By Alex Beilman - Bandits.com
The Buffalo Bandits fell in disappointing fashion to the Georgia Swarm on Saturday night by a score of 20-7. The loss drops the Bandits to 6-11 on the season, and means the team will miss the NLL playoffs for the first time since the 2013 season.
“Everything was set in place for us to have a dominant game. I don’t know if I’ve seen us play any worse,” Bandits forward Mark Steenhius said.
On top of that, the Bandits (6-11) were celebrating Tucker Out Lymphoma Night at KeyBank Center to honor the life of Tucker Williams, the son of former Bandit Shawn Williams. Tucker lost his battle with Burkitt Lymphoma in 2014.
“It’s tough when you’re battling for your life and you have no battle. Especially tonight in regards to Tucker Williams and the Williams family,” head coach Troy Cordingley said. “It was an embarrassing effort.”
“It was a disgusting display by us. We’re at home, we have a great crowd, we’re playing for a kid who battled to his very last breath, and everyone in the stands for the people that they loved and they lost,” Steenhuis said.
The Bandits seemed to be behind even before the game started. Reigning NLL MVP Dhane Smith sustained an ankle injury in the morning shootaround after stepping on a ball part way through the session and was unable to suit up Saturday night. Still, the team was not looking to use that as a crutch for the 13-goal loss.
“It’s why it’s called a team. Dhane is a big part of our team, and so are a lot of our other guys. Everybody had to pick up and do a little bit more,” Cordingley said. “Teams lose players and teams lose good players. You have to find a way, and we weren’t willing to find that way today.”
The game very rarely felt close. To no great surprise, Lyle Thompson led the way for the Swarm (12-4) with a 10-point night (2+8), easily surpassing the total he needed to become the first 100-point player in his franchise’s history.
SABRES FOUNDATION 50/50 INFO: Winning Number - 06401641 // Pot Total - $13,591
The game started as a goaltending duel. Buffalo’s Anthony Cosmo and Georgia’s Mike Poulin traded saves as each team’s offense generated back-and-forth offensive opportunities.
Then, a penalty call on Nick Weiss seemed to set the wheels in motion for what would be a long night in Banditland.
Randy Staats (4+3) fired home his first of the game just 27 seconds into the power play at the 5:28 mark of the opening quarter. From that point, the Bandits never saw a tie score the rest of the evening.
From there, Georgia took over with three more goals, including a Miles Thompson (4+1) power play tally that capped off the four-goal Swarm run. Although those would be the only two Georgia power play goals, they were enough to get the best offense in the league going for the rest of the night.
“The key is that they shared the ball. They’re willing to do whatever it takes. It’s a very potent offense,” Cordingley said. “The key word there is unselfish.”
Poulin also had a big role in helping his team maintain a lead. He made nine first quarter saves and another 10 in the second to hold the Bandits to just five goals in the first half.
The Bandits crept back within two as the first quarter neared its conclusion. Ryan Benesch (2+1) got a power play goal and Anthony Malcolm (1+2) notched a shorthanded goal with 10 seconds on the clock to make it a 4-2 score.
Buffalo managed to keep it within two, as David Brock (1+0) answered a goal from Jordan Hall (2+2) to get the score to 5-3.
From there, it was all Georgia. The Swarm opened a five-goal run through Staats, who beat Anthony Cosmo at the 5:14 mark of the second quarter. By the time Lyle Thompson capped it off at the 9:59 mark, Cordingley had seen enough and switched goalies in search of a spark. Davide DiRuscio came in with the Bandits down 10-3 before the half.
“[Cosmo], I thought he was playing real good for us. You pull a guy who’s playing well to try to spark something, and it doesn’t happen,” Cordingley said. “The last three goals on Cosmo were uncontested shots. We had no pressure on them and kind of left our goalies out to dry tonight.”
The move worked briefly. The Bandits notched two of the last three goals of the first half to make the score to 11-5. It was not an ideal situation, but one the team felt they could come back from.
When the ball dropped for the third quarter, however, the spark was gone. The Bandits were blanked in the quarter, while surrendering another five goals to Georgia’s potent offense. The team trailed 16-5, and the dreams of a win to stay in the playoff hunt all but vanished.
“That’s probably the worst beating I’ve taken in lacrosse, and it was on the most important night of the year,” defenseman Steve Priolo said. “That kind of sums up our season of bad luck and lack of effort and lack of passion.”
The fourth quarter offered no further solace. Miles Thompson’s third and fourth goals of the evening sandwiched a marker by Kiel Matisz (3+4) to make the score 19-5.
Buffalo got two quick goals back from Mitch Jones and Steenhuis, but Georgia got a shorthanded goal from Hall to close out the scoring, and put the final nail in the coffin of the Bandits’ playoff hopes.
The last time the Bandits surrendered 20 or more goals was a 21-7 loss at the hands of the same franchise, as they fell at the Minnesota Swarm on April 6, 2013.
With the playoff dream squashed, the Bandits will look to use the final game of the season next week to build towards next year, assess what they learned from this season, and, most importantly, play for pride.
“We had no heart tonight. Next week’s a game where – I hate saying it – we’re playing for next year,” Cordingley said. “We’re playing for next year’s spots and playing for pride and this and that. We should have been doing that all year long.”
“There’s nothing worse. Our season is done. You feel terrible. You look at yourself in the mirror, and what can you do now,” Steenhuis said. “I know for myself, it’s going to suck. I’m going to switch this awfulness into motivation. We play in the best place in this league to play. We have the best fans, we have a great atmosphere. We should be competing every year. To be out of it this early, we’re not happy.”
The Bandits will put a wrap on 2017 when they host the Toronto Rock on Fan Appreciation Night at KeyBank Center on Saturday, April 29. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m. and fans can stay tuned to Bandits.com for continuing coverage and more information on the festivities for Fan Appreciation Night.