Buffalo Bandits (NLL)


3/1/2018 2:25:00 PM / John Gurtler

This happens all the time with live music.  No matter what venue, bar or roadhouse, when a band plays a song with a catchy beat, people will clap their hands looking to get into a groove.  But inevitably, they are always offbeat and it kind of throws the listening off. 

I am trying to draw a similarity to the Bandits’ performance last Saturday night in their 18-10 loss to the Rochester Knighthawks.  The boys were way offbeat and had no chance of getting into a groove. 

A drummer looks to stay "in the pocket," keeping the beat going, with the bass player laying a groove and allowing the rest of the band to perform the song. Improvising along the way or taking it to the "edge of the envelope" is a key element in the success of a live rendition.    

The Bandits’ performance before last Saturday night was indeed "in the pocket," with lots of improvising.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why they had nothing in the game against the Knighthawks.

Maybe change things up?

Remember what former President George W. said back in 2015:  "Fool me once, shame on...shame on you...Fool me...You can't get fooled again." Geez, I hope not for the Bandits sake.  This is a good team and there is a lot at stake. 

Thinking they would just pick up their sticks from the 14-day layoff and play with the same jam they had against Georgia, I was way offbeat, too.  I did not take into account how much a bye week can almost dissolve that jam.

Now, revitalizing individual and team performance coming off a bye week will play a critical role in preparing a game plan. Every team in the NLL faces bye weeks, which sometimes require jump-starting the boys back to play. 

"That’s one of the hardest things in a league like this when you have bye weeks.  You get confidence and you're playing real well and then you get a break," said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley.  “The first ten minutes of a game you've got to bang and bull-rush in and find a way to do the things we've been doing."

After a pretty good first seven minutes of play by the Bandits, which included defense and offense, the team's rhythm went way off and, boom, they were down 7-0.  And for some strange reason, the Bandits, even in front of returning alumni, could not recover.  

"It's tough and I personally don't like [bye-weeks] but we need to work as a team, trust each other and stay together," said Bandits leading scorer and assistant captain, Dhane Smith.  "We have to try and not get too high or too low."  

And, of course, get back to what makes this club successful with so much offensive power.

Yes, there were a lot of goal posts and crossbars hit by the Bandits, and guys were battling for loose balls (Mitch Jones and Josh Byrne had 12 and 11, respectfully) but you can't win games when your high-scoring forwards only account for 30 percent of the scoring.  

And on that note, Bandits general manager, Steve Dietrich, decided to make a move immediately by sending Callum Crawford to New England in exchange for Shawn Evans, the two-time league MVP, who has been despised by Banditland since 2006.  

Talk about stopping the music.

"We have been interested in Evans for a long time.  Saturday nights performance was very eye-opening.  Our biggest divisional rival and we failed to show up," Dietrich said.  "He is a no-nonsense workhorse that doesn't accept performances like that."

How quickly feelings will change now that Evans will be wearing the orange and black.  He arrives with a flashing marque of five back-to-back 100-plus point seasons, a member of the 1,000 NLL point club and the league record holder for assists in a season with 83.  

"He will bring sand paper, a will to succeed, and of course production. Guys that have won usually win more than once," noted Dietrich. 

The feisty and personable 13-year NLL veteran will immediately mesh in nicely with the offense, adding to the already talented threat.

"It's very evident that when we share the ball, and moving it, we are getting opportunities," said Smith, tied for fourth in league scoring (22+37=59). "We are not worried about who is going to shoot, we are working as one team and I think that will make us successful.”

Evans is tied for seventh in league scoring (18+33) with Mitch Jones (19+32) and has an uncanny ability to confuse opposing defenses, relieving pressure, which allows the dirty work to be done. 

"It makes my job a lot easier when I have the ball, everyone is getting open," said Smith.  “We have guys like Craig England and Jordan Durtson doing all of the dirty work getting us open, and they are getting rewarded as well.”

Durston's hat trick on Saturday made him the hot hand, and England made the score respectable near the end of the game. Vaughn Harris scored two heaters over a minute apart.  

And Knighthawks goaltender Matt Vinc played a solid game.  He does his homework, too, on big shooters, which brings up an interesting point by Smith.

"The goalies are so good and do so much research, you need to change your shots up,” he said. “I’ve been in the league for six years now, it’s been a lot harder for myself to score. I am just trying to change my game as much as possible.  Getting over top is not as easy anymore so you have to go underneath." 

Defensively for the Bandits, it starts from the goaltending out but there wasn't much of a chance to settle things as the K-Hawks riffled 45 percent of their 58 shots in the first quarter.  Despite making 21 saves, Bandits goaltender Alex Buque didn't have much of a chance. The same can be said for reliever Zach Higgins.  

And the defense continues to define themselves.  

"It's a team defense and you’re not relying on one guy to cover," Cordingley said.  "We have to do it by committee and it’s difficult because there is a lot of communication - and I don't mean yelling at a guy - but more understanding when teams do certain things, who is responsible for what. 

"We are slowly getting to it.  We've made a couple of mistakes over and over again, but from November to now, we've made tremendous progress and we just need to continue to get better. "

Put game 10 in the forget file and move on.  The team needs to remember their mantra:  Be hungry and humble. 

"We have to stay like we are the underdogs. That is our mentality this year. We have to go out and lay it on the line," Smith said. 

A new player like Evans will change the beat for everyone’s liking.    

Looking ahead to Colorado

The Bandits head west this weekend to Denver to take on the Mammoth for their only meeting of the season.  Coming off a bye week, Colorado starts their weekend Friday night in Atlanta before meeting the Bandits on Saturday night.  The Mammoth are 5-3 and sit in second place in the Western Division.  They posted a big win a couple of weeks ago in New England with a 19-11 score over the Black Wolves.  

Former Bandit Ryan Benesch leads the Mammoth in scoring with 20 goals and 28 assists for 48 points.  Jeremy Noble (14+31=45) is the hot hand of late with 10 goals and 19 assists in his last five games.  

Brad Self, traded by the Bandits to Colorado last March, plays a transition role, while Tim Edwards, released by the Bandits in November, has found a home playing his strong game, which includes winning 50 percent of his faceoffs.  Goaltender Dillon Ward remains one of the best goaltenders in the league with a .778 save percentage. 

Defenseman Joey Cupido is always a threat, especially with his breakaway transition speed and scoring. Robert Hope is solid in his defensive zone and is ranked third in the league in caused turnovers with 19.   


Broadcast Info

Radio coverage of the Bandits/Mammoth game will be on ESPN 1520AM in Buffalo and WGWE 105.9FM in Salamanca, which also has streaming. The pregame show inside Pepsi Center will start at 8:30 p.m.  

Defenseman Justin Martin will be our player perspective guest and I'll talk 1-on-1 with Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley.  Faceoff is set for 9.  

The game will be carried live on nlltv.com and CBS Sports Digital through subscription service.  My good friend, Teddy Jenner, will have the call.  

3/23/2019 7:30 PM / Buffalo, NY
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