GURT'S BLOG: BANDITS AND ROCK SET FOR REMATCHBlogs | 1/25/2011 10:40:52 AM | John Gurtler
No question that Saturday night’s 15-14 overtime win over the Toronto Rock lived up to its billing with “everything you always wanted in a lacrosse game but were afraid to ask.”
No haymakers or old school donnybrooks broke out but the house was howling so loud that the crowd down the street at the Malamute was wondering if somebody just won a Quickdraw game. It was good to be home with the 16,685 fans who braved the face-cracking cold and wicked snow greeting them at the end of a truly exciting night.
The colors, the dance moves and the groups of fans with such energy made for a fun night.
“Yeah, that’s the way we love it,” said assistant coach Richie Kilgour. “Even when I was a player, you knew that this house was going to be packed. It does get you pumped up; it is worth a goal or two. You are just so pumped up and ready to run through the wall once you walk out there and they got the bagpipes and all the orange wigs. You can’t describe it unless you walk out those doors when Chris Swenson is yelling your name, you really feel you can run through a brick wall. Banditland has been good to us, and we want to be good to them this year, too.”
Speaking of energy, the Bandit victory over the previously unbeaten Toronto Rock was a total team effort. Thirteen different Bandit players figured in the scoring. It was only fitting that Scott Self, a true veteran of the defense, closed the case with his game-winning goal.
The playmaking of Mark Steenhuis with four assists – and his play at both ends – made for a very strong performance. The steals and runs by Tom Montour, the nifty goals by Brett Bucktooth. The sets and passes by Tracy Kelusky. Roger Vyse with his gifted moves. And, as stated so many times in newspapers, magazines, TV, billboards, blogs and the wild dogs on the farm, there is nothing more exhilarating than watching John Tavares. He is an inspiration to us all. Even when we think there is nothing left in the tank, the great ones see the game at a slower pace. They know, they feel, and they strike at the perfect moment. Three goals and two assists by Tarvares, all performed with mastery.
Overall the defense played well. Mike Thompson, too. There’s only so much you can do around Toronto’s “Grand Slam”, which includes veterans Colin Doyle and Blaine Manning and the next generation of NLL stars, Garrett Billings and Stephan Leblanc. The “Quad Squad” accounted for 12 goals and 18 assists on the night. No question Toronto has a very talented team. They are well-coached and every aspect of their system, from goaltending to defense, transition, to face-offs and scoring, sets the standard for NLL play this year.
They could have very well rolled their socks up when the Bandits took a 13-8 lead in the second half. But Toronto’s six-goal fourth quarter was a somber reminder of what happened last spring and what almost happened Saturday night. They willed themselves back into the game, and as we all saw, they have plenty of game-changers to choose from.
And that makes Saturday night’s rematch in the Air Canada Centre all the more exciting, important, intense, and to some, insane. As has been the case for many games before this one, the Bandits know they have to play as a team and it’s got to be Bandit Ball. It was proven last Saturday night.
A bit of a four-quarter wake-up call spurred the Bandits to rise to the occasion and made everybody feel good. And they have been attentive. I noticed the changes even in the game day shootaround. Not that the previous years were three-legged races, but the current sessions have definition in the rudiments of playmaking, shooting, defense, video breakdown and system employment.
Now, it’s a matter of recoiling and preparing again for a tough battle against a team that is a mirror image.
“We just gotta get out and put pressure on them,” said assistant coach Kilgour. “We talk about it all the time. Our big thing for defense is pressure on the ball. It’s just like NFL. If Peyton Manning can stand back there and scan the whole field, he’s pretty tough to beat. You get him running around and shuffling his feet, he is a different quarterback.
“That’s our philosophy. We don’t want them to be comfortable at all. You’re gonna try and get them on the run and keep them on the run. That’s the plan and hopefully we can stick to it. The big thing with Toronto, they all play unselfishly. There are no secrets between us and Toronto. (Toronto Head Coach) Troy Cordingley was here as an assistant, as a player, Terry (Sanderson), everyone knows everybody. Just like when they talk about Pittsburgh and Baltimore playing in the NFL, there are not secrets. It’s all gonna line up and we’ll see who’s gonna play the hardest and smartest.”
Prior to the home opener, there was a nice on-field salute to Darris and Richie Kilgour from the Bandits as the two were presented with watches in recognition of their induction to the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
Our venture into television coverage went well. The Sabres production team has a new piece of equipment that has all the advancements of modern technology as its small enough where they were directing the game in our broadcast booth. Hope those at home enjoyed it. All the better to tell those who have not seen a game to take a look and then get down to HSBC Arena and experience the fun and excitement in person – and you won’t be afraid to ask.
Saturday’s radio coverage from Toronto on WWKB 1520 AM starts at 6:30 p.m. with the pre-game show, The face-off between the Bandits and Rock follows at 7 p.m.