2/15/2017 2:54:00 PM / John Gurtler
It will be good to be back in Banditland this Friday night as the club prepares for a home-and-home series against the New England Black Wolves.
I am not a big fan of multiple bye weeks during the season, but this recent 14-day break might work in the Bandits’ favor as they returned to the practice field to work on their systems and reintroduce the "Buy-In as a Team" concept to try and turn the tables on their 1-4 start. Additionally, keeping spirits high is just as important.
"I think you must stay positive," Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich said. "We are all surprised at the start, but still believe in the group we have and the systems that are in place.
"We need to turn things around quickly because, although it is still fairly early, we will run out of runway in a hurry if we don't find our game."
With Rochester and New England losing their games this past weekend, the Bandits can jump right back into an Eastern Division fight with a strong game Friday night on the home turf of Key Bank Center - A great way to celebrate Hometown Hero's Night.
Yes, gotta find it one game at a time.
"It's very difficult at 1-4 to say one game at a time, but we need to because we can't get back to .500 overnight," Dietrich said. "The next stretch of games are vital for us as they are against Eastern teams we are chasing. If we can get on a roll we can get ourselves right back in this thing."
And the Bandits will be busy with two home and home series (New England on Friday and Sunday, and Rochester on March 3 and 4), wrapped around a visit by Toronto on the Feb. 25 over the course of 16 days.
"I think it is great. When you play good or bad and then have to wait a week or more it is tough," noted Dietrich. "It is always beneficial to get back out as soon as possible to keep things going."
But what happens if...
"Like I mentioned, I still believe in the group, but I am always working the phones to see if I can find a match to help any areas of our team," Dietrich said. "I think the start has brought out some deficiencies we thought we could overcome but haven't been able to so if something makes sense we will do it."
The club this week released forward Daryl Veltman and elevated rookie Bryce Brochu to the active roster.
Brochu, a 6-foot-2 195-pound lefty, was Buffalo's fourth round selection this past September. Named to the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association/Nike All American Team, Brochu played four years at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, where he lead his team in scoring last season with 28 goals and 30 assists for 58 points, including two eight-point games.
Following a series of practices, workouts and community appearances, the club seems poised and have long forgotten what happened at the Air Canada Centre a couple of weeks ago.
Ryan Benesch leads the team in scoring with 12 goals and 17 assists. Mark Steenhuis has six goals and 12 assists for 18 points, Mitch Jones and Brad Self each have 12 points, and Steve Priolo continues his strong play, leading the NLL in defensemen scoring with 12 points (5+17). Priolo also leads the club in caused turnovers with 11.
Last year’s MVP Dhane Smith, who tested faster with starts and stops during his last rehab phase than in training camp, is itching to get back on the floor with another game. Smith found the back of the net twice in Toronto, his first contest since missing two-and-a-half games with a lower-body injury.
Craig England has worked his way into a regular playing spot with his five-goal performance over three games and is shooting 45 percent from the floor. Alexander-Kedoh Hill is back to full speed, which will help the transition and the improving power play.
Credit, too, goes to the Bandits for leading the league with 16 different scorers.
Defensively, the group looks to rebound from its recent performance. Dave DiRuscio and Anthony Cosmo have to battle it out to stay between the pipes.
Knowing defensemen don't fire shots on every rush into the offensive zone, it's good to see Andrew Watt and Steve Priolo have success in picking their spots when they do. Watt and Priolo lead the league in shooting percentage with 67 and 50 percent, respectfully.
Forward Anthony Malcom will be out for a while with an upper-body injury.
The 2-4 Black Wolves gave Georgia a tough game on Saturday, taking leads of 6-3 in the first half and 15-13 in the fourth quarter, only to watch their former teammate, Jordan Hall, rip a natural hat trick and Lyle Thompson cap off a four-goal run to seal a 17-15 victory.
Sean Evans had his best game of the season, scoring four goals and posting eight assists for 12 points. The NLL's MVP in 2015 leads the Black Wolves in scoring with 13 goals and 25 assists for 38 points, good for sixth place in the NLL scoring race.
And the ever-powerful Kevin Crowley, who netted a hat trick in the first half, leads the club in goals with 16. Pat Saunders has 23 points and former Bandit Chad Culp is off to a great start with eight goals (including two shorthanded) and 10 assists for 18 points. Goaltender Evan Kirk made 52 saves, adding to his league-leading 250 saves and most minutes played with 347:45.
New England is strong in every position and has rebounded from their 0-3 start.
The last meeting between the Bandits and Black Wolves was very entertaining, sharing two-goal leads and tying the game 10 times.
Radio Broadcast coverage of both games this weekend will be on ESPN 1520 AM and WGWE 105.9FM in Salamanca. Friday night's pregame show starts at 7 p.m. Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley joins me for a 1-on-1 and we'll go up close with Dhane Smith.
Randy Mearns joins me back in the booth, adding his perspective of the team and the game. Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Sunday's game from the Mohegan Sun Arena is an afternoon tilt. The pregame show will start at 12:30 p.m. with the faceoff set for 1. Coach Cordingley will join me for his 1-on-1 segment, talking about Friday night's game.
I will get a player’s perspective as well. In addition, we will have live coverage from the Bandits dressing room hallway at halftime and after the game, again speaking with coaches and players.
You can view all games on NLLTV.com through subscription.