Buffalo Bandits (NLL)


2/8/2018 5:08:00 PM / John Gurtler

Two victories in a row for the Bandits! 

You have to be impressed with this club as they again battled back, stuck to their systems and worked as a team to defeat the Knighthawks 16-14 last Saturday night. 

There were so many storylines generated from this game, which included six ties and six lead changes, that it's tough to go through all of them.

First and foremost, the performance of goaltender Alex Buque is the lead. Having only managed to play 79 minutes of the three previous road games with only a .557 save percentage to show, Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley made a bold move starting Buque. 

But the nod for Alex to lead the team out on the turf for the game was something that needed to be done, and Cordingley didn't think twice about it. He needed to play and shake his road wrinkles away. 

And it was on the shoulders of the Bandits defense to make sure they all work as a unit, clearing lanes and allowing Alex to see the shots. 

"Bookie has given us three real good ones, and he struggled in the other three (on the road) and didn't finish," Cordingley said. 

"He did something differently [in practice] two weeks leading up to this game, and we needed a better start defensively to make sure they dictated where the shots came from, allowing Alex to get a couple of shots early and build confidence from there." 

I thought the turning point of the game came when Cordingley challenged the third straight Rochester goal at the start of the game. It was wiped out, and Buque settled in from there - and the team in front of him turned it up a notch, too. 

In the end, Alex played the full 60, turning aside 45 shots, and earned his first win on the road. 

It's good, too, that Zach Higgins has played extremely well, shoring up the netminding tandem. 

"Most of his career has been coming off the bench. Zach has been very good at doing that," Cordingley said. “You can see when the goalie makes a few big saves, you can feel it on the bench where guys were picked up and give them the extra effort. We are real happy with Higgie." 

Sticking with the defense

Third-year pro Mitch de Snoo has shown why the back-liners are buckling down and making it difficult for the opposing offense to generate anything consistently. de Snoo's strengths are in the corners as he has been averaging nine loose balls a game for a team-high 64 following Saturday's 11 scoopers and two caused turnovers.

"I think I am most effective around the corners,” de Snoo said. “That’s where all the loose balls are and I try to get them to the offensive guys to spark a transition as quickly as possible.”

And with that said, defensive coordinator Richie Kilgour has given the green light to everybody, in the event a lane is open, to take that ball into the offensive zone and shoot. 

"If I get an opportunity to take it in, I will. Our team preaches that. We are all about transition," de Snoo, who scored an overtime goal and has four career goals, said. "We have confidence in everybody on this team if they get an open opportunity to take the shot, they should do it. But it’s more likely than not that I will be passing it off."

I would like to see Mitch rip one in so I can use a goal refrain created by a fan of Banditland back when he scored his overtime winner in New England: "Just push the de snooze button!" 

"My game is pretty simple. I like to get out and pressure guys and hit them as much as much as I can,” he said. “Right now, I personally need to focus on avoiding penalties, something I had a problem with last year."

Last Saturday, it looked as if the Bandits would take two steps forward and then two steps backwards. But this team has spawned a huge amount of confidence and trust in each other. 

"It's a perfect example of guys buying in and believing in the system," de Snoo said. "We are communicating all of the time. Believe in the team. Believe in yourselves. Don't let the score distract from you playing your game." 

In addition to the Bandits capturing 85 loose balls and 10 caused turnovers Saturday night, the defense held Dan Dawson and Cody Jamison from scoring a goal. And that is a sign the defense is putting more and more pressure on the big guns. 

"We went to a new system this year and we've had some real good moments,” Cordingley said. “We've had some learning moments, and continuing to learn, but I believe our defense is going to continue to get better because we are going to become more familiar with different situations that present itself. We have to adapt to those situations and make sure we are playing the team defense.” 
"In this league, shooters can score from anywhere over that white line [restraining line]. We play a high-pressure D that is necessary to get them [our opponents] into areas where they are taking low percentage shots,” de Snoo said.

"I think it’s more about the middle of the floor rather than inside or outside. We want to keep them down that wall and into the corners as much as possible, and that gives us the best opportunity for our goalie to make a save." 


Buying in

But the subtitle under every headline this season for the Bandits is "100 percent buy-in."
"It’s got to be! Commitment to what we need to do as a team is crucial, especially in this league,” Cordingley noted. “We are focused 100 percent on what makes the Buffalo Bandits successful.

"It's comments by our leaders not to panic, and keep plugging away because you never know what’s going to happen in the battle. It's a little bit of character building. Don't worry about anything that happened that was out of our control and correct things that we can."

You must admit, the Bandits offense is pretty exciting to watch when they are on a roll. Witness the seven-goal run last Saturday night. 

"Yeah, but there is only one ball. When we share the ball, somebody is going to get two or three. We need to be moving our feet to create space for inside shots,” Cordingley said. “We want somebody maybe chipping in with one and somebody having two or three. It makes a team that is pretty lethal because now you can't focus on just the one guy.”

Stats and notes

Congratulations to Dhane Smith for scoring his 200th career goal Saturday night. The Great Dhane had three goals and eight assists for 11 points making it the sixth time he has recorded 10 or more points in a game. Smith is now averaging over seven points per game and is tied for second in NLL scoring. 

Rookie Josh Byrne had a breakout night scoring five goals with freakish moves. Byrne now leads all rookie scorers in the loop by 11 points. 

Farewell to Pat Saunders as he was traded at the top of the week to Vancouver in exchange for transition player Thomas Hoggarth.

Another two in a row of a different type is on tap for the Bandits this weekend. Two back-to-back games will find the Bandits in New England to meet the Black Wolves Friday night, and Saturday, back home, to play the Georgia Swarm. 


Broadcast info

Saturday is Native American Night as the club celebrates the heritage of the "Creators Game." The Bandits will present their annual Native American Scholarship to a student who is currently enrolled in college.  

Radio broadcast coverage Friday night will be on ESPN 1520 AM and WGWE FM in Salamanca. The pregame show starts at 7 p.m. from Mohegan Sun Arena with faceoff scheduled for 7:30. 

Saturday, the radio broadcast will be on News Radio 930 WBEN and WGWE. Randy Mearns will join me in the booth and we will be reunited with Dave Buchanan who will be between the benches. Our pregame goes at 7 p.m. with the faceoff to follow at 7:30. 

Both games can be seen on NLLTV.com and CBS Sports Digital through subscription service.

2/16/2019 7:30 PM / Buffalo, NY
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