Blogs | 2/24/2009 12:39:31 PM | John Gurtler
A Denver native, John Gurtler has been the voice of the Buffalo Bandits the past six seasons. Gurtler has also done play-by-play with the Rochester Americans and Buffalo Sabres and has served as the stadium voice for the Buffalo Bills. Gurtler will share his thoughts and unique perspective each week with Bandits fans.
Halfway point of the season and the Bandits are right where I expected them, first place in East and leading in categories of scoring, goaltending and defense. A 7-1 record is pretty good and sure, the loss to Philadelphia showed they are beatable - but not susceptible to repeatable errors. I think they had enough of those in the first-half of last Friday's game in Toronto. Showed a good test of character, though.
To GM and coach Darris Kilgour however, it was not funny.
I would imagine the security guards in the walkway leading to the dressing room have heard volumes of coach's rants over the short tenure of the Air Canada Centre. But not in the category of what is capable from coach Kilgour. No, you don’t want to be around that whiplash of wrath when things are not going well. Such was the case after 30-minutes of play Friday night against the Rock.
But a funny thing happened from the tongue-lashing: The Bandits came together as a band of brothers and turned the game around. From an 11-5 half-time deficit, to a 17-16 overtime victory. It was one of the greatest comebacks I have been a part of and certainly one of the most exciting, loaded with great plays at both ends of the floor.
As the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said "The Ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." I think that was clearly displayed by each Bandit player Friday night in Toronto.
And leave it John Tavares. Playing as if his 18th season was his first, he lead by example and started the comeback admirably. You have heard and seen it several times: John Tavares makes you want to be a better payer.
He is the greatest player of this game and I feel the greatest professional athlete Buffalo has ever had - and that goes for the other hockey No. 11, Gil Perreault, and the football No. 12, Jim Kelly. At 40 years of age, playing against opponents who where just learning to walk and cradle a ball, and scoring six goals the way he did Friday night was - well, amazing.
It was like an in-game clinic "staging a comeback 101" and one of his teammates, who will most likely follow John's footprint for the future, Mark Steenhuis, had a record setting night with eight goals, including the game-winner.
But this was a true team effort, showing the reason why this is not a selfish ego-driven roster. And what makes that? Guys like John Tavares - and his coach, the passion filled check-your-attitude-at-the-door coach, Darris Kilgour.
I was fortunate to interview Tavares for the radio pre-game show at the Air Canada Centre and following Friday night's performance you get a clear perspective of his passion and sincerity for the game and his teammates.
While John mentioned he is very happy with the way the team has jumped out to a 7-1 start, the Philadelphia game is still troublesome to him.
"Obvious we are beatable and you take that as a learning experience and realize we really need to show up and take it to other teams as opposed to sitting back, trying to hang around and see if we are just going to win by showing up," said Tavares. "We definitely learned that we have to play hard for four quarters. The coaching staff did a good job talking about that - being a little over confident going into this game in Toronto. We played 60 minutes against Toronto last Saturday but I think we just hit a couple of quarters against Philadelphia."
Back to Friday night in Toronto, the Bandits found a way to win and it was Tavares who instilled the confidence.
"Over the last few years, I definitely have seen my roll on the team as trying to help produce on the offensive end; trying to get the guys involved offensively; when Darris needs me to play some good defense, get some loose balls, if possible," said the record holder of several Bandit categories. "Obviously as an older guy I'm not going to be able to score as many goals or perform as well as I have in the past (what?), you have to find a way to help the team. My job is to help the team win - do what it takes to win." Friday night was a perfect example.
Is this not the most talented team?
"I think the talent across the League has improved over the years, I don't know if this is the best Bandit team I have been on but it's definitely becoming the most skilled team, still not the best team, but we are getting really close," said the man who has lead the Bandits in scoring 15 seasons.
"When you say skilled, it can get confusing with a skilled team and a really good team. Sometimes you can have a really good skilled team but not a good team, like a team not playing together. Whereas this team plays together, and that’s a tribute to Darris Kilgour, and we are very skilled as well and I think it's all starting to come together."
Too, when this team plays their system, it’s unbelievable.
"Yes, it is. We always talk about what makes one team better than the other, because with the skill level all the teams are pretty much even. Some teams you might have a little more skilled guys but at the end of the day we all know how to catch a pass. Some guys can put the ball in the net in a tighter spot than others. I think that evens out. But, whoever plays together as a team is the team that is going to win.
"I don't know what it is about Darris, but he has a good way of getting us together; we're like a family. Other teams show up they play, they leave. We're together a lot probably cause of our team being in Buffalo and everybody else being from Southern Ontario, everybody’s always at practice. We don't have any fly-in guys, we hang out together before and after games and more importantly we have one system and we play that system."
Venturing further into that family feel, you can see that exposed when the team gathers for the morning shoot-around before a game. Plenty of talking, joking and the children of the players and coaching staff adding to the mix.
"Yea, and I didn't realize how close that could bring people together. It was more like I am going to bring my kids so they can enjoy it, but you're right it brings all the guys closer together. And their families and you start talking more and it strengthens the relationship you all ready have and that probably transcends all onto the (playing) floor."
In modest fashion, which is John's style, he defers to the whole team and coaching staff for their mid-season success. And it just keeps getting better.
It does not stop as Minnesota comes to town Saturday night, 7:30pm, in HSBC Arena.
You can bet Swarm coach Duane Jacobs will have his team ready. You can be the judge of character.