Buffalo Bandits (NLL)
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GURTLER - STRONG CHEMISTRY HAS LED BANDITS TO SUCCESSFUL SEASON SO FAR

2/28/2019 12:00:00 PM / John Gurtler

Nice to move into the dreaded Bandits bye week with their best start since 2003 (9-2) and sitting atop the National Lacrosse League with a five-game winning streak in hand. 

Too, the good part of this dull downtime is to relish the fact it's going to get better. 

This season is like a vintage Tragically Hip tour with the Allman Brothers as the opening act. Every game produces something different and memorable. You just never know what will happen as everyone awaits moments of splendor, which has been the case, and they are fun to watch.

"Honestly, we are feeling good, but we don't want to look at our record," said Bandit forward Jordan Durston. "We show up every game dialed-in, looking for another win, and I think that is our key to success. 

"We have consistency this season with everything, and bottom line: We're hungry and we want to win." 

The “will” and the “want” has been most impressive with this team so far. Whether there might be issues with health, travel or the what-have-yous, the good chemistry of this club has been the equalizer. 

"It starts in the shootarounds, practices and dinners and whatnot," said Durston, who has eight goals and 23 assists for 31 points. "You have guys messing around all the time with each other. It's fun. Guys are chirping each other in a fun way. Everyone is pretty close. We are clicking right now and another big recipe is we're winning. Everyone is having fun doing it so it has been great so far."

And the success the Bandits are having right now is from the hard work and dedication each player puts into his responsibilities. For the Bandit forwards, it's all about keeping that ball moving and…

"Do a lot of the dirty work that people really don't see. Make sure you are picking for guys, getting your shots, getting over the top, and running hard through the middle. Again, for me, it’s getting guys open and working my butt off. I try and contribute with whatever I can," said the feisty forward, who has scored some amazing goals. 

And while we are on the subject of hard work, what about those dirty Durston goals? How do those come about? 

"It's tough to say. You really don't think about what’s going on until it all happens. I just try and do whatever I can to get to the net and sometimes it works out for me,” he said.

"You have to keep your head on a swivel in this game because stuff happens quick. If you’re not paying attention, you might miss someone. You can't slow down out there. You gotta keep the ball moving, keep your feet moving, you have to be helping guys out there. [Head coach John Tavares] likes everyone doing all the right things out there."

 

Well, at least we can slow down at bit this week and take a look at this Bandit team of talented players. 

And, really, that goes for every team in the NLL. This is an incredibly talented league. The competition is so tight, and teams are so well prepared, like Jordan said above, you have to keep your head on a swivel because the game moves so fast.  

But the Bandits are, in my opinion, the most well-rounded club in the loop. 

And it starts between the pipes with goaltender Matt Vinc. Leading the league this week in save percentage is a reflection of his "big save moments." He has backstopped the club in holding the opponent to 10 or fewer goals five times this season. 

The six-time goaltender of the year has recorded five 40-plus save games, including 55 saves on Jan. 5 when the Bandits beat the Knighthawks 13-4. With 627 minutes played, 428 saves, and a .799 save percentage, Vinc has a 9-0 record going into this sleep-walking week. Backup netminder Zach Higgins has worked hard to be on the ready and unfortunately has taken the sword with the two losses. 

As you know, I am not a fan of bye weeks and 13 days away from game action is too long. 

Defenseman and captain Steve Priolo, completely shunned over the seasons for Defenseman of the Year honors, is certainly leading in the polls for this year. Having led each week in scoring, including this week, Priolo has nine goals and 10 assists. Ten of those points have come in the last five games. 

But more importantly, the 10-year ironman has 86 loosies (27 in the last two games) and 17 caused turnovers. All this while leading by example to his backdoor mates. Encouraging and praising each one, he constantly pushes everybody to do better and have some fun doing it. 

I am with Priolo in saying the defense and transition are playing quite well, as the contributions have been immeasurable during this five-game winning streak. What’s gone mostly unnoticed is the strong play of Justin Martin, Mitch de Snoo, Nick Weiss, Kevin Brownell, Jon Harnett, Matt Spanger, Matt Gilray, Bryce Sweeting and Ethan O'Connor. 

Give credit as well to practice players Zach Herreweyers and Dallas Bridle. 


Production up top

And with that said, how about the performance of Dhane Smith?

 In his last five games, the 2016 league MVP has 43-points (9+34) to jettison himself into third place of the NLL scoring race (16+50). 

Shawn Evans has really fallen into a grove with this club, wearing the Bandit colors proudly, averaging six points a game, including three 10-plus point games. Evans (23+46), is one point behind Callum Crawford this week in the league's scoring race. The two-time league MVP Evans has 27 points in his last five games. 

Both Smith and Evans are tops in the league in assists with 50 and 46 respectively. The assist numbers are a result of sharing the ball, and that covers the entire team, with 255 apples recorded in this last 11 games. Ten Bandit players are in double digits of assists, including Corey Small's 28 to go with his 25 goals. 

Small has been the trigger man with 147 shots fired, shooting a strong 17 percent from the floor. The veteran sniper leads the loop in power play goals with 11, and, has 29 points in his last five games. 

On fire lately is Chase Fraser with 20 points in his last five games, pushing his career high totals to 19 goals and 10 assists. Speaking of career seasons, Thomas Hoggarth is averaging 3.5 points per game (23+16), shooting 26 percent from the floor. He has five hat tricks so far. 

"We are successful when the ball is moving and guys are moving their feet and everybody is contributing. You don't want the ball to sit in the stick for too long," said Bandits assistant coach Rusty Kruger. "Our defense has been great and carries our transition to be successful. You can't look too far ahead. Just take one game at a time. It's about matching intensity." 

Just six points behind rookie leading scorer, Austin Stats of San Diego, new acquired Chris Cloutier's six-point night last Friday pushed his totals to 31 points (10+21). Ian MacKay, playing on offense and defense, is third in rookie scoring with eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points. 

Phil Jackson, former NBA championship player and coach, sums up the Bandits with this quote:

"Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the 'me' for the 'we.’" 

You can catch the four NLL games scheduled this weekend on B/R Live. 

The Bandits are back into action Friday night, March 8, in Philadelphia and then back home the next night as they host Georgia for Native American Night

Have a great week. 

GAME CENTER
3/23/2019 7:30 PM / Buffalo, NY
Toronto Rock vs. Buffalo Bandits