5/21/2019 3:41:00 PM / John Gurtler
Back to life, back to reality.
That’s just what the Bandits experienced Saturday night in Banditland, falling to the Roughnecks 10-7 in Game 1 of the NLL Finals.
Calgary was the better team that night in the most physical and demanding game played this season.
"We run the offense by committee, everybody understands their roles and [we] keep emphasizing, remember who you are," said Calgary's head coach and assistant general manager, Curt Malawsky, who reviews the game in 12 five-minute segments, running time. "We have size and we're going to keep coming."
It's back to the reality of the video from Saturday night's game for the Bandits, frame by frame, which includes Calgary's goaltending, defensive clogs, transition sneaks, and creative offensive attack. It will be a lot to consume and digest, but after a hard practice Tuesday, it will all settle in with this incredible bunch of players. And the coaching staff, too, will underline and emphasize the adjustments made.
Saturday will come all too fast as Game 2 of the NLL Cup Finals awaits in a hostile environment that, like Banditland, will not tolerate mediocrity.
After they refresh, refuel and adjust, these two exceptionally talented teams will go at it again as intensely as they did last week.
The proverbial backs are against the wall for the Bandits, but not against all odds.
These are two very good teams playing a tight, physical and emotional game. The goaltending was stellar (Matt Vinc with 34 saves and Christian Del Bianco with 48). The defenses on both ends were relentless.
Even a can of Drano couldn't unclog the shooting lanes, frustrating the talented forwards at times.
But the Bandits can't win a game with four players scoring seven goals. The defense can only do so much, and you can't leave your goaltender out on the clothesline when systems breakdown.
"Our team starts with [Vinc],” Bandits coach John Tavares said. “Having that good goaltender makes the defensive players take that extra little risk, push out a little further because you know you’re gonna get a save if you mess up.
"He gets the ball started in transition very well. He's a great leader in the dressing room and has a lot to add in the video sessions. He's probably one of the best goalies that forgets about the last goal, and he is mentally so strong and that's part of the reason why he is so successful."
While the Bandits won the loose ball battle, 78-58, the critical Calgary scoopers were gathered by Curtis Dickson, Rhys Duch and Dane Dobbie. That is a deadly trio to allow such second, third and fourth chances. Yes, shots were fired heavily by the Bandits, 87 with 55 on net. The young keeper Del Bianco came out to challenge, turning aside 48 of them.
But seriously, it's time for the Bandit forwards to drop the desperate shots that make this kid look so good and get back to system that brought them to this dance. They need to play to the edge of the envelope like they have done all season.
"I spent a lot more time preparing than I did as a player," Tavares said. "As a coach, you are literally preparing every day, watching video, coming up with strategy, finding weaknesses or strengths and how you counter it. I can't really do much about it on the floor, but I am preparing all the time for these players."
"He says a lot of things that a lot of guys don't even think about, but I can't tell you the secrets," said Josh Byrne, who scored two beauties and assisted on two others Saturday night. "Whenever we are struggling to score, he is always there giving us pointers and what he is seeing on the defensive end, the goaltending side and knowing that he was the best ever to do it definitely gives us confidence."
Credit Buffalo's specialty teams, shutting down the Roughnecks’ lethal power play and the Bandits converting one goal on Calgary's even more solid penalty kill. The Bandits power play has a 61.5-percent efficiency, Calgary has a 64-percent rating. The Roughnecks enter Saturday's game with an 80-percent penalty kill to the Bandits’ 61.5-percent.
"You have to execute,” noted Malawsky. “If you don't execute on the power play and hold them accountable, they are gonna keep coming at you. They are going to try and intimidate you and if you go 0-for-4 on the power play, then why would they stop?”
Coulda, woulda, shoulda. It just didn't happen for the Bandits.
"They are a very good team and very athletic,” Tavares said. “They have to be one of the best teams, if not the best, the second part of the season. They are on a roll having won six straight. We are in for a tough battle against these guys. They deserve to be in the championship,"
I think the turning point of the game was the Dan MacRae goal scored 42 seconds after the Bandits took their second lead of the game, 3-2, in the third quarter. It started a four-goal run by the Roughnecks, just one of their specialties.
Lest I forget the disallowed fourth-quarter goal scored by Ethan O'Connor (a nifty, gritty effort), which was challenged by the Bandits coaching staff. The officials reviewed the frame-by-frame sequence in which the tip of O’Connor’s shoe membrane scrapes the micro-fiber of green turf outside the center of Del Bianco's white crease line, but the call stood based on “inconclusive evidence.”
And when a situation like that happens, archives of game tapes will prove that a quick transition following the "wave-off" by the official will result in a goal. Such was the case this time, and Calgary took a 6-3 lead to cap a four-goal run. Ouch.
Credit the Bandits for their fourth-quarter surge of three goals, digging themselves out of a 9-4 deficit on a second wind. But disciplined clock management by Calgary (even a scoring opportunity by Riley Loewen, eyeball-to-eyeball with Vinc, was passed on) sealed the game.
Nicks, bruises and egos need to heal. The Bandits haven't won 16 games so far this season by wobbling and weaving to the end of 60.
No, this is a team that fights to the bitter end with gifted talent and an all-in team effort. When this group adjusts and plays as a unit, contributing on every square inch of the turf, they can't and will not be beat.
"It's the closeness that we've had all the way from the GM to the coaching staff and all the way down to the guys on the practice roster,” Byrne said. "Everybody loves being around each other and it really shows, whenever we are in the locker room and when we are out practicing.”
And that’s life and reality with this team.
Coverage of Game 2 of the best-of-three NLL Finals will be provided by B/R Live. The pregame show will start at 8:30 P.M. and the game follows at 9. Teddy Jenner and Brad Challoner will have the call.
I will have the call on WGR Sports Radio 550 in Buffalo and WGWE 105.9FM in Salamanca. The pregame, too, will start at 8:30 and will feature Bandits head coach Rich Kilgour and team captain Steve Priolo.