laughs. And then he asked, “What the hell is indoor lacrosse and who ya gonna play, Colorado State?”
I thought maybe that was enough conversation and politely stepped back. As I walked away, one said, “Good luck to ya, son.”
The Bandits in Colorado schedule continued Saturday morning with an 8 a.m. call on the bus for transport to the Pepsi Center Arena for video sessions and the traditional shootaround – a much needed workout to get the lactic acid build up out of the joints from the flight and two-hour time difference.
I peeled off from the team to meet my oldest sister, Cathy, for breakfast, in a trendy lower downtown place appropriately called Syrup. Having grown up in Denver, I am amazed on how much has changed since I left in 1984 to join the Rochester Americans and later the Sabres operation.
Since urban renewal started in the late 60’s, the city has survived many economic ups and downs, like Buffalo. And the skyline has been reshaped by towering buildings, condos and apartments to handle the increasing population of young professionals.
And because the weather Saturday was blue sky and 60+ degrees, every construction site was bustling with workers and the 10 building cranes were moving all the time.
They are redesigning their transportation hub at Union Station, which, in comparison, would be where the new HarborCenter is in Buffalo. And they are just about finished with building the first railroad (downtown to the airport) in over 100 years.
Not to be blunt about it, but vaping and smoking cigarettes are out of fashion in Denver. As of January 1 of this year, residents are now allowed to purchase pot. I wondered why everybody in had a big smile walking around Saturday afternoon downtown. Blue sky, warm and a mile high - above sea level that is.
While the fans in Denver could not wait for Sunday’s AFC title game between their Broncos and New England Patriots, many made plans to attend the Bandits/Mammoth game that night at the beautiful Pepsi Center, situated downtown, about a quarter mile from Sports Authority Field. The Pepsi Center is also home to the NHL Avalanche and NBA Nuggets.
Still with perfect timing, the team bus left the hotel at 4:45 p.m. en route to the arena, preparing for the 7 p.m. game against the Mammoth.
Players and coaches meticulously went through their pre-game reps, which included the players participating in an informal shootaround, getting to know the nuances of the playing turf and surrounding boards and glass.
For the radio broadcast coverage, my connection was made with the on-site technical director, Jesse Thomas, as to the confirmation of ISDN broadcast lines active and connected to ESPN 1520 back in Buffalo and in communication with Tom Reits, the producer of the broadcast.
While down in the Pepsi Center’s hallway leading to the dressing room, I made sure there was a radio headset with microphone connection, which was to be used for halftime player interview and post-game with head coach Troy Cordingley.
Mapping out the radio pre-game show, I interviewed coach Cordingley for the coaches corner segment and the same for our player profile, which was Jamie Rooney. Both of those interviews were recorded and would be played back during the respective segments of the show. In addition, I confirmed a live interview with assistant coach, Dave Pym, who breaks down the game and scouting video into segments for the respective positions on the Bandits team.
I also confirmed the halftime interview, live from the broadcast booth, with Bandits GM Steve Dietrich and Dhane Smith, live, from outside the Bandits dressing room. Coach Cordingley would also join me live down below after the game in the post-game show.
Bandits equipment manager Ted Cordingley helped coordinate getting Smith and his brother to the headset for their timely segments. Like Bandits director of lacrosse operations, Scott Loffler, the two are a big help during the three-hour broadcast of Bandits lacrosse pre-game, in-game, halftime and post-game.
Colorado does a great job with the game-night presentation. From the bikers on their Harleys to the fireballs, M-80's and trained spotlight player introductions, Saturday’s presentation was extra special in tribute to the active and retired military personnel.
Billed as Military Appreciation Night, the Mammoth players wore camouflaged uniforms, which included shorts, jersey and helmets. The on-field presentation included recognition to the military branches and individual honors to families. Retired military names and branches of service were on the right side of the Mammoth player jerseys, while the left side had names of active members of the military.
In addition, the Mammoth staged an auction on the main concourse with the jerseys and shorts in effort to raise money for The Home Front Cares, an organization the helps military vets in need.
By the time the game officially started, the Bandits were charged up with plenty of enthusiasm. It was an emotionally stirring pre-game ceremony out on the field, and both the Bandits and Mammoth players tapped their sticks against the boards from their respective benches in appreciation and salute to the military families.
That enthusiasm vaulted the Bandits to the game’s first goal by Dhane Smith that sparked a four-goal run. By the time the first quarter was over, defenseman Steve Priolo had already netted a hat trick for a 5-1 Bandits lead.
The play of the game was Chad Culp’s goal in the second quarter that gave Buffalo a 7-3 lead. Ryan Benesch started the play by passing over to Shawn Williams at the left point. Williams, with his eyes pasted back at Benesch at the right point, found Culp in the slot heavily covered, and zipped a solid pass to Culp, who was already in is back swing. The ball met perfectly in his shooting strings, and within an eye blink, the ball went like a laser to the back of the Colorado net.
Bandits’ captain John Tavares was a late scratch due to a slight groin pull, which afforded Culp to fly out the front door as one of the offensive players.
The team never looked back, although Colorado did get within one goal late in the second quarter. The Bandits outscored Colorado 6-1 in the third quarter thanks to a five-goal run, and capped off the night with a pair in the fourth quarter.
There was some terrific play all areas of the floor and the teamwork by the Bandits was reflective of how they have been sticking to the game plan: confident and without panic.
And how about the offensive teamwork, as 11 Bandits figured in the scoring, with eight players recording two or more points.
Plays were coming from both ends of the field and the transition game was very effective. Takeaways and loose balls reflected the team’s strong performance.
Dhane Smith was awarded the team ‘212’ hard hat for his performance, which he proudly wore on Sunday’s trip home. Important to note during Smith’s live halftime interview Saturday night in his reply to the great offensive play last weekend, he immediately recognized his teammates and thanked them for their efforts.
They say you’re only as good as your last game and that sets the stage for Saturday night’s encounter with Rochester. It’s an Alabama/Auburn-like match-up. The first place and two-time defending champ Rochester Knighthawks versus the upstart number two Bandits.
Oh, the timing is perfect.
Broadcast coverage of Saturday’s game on ESPN 1520 starts at 7 p.m. pre-game show, followed by the opening faceoff just after 7:30 p.m. Randy Mearns will be back in the booth with me to provide game analysis.