3/8/2018 2:36:00 PM / John Gurtler
"I wanted the gold, and I sought it; / I scrabbled and mucked like a slave; / Was it famine or scurvy – I fought; / I hurled my youth into a grave." -From the poem “The Spell of the Yukon” by Robert W. Service
The above passage is reflection of Denver, Colorado’s early days when prospectors went west to seek their fortune in gold and silver. And there were always threats of bandits invading the territory now and then.
In not so harsh despair as Robert Service wrote back then, the Bandits rode into the western city on Saturday, looking to redeem themselves from the recent lackluster home loss.
Yes, the Bandits wanted it, and, yes, they were seeking their fortune to retain the top post of the East. Too, they scrabbled and mucked, but the opposing Colorado Mammoth protected their claim, with a backup goaltender, and won by one, 8-7.
It was a good game – not great – as the offense spent time rotating plays with newly acquired Shawn Evans. And the defense was caught to many times with Mammoth players right in front of the net with plenty of time to score.
Despite outshooting, out-loose balling, and winning the majority of faceoffs, the Bandits again could not put a full 60 minutes together. Catching the Mammoth's rubber legs from playing the night before in Georgia, the Bandits mounted a fourth quarter surge but fell short.
"I applaud our guys for getting back into the game, battling, and never giving up, but again, we can't spot teams leads," said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. "We need to play smarter lacrosse. Our lacrosse IQ has got to be a lot better than what it was in this game. We made a lot of mental errors and it cost us the game."
Dhane Smith earned five points (3+2) and is tied for third in league scoring this week. And he is happy to have Shawn Evans on the team.
"Shawn Evans came here [to Denver] right before the game, didn't have his gear, and he played unbelievable," Smith said. "It's hard to adjust at first, but I feel like we figured it out in the second half and came on strong.
"He usually brings double coverage and now I'm open more than I think I am. Shawn is a great player. We just need to practice together and I think we'll be fine."
Evans, who ran into weather delays Thursday, Friday and part of Saturday, finally made it to Pepsi Center in time for warmups. But there was a hitch. His equipment went elsewhere.
Equipment manager Teddy Cordingley had to scramble to gather an assortment of pads, gloves, shoes and stick for the two-time league MVP. But that didn't matter to him.
"It's a talented offensive core and a great bunch of guys to play with," said Evans. "They are quick, shifty and it makes it fun on offense. We have to be a little more focused and a little more patient with the ball.”
Steve Priolo and Kevin Brownell each scooped 10 loosies. Priolo had three caused turnovers, which included a breakaway right in on backup goaltender Steven Fryer.
I thought Priolo was the First Star of the game. Sure, Colorado's Fryer made 45 saves, but most of them were softball size, hitting him square. The Bandits captain played with reckless abandon the entire game, which forced his teammates to take note and step up their game, both on offense and defense.
The iron man of the team, having played in every game for the last six seasons, Priolo has surpassed the 700 loose-ball plateau and is on his way of establishing a new career-high in that category. He is a true leader, especially now, as this team needs to start taking control and move ahead.
Nick Weiss continues to rack up goals, leading the league in markers by a defenseman. He scored from a nice setup by Harris. Vaughn Harris won a season high 75 percent of his draws and had two helpers.
Jordan Durston scored a dirty behind the shoulder goal. Goaltender Alex Buque played respectable, turning aside 37 shots.
And we welcome a new face to the organization this week. Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich signed free-agent rookie defenseman Ryan Fournier, who was recently released by Vancouver. A second-round choice (12th overall) in the 2017 NLL Draft, Fournier played three games with the Stealth, scoring three goals and two assists.
Ironically, the Stealth used their second-round selection to pick Fournier, which was the draft choice the Bandits included in the Durston/Anthony Malcolm deal. To make room on the roster, Liam Patten was moved to the practice squad.
Yes, the Bandits are on another hideous bye week. Oh, there is another one, too, coming up on the week of April 7. Hopefully these lulls will change next season with expansion.
"It's tough coming off bye weeks but we need to practice really hard and pretend like it’s a game and stay together. These losses are tough. We have a great group of guys and we need to stick together," Smith said.
More time will be spent working on the team's offense, defense and goaltending, installing a plan for the March 16 visit by the monsters of the Canadian prairies, the league-leading Saskatchewan Rush.
"We have to correct our mistakes. We have to make sure we are on the same paged defensively and our shooting has been atrocious the last two games,” Cordingley said. “We need to get back to making sure we are preparing correctly. And preparing isn't just practicing our shots but it’s watching other goaltenders’ videos and making sure we are doing the homework.”
It's perfect timing for a rematch against the team the Bandits mounted their stunning come from behind victory - and started their four-game winning streak.
No doubt, the Bandits will want this one against the Rush, who have already qualified for the NLL playoffs with a 10-2 record and an impressive 6-1 mark on the road. They, too, will be coming off a bye week so both teams will be well-rested and eager.
There is a great opportunity here for the Bandits to prospect and stake their claim of being the best in the East.
"I am excited to be a Buffalo Bandit and I'm looking forward for good things to come," said Evans.
Following the game Saturday night in Denver, there was a nice reception hosted by transplanted Buffalonians who are affiliated with running a popular downtown establishment, LoDo. This is now the official location for Bandits Backers who are living in the Mile High City.
The historic location has over 2,000 Bills Backer members, and regularly hosts over 500 former Western New Yorkers for every Bills game. One of the managers told me they served 5,000 beef on weck sandwiches when the Bills played the Broncos last fall.
The proprietors were gracious hosts and were honored to have the team pay a visit to meet some of the fans. Without question, the Bandits are the establishment’s most popular team in the league.
And rightfully so. This is a highly personable group who is beginning to gel with every intention to get a kick at that can this season.
Enjoy the week. We’ll see you at KeyBank Center next Friday.