3/13/2019 10:00:00 AM / John Gurtler
Going 1-1 for the weekend is not bad, but it took everything the Bandits had in their arsenal of talent Friday night to defeat the feisty Philadelphia Wings 12-11 in overtime. After falling into a 6-2 deficit, and never leading in the game, the club shutout the Wings in the fourth quarter to cap off a four-goal run in OT with the game-winner delivered by Chase Fraser.
It was a team effort. and good teams find a way to win. Friday night was a perfect example, but overall, I think it took its toll physically. The game started at 8 p.m. and took two hours and 25 minutes to play. The team did not get back to their hotel until 11:30 and, after a postgame meal, the 6 a.m. wakeup to get back to Buffalo came quick.
Busing to the airport, in line for tickets and baggage, clearing security, waiting, and more waiting, a quick 45-minute flight, equipment and belongings gather, shuttle to the team hotel in Buffalo, team lunch, video prep for Georgia, group talks, and then a 4:30 p.m. call to the arena for a 5 p.m. team photo.
And then, boom! Game time!
Not to make excuses for the Bandits’ performance Saturday night at home against the Georgia Swarm, but one word best described their performance in the 14-9 loss: Fatigued. And that pretty much sums it up.
It was a strange game from the get-go with a quick two-man advantage strike by Georgia, an outlet pass that led to a fast-break goal, two shorthanded goals, goal runs of four and five respectively, and a couple of slow rollers crossing the goal line.
How the Bandits won the loose-ball battle 81-68 is a mystery because it looked like Georgia scooped up everything that rolled.
Appropriately, the game report and video tape were thrown off the old docks of the Erie Canal, only to be forgotten.
With five games remaining in the regular season, it's going to get tougher for the Bandits as they head back out on the road this weekend to play the Western Division leading Saskatchewan Rush. And that's a perfect prescription for this club to straighten things out.
"I think we just want to continue to get better. We've been on a good run, but we've got to play more consistent," goaltender Matt Vinc, who faced 110 shots over the weekend, said. "In our six-game winning streak, we had a couple of lapses where we haven't played our best, but we were fortunate to find a way to win.
"We need to play all-around lacrosse and it starts with small plays that add up to being big plays throughout the course of the game. We need to win those little battles early in games and make sure we don't have to come from behind."
And to play all around lacrosse, you've got to communicate. Initiating a good on-field conversation is by way of Vinc, and it has helped the players think.
"Lacrosse is a fast game and things happen quick. That dialog I think is key and hopefully it prevents teams from going on big runs on us.," Vinc said. "Too, it lets the boys voice their concerns. It's like a sounding off board.
"I use my captain, Steve Priolo, a lot in getting a chance to talk to him, which prevents me from getting a little frustrated if they do get one or two. I feel confident with a lot of guys in our group to do that."
Priolo, who has played in every game for the last seven seasons, has a good perspective on tough games and how the players react.
"The season is full of ups and downs. To be able to weather tough games is so important. You can't just get used to coming out of the gate and scoring four or five goals," Priolo said. "It's important to have these types of games this point of the season, so when we face adversity, we'll be able to handle it.
"Keep trusting in ourselves and trusting each other. From Vno to the defense, the transition to the offense, everybody together is going to make things happen."
That trust is developed through the chemistry of this team, which seemed to mix in quite well right at the start of training camp - and it’s getting better every time the team gets together.
"With the character on this team, you find a way to win, pushing through things, adapting to the game, and overcoming certain scenarios. I am so glad we are able to get things done together. We're brothers, we are all real close, and we're all looking out for each other. I can't be around these guys enough, I want to be here all the time hanging out," Priolo said.
The makeup of this year’s Bandits team is very diverse, which includes multi-talented players who can adapt to any area of the field. And I would say that goes for the 26 players listed on the roster.
"This is the most athletic group I've been a part of. You have guys that can play offense, you have guys who can slide in on defense, and play a wide variety of roles," Vinc said. "We've even seen Steve Priolo on the power play, Chase Fraser playing defense, Ian MacKay playing offense.
"We have a lot of guys that have grown up playing a lot of lacrosse and playing a lot of different positions. I think it's great we have a lot of those Swiss Army Knives out there who can do a lot of different things because it's tough to scout. You don't know who is going to slide in. One guy goes down and another one steps right in and play valuable minutes in a big role."
Saskatchewan remains to be an extremely talented team. Tied with San Diego for first in the Western Division with a 6-4 record, the Rush are currently on a three-game winning streak and possess a 4-1 home record. Similar to the Bandits loss to the Swam, the Rush turned the tables on Calgary 15-9 back on March 2. Previously, Calgary defeated the Rush last month.
Mark Matthews leads the Rush in scoring with 22 goals and 34 assists for 56 points. Ben McIntosh (22+24), Jeff Shattler (21+21), Robert Church (15+25) and Ryan Keenan (10+24) are just part of this talent-laden team. Kyle Rubisch (78 LBs and 23 CTOs), Brett Mydske and Matt Hossack make a fine trio on defense. Add veteran defender Scott Campbell who was traded to the Rush from Rochester on Monday. Goaltender Evan Kirk enters Saturdays game with a .761 save percentage and a 5-3 record.
The tougher the team, the better for the Bandits.
"I look forward to it. I love games like this,” Priolo said. “This is why we play. I love that our league is so close. You have to show up every night and battle and do your due-diligence. Guys are going over video, scouting reports, and looking forward to that next game.
"It's the most important game of the year because it’s our next one."
Ah, what happened last Saturday? I've forgotten.
Going into week 14 of the NLL season, three Bandits remain in the top 10 of league scoring.
Dhane Smith has moved into second place – in just 11 games played – with 20 goals and 56 assists.
Shawn Evans is third with 24 goals and 49 assists for 73 points. And congratulations to Evans for moving into sixth place in all-time scoring in the NLL, passing Gary Gait with 1,166 points.
Corey Small is in seventh place with 57 points (27+30). Priolo continues to lead defensemen in scoring with 21 points (9+12). Chris Cloutier is second in rookie scoring 36 points (12+24), nine points behind Austin Stats. Ian MacKay is fifth with 22 points (8+14). Vinc is first overall in wins (10), saves (513) and is second in save percentage with .794.
And Chase Fraser has the hot hand of late, scoring 12 goals and six assists in his last five games, including back-to-back four-goal games.
Congratulations to Jordan Johnson, this year's recipient of the Bandits Native American Scholarship. The fund was established in 2000 in efforts to financially assist a Native American student in their pursuit of high education.
Johnson, a resident of Sanborn, New York, is currently a freshman at Syracuse where she is majoring in neuroscience, and carries a 4.0 GPA. After graduating, Jordan hopes to bring her education back to her community to help battle health issues.
Radio and streaming coverage of Saturday night's game from the Sasktel Center in Saskatoon will be on News Radio 930 WBEN. The Pregame show will start at 9 p.m. and will feature Nick Weiss and head coach John Tavares. Game time is set for 9:30 p.m. You can also watch with a subscription to B/R Live.