Blogs | 5/6/2014 3:50:44 PM | John Gurtler
For the first time while driving up the QEW, the flow of traffic on Saturday morning favored all drivers as everything seemed to be moving smoothly.
There was no bumper-to-bumper, brake-gas-brake-gas pace. Everybody was in their lane enjoying the fast ride towards the ever-changing horizon of Toronto.
The easy-driving pace made me think, if only things were so smooth for the Bandits? Wouldn’t it be nice if the team was able to come out onto the playing surface relaxed and confident with the attitude of just going out and playing the game – and have some fun doing it?
The closer I got to Toronto, the better I felt about that night’s game. It was a strange aura. And it kept with me all the way into the Bandits morning shootaround inside the Air Canada Centre.
I could sense that as the Bandits went through their drills. Everything was flowing very smoothly. From fast-moving formations and crisp passing, along with laser-like shots on net. There was a nice cadence to it all. Plus the players seemed very relaxed and confident.
It did not end there.
The team lunch that day was on the 38th floor of the Harbor Castle Westin Hotel, which boasts a 360-degree view of Toronto through floor-to-ceiling windows of the spring waters of Lake Ontario.
This certainly gave perspective of the large task ahead. But again, there was this calming effect with the players in family-style seating amid low-level conversation back-and-forth.
Adding to the luncheon buffet, which was beautifully presented, was a multiple water glass serenade, alerting all the players in attendance of the dreaded “shoe check.”
Second-year man Mitch Jones just happened to be the target on this occasion, discovering a glob of sauce left on his shoe. The reaction and robust laugh from the entire contingent is always a great team expression and release of nervous but positive energy.
This often-performed exercise at lunch is just another example of how close-knit this team is.
“It’s a family,” said Bandits faceoff specialist and transition player, Jay Thorimbert. “Most teams that go on an eight-game skid, you’d expect fingers to be pointed, yelling and bickering, things like that.
“For the most part, from the coaching staff down, it’s been extremely positive. We’re upbeat, not dwelling on things; you have to have a short memory in this league. We’re just trucking along. Everyone has actually been extremely positive.”
That positivity and confidence carried over and through the game Saturday against Toronto.
Everything was working for the Bandits, smoothly and in synchronicity. Everything from Ryan Benesch’s seven goals; the power play going four-for-five; the defense constantly interrupting the Rock attack; and the big saves by Anthony Cosmo.
Even the other aspects of the game like faceoffs, with Thorimbert going 27-of-32 for 84 percent is just, well, huge!
“You can’t score without the ball,” said Thorimbert, the Bandits all-time face-off winner. “Possession is everything. The more we have it, the less they do, so the better our chances of putting the ball into the back of the net.”
The Bandits haven’t had any trouble finding the back of the net, averaging 14.5 goals over the last two games.
Saturday night’s victory for the Bandits was a total team effort. They proved to themselves they could overcome the weight of the regular season losing streak and, as head coach Troy Cordingley mentioned in his post game, a huge gorilla just climbed off the Bandits back and ran out of the building.
That should ease the pressure and give the team some ebb and flow going into the next challenge of facing Rochester in the NLL’s new two-game East Division Finals series.
The Knighthawks bring their firepower of eight players, lead by the league’s regular season scoring champion, Cody Jamieson, who all can score at will from any location of the floor.
Rochester’s numbers are daunting, starting with their 14-4 record that ended on a five-game wining streak. Not to mention their stingy defense and excellent goaltending that allowed just 167 goals, and the fact they are the fastest starting club in the loop, building the lead from the opening face-off.
This is something the Bandits are already preparing for with the Knighthawks.
“Just making sure everybody on the team is aware of what we want to do in those situations,” said Thorimbert. “Recognizing that there is a play coming, there is that type of situation coming and just being able to react to it and making sure that we trust our teammates. If we go out and do our job, they will be there doing their job and we should shut that down.”
There will be a lot of traffic this Saturday night inside on the playing surface of the First Niagara Center. I am expecting end-to-end rushes, plenty of breaking-up of plays and some pretty good collisions. Not to mention smooth-sailing shots that will find twine – all good traffic for the Bandits.
Your sky-spy is standing by.
Radio coverage of this entire series will be carried by WGR Sports Radio 550. Randy Mearns will join me in his usual role as analyst, along with statistician and director of broadcast, Scott Fleetwood.
The radio pre-game show begins at 7 p.m., followed by the opening faceoff of Game 1 at 7:30 p.m. For those watching at home, The Lacrosse Network on YouTube will pick us up at game time.