3/6/2019 4:00:00 PM / John Gurtler
Hey, hey, let's play two!
After 13 days away from live NLL action, the Bandits will play both Friday and Saturday night this weekend.
There is a lot at stake this weekend for the Bandits, who are currently on a five-game winning streak and boast the best record in the NLL at 9-2.
Just two games separate first and fourth place, and the club needs to go mental with their seven games remaining in the regular season.
It will be no picnic.
"Having 13 days off from playing in a game has given our players an opportunity to rest and heal some wounds,” Bandits coach John Tavares said. “The coaching staff and players are eager to get back to action this weekend.”
The Bandits will face the Philadelphia Wings at Wells Fargo Center on Friday. The Wings have also been away from live action since losing to New England 17-11 on Feb. 17.
But rest assured their 2-8 record is not reflective of how they play the game. Philadelphia has a big, athletic team and they do not give up. You might remember the last game on Jan. 19, when the Bandits almost lost after taking a 7-2 lead.
"They are playing everyone tough,” Bandits coach Rich Kilgour said. “That team is 10 minutes away in each individual game from being probably 7-4. They have been in every game, and if they played a better 10 minutes here and there, they could definitely be on the other side of a couple of those losses.
"You know, they played us tough both games by tying us halfway through the fourth quarter. They were both toss-ups. Believe me we are not looking past them. They are a good young team that works hard as long as they can."
The Big Cat, Kevin Crowley, and Wings leading scorer Kiel Matisz fired cannons to fuel a four-goal Wings run. Then Matisz scored his fourth of the game in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 10. The Bandits must have snapped a couple of ammonia sticks on the bench to mount a four-goal run in three minutes to close the game at 14-10.
Philadelphia is a tough place to play and the Bandits remember all too well back in December when the Wings battled back to tie the game at 15. The win came thanks to Shawn Evans, who scored the game-winning goal with 1:05 remaining, and Steve Priolo, who found an empty netter with nine seconds left for a 17-15 win.
Dhane Smith leads the series with four goals and 12 assists. Evans (4+10) and Thomas Hoggarth (5+9) have 14 points, Corey Small has 12 (8+4). Goaltender Matt Vinc has a .773 save percentage in the high-scoring series, in which the Bandits have the 31-25 goals-for advantage. The Bandits’ penalty killing unit is perfect and the power play is almost 50 percent.
The Wings have eight players in double-digit scoring numbers with Kiel Matisz leading the way (16+32). The team captain also leads the Wings in the series with nine points (4+5).
The most underrated player in the NLL, Jordan Hall, has 33 points (7+26), second in team scoring and second in the series with two goals and seven assists. Crowley, third in team scoring (16+16), has three goals and two assists in the series.
Former Bandits goalie Davide DiRuscio, has the two losses but an impressive .821 save percentage in 74 minutes played in the series. But rookie Rob Buchan has doubled him up in minutes played and enters Friday's game with a .745 save percentage and a 1-5 record.
"I know we have two games this weekend, but we must concentrate on one game at a time,” Tavares said. “We are preparing for our game against the Wings, once that game is over, we will focus on the Swarm.”
Nothing like a Wings-Bandits game on a Friday night in Philadelphia.
The Bandits leave the City of Brotherly Love zero dark early Saturday morning in route to Buffalo as Georgia lies in wait for a special Saturday night tilt on the turf of KeyBank Center. It's the Bandits’ annual Native American Night with a celebration of The Creator’s Game, which is among the oldest in North America.
In addition, the Bandits will award their Native American Scholarship in a pregame ceremony.
Just how important is the Bandits’ home record? For one, the club is riding a five-game winning streak at home, and two, home turf advantage is now a reality - or least it should be. No need to look over the shoulder because between the Bandits, Rock, Swarm and Black Wolves, the four teams have a combined home record of 20-4. Ah, let's go!
Georgia is coming off a big win last Saturday, 15-11, over Rochester, after shaking the cobwebs from a two-game losing streak, which included the Bandits’ 19-9 drubbing a month ago. With an 8-4 record, the Swarm are just a game and a half out of first and, like the Bandits, boast a lethal offensive attack, a balanced defense and solid veteran goaltending.
There are only two games this season between the Bandits and Swarm, so it's important for the tie-breaker down the line. Yes, Buffalo played a perfect game a month ago in Georgia with their 19-9 victory. After a 3-0 start, the Bandits built a commanding 16-5 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The scoring was spread out, including Smith's 11 assists, Evans’ 10 points (4+6) and Small's seven (5+2). The team went 7-for-8 on the power play, Matt Spanger came off the bench and played his guts out, and Vinc's 41 saves held the Swarm to just nine goals. Currently, seven of Vinc's nine wins are by 10 goals or less.
I'm sure Georgia has long forgotten that game and they will be bringing everything come Saturday night. They should after settling in Buffalo the night before, resting and preparing.
"I think they are going to be mad cause we gave them a pretty good thump-in last time,” Kilgour said. “It was just one of those games. If you watch the game again, they had their moments.
"Vinc played really well, our defense was right there, offense too, but they are a really, really strong offensive team, they're great in transition. I'm sure Poulin is going to be fired up, also.”
Lyle Thompson leads the Swarm in scoring with 30 goals and 39 assists and is second with Shawn Evans in league scoring with 69 points.
Thompson, the league's MVP in 2017, also has 67 loosies and 10 caused turnovers. Randy Staats (23+43) is second and tied with Smith for third place in league scoring with 66 Points. Holden Cattoni is third in team scoring (18+37).
Jason Noble, Alex Crepinsek, Connor Sellars and Leo Stouros lead the group of strong defense. Also keep an eye out for the transition duo of Jordan MacIntosh and Chad Tutton. Brendan Bomberry and Adam Wiedemann are the top rookies. Fourteen-year veteran goaltender Mike Poulin is third in league save percentage at .788.
"Yea, we are doing really well right now, but believe me, we're a couple of minutes away from each game from some things going south. We just have to take each week as it comes," said Kilgour.
So, OK now, let's play two!
Both games this weekend will be on the mother ship, WGR 550 and our affiliate in Salamanca, WGWE 105.9 FM. Friday night's pregame show will go at 7:30 p.m. Shawn Evans will be our featured player. Head coach John Tavares will be live with me from the turf. Faceoff is set for 8.
NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz will join me on Friday night at halftime, live on the line from Denver.
Saturday's home game with the Swarm starts with the pregame show at 7 p.m. The newest Bandit, Chris Cloutier, will join us and head coach Rich Kilgour will go one-on-one. Game time for Native American Night is 7:30.
Both games will be on B/RLive starting at 7:30. You can purchase by the game, the month, or for the remainder of the season.
Heads up: All six of next week's games, March 15 and 16, will be free on B/R Live.
Steve Bermel will join me in the booth and Dave Buchanan will be between the benches.