Blogs | 1/24/2012 4:05:41 PM | John Gurtler
Some Bandits notes while driving back on America’s longest straightaway, the I-90:
I’m wondering who would win a fight for the ball in the corner: the Bandits or Mike Ditka?
Another fine game by John Tavares and the Bandits in their 12-9 road win over the Rochester Knighthawks on Saturday night. Goaltender Mike Thompson was a wall, making 31 saves on 40 shots. There was an incredible amount of Bandits fans inside Blue Cross Arena, with rows and waves of orange. It appears that the new practice system is working with benefits. A big test coming up this weekend with back-to-back games: a rare Friday night home game against the Philadelphia Wings and then it’s off to Minnesota to face the Swarm on Saturday.
I have written this thrice before: John Tavares makes his teammates want to play better. You can’t help it. Eight points (4+4) for the National Lacrosse League’s all-time leading scorer means that Tavares had a hand in two-thirds of the scoring on Saturday night. Such poise, such presence. He truly is one of the most complete athletes of any sport that I have covered. And he has done it for 21 seasons in the NLL. Tavares sees the floor differently. There are spots on the playing surface where he can anticipate the play. Either he gets to that spot or knows his teammates on the rush will be there. Pretty amazing considering the game has indeed become faster, more athletic and incredibly crowded for time and space. There’s almost zero time to react and Tavares does it with grace.
Mike Thompson was seeing beach balls on Saturday night as the Bandits defense forced the Knighthawks to shoot from far away, many times from the restraining line, which allowed the NLL’s Week Two Defensive Player of the Week to make the stops and direct the rebounds. Buffalo’s defense allowed only 16 shots in the first half.
“We’re going to stick to Bandits ball,” said Tracey Kelusky, the wily 12-year pro who brings a lot of talent up front. “We’re gonna play pressure ‘D’, play mean and ugly and push the ball fast [up the floor]. And when we get it to our offensive guys, that’s when you take the flow of the game. We prepare for the team we are playing against and we do our scouting, but with that being said, I think [if] we play Bandits ball all the time, we’ll have a lot of success.”
Incidentally, Tracey runs the popular ‘Play Like the Pros” lacrosse clinic for children ages 8 to 14 years old on four upcoming home game days in February, March and April. It’s a great way for the kids to get to know the game and check out the Bandits behind the scenes. More info is available right here on Bandits.com.
Saturday night’s game was indeed exciting with the game tied five times and the Bandits only surrendering the lead for a mere 25 seconds.
Banditland made a strong showing Saturday night in Rochester, complete with orange gear from head to toe along with cheering and chants that would have made the late Frank Zappa proud. If you haven’t made a trip to Rochester to see the Bandits play the Knighthawks, mark your calendar for Saturday, March 10 for the 1:05 p.m. game. Blue Cross Arena is a great place to watch lacrosse and the Knighthawks do a great job with their game presentation. Plus, they have a very talented team, which makes this regular season series very exciting.
I’ve noticed the Bandits players are more focused. I think their new practice day and location is one of the reasons. For most of the season, the team will practice on Friday nights at the Gil Lay Arena in Irving, NY. This allows all of the players to be in town a day earlier and prepare as a team.
“I think it’s good to have a team together overnight,” said Bandits general manager and head coach Darris Kilgour. “It’s good they hang out with each other, go to dinner together, and watch video together. It’s almost like being on the road, but you’re still at home [in Buffalo]. It’s really good to get the guys together and with all the new faces, and the guys coming from out of town, we thought it was a good idea.”
While I had a few moments with the coach, I asked him if the game turns into a chess match when the transition happens really fast with the new eight-second rule.
“The transition for them [opponents] is created by mistakes made by us, either on a turnover, bad decision or poor shot selection,” Kilgour said. “All of those things are opportunities for their team to run against you. If you control the offense, use the 30 seconds [shot clock], get a good shot off, always starts at the goalie, that’s just regular lacrosse. They can put all the rules in they want, but if you can control yourself, you can control the game.”
Again, a big test this weekend for the Bandits as the Philadelphia Wings come to town Friday night with some firepower in rookie Kevin Crowley, all-star playmaker Dan Dawson, solid defender Brodie Merrill and goaltender Brandon Miller. Crowley was the first overall pick in the 2011 NLL Entry Draft and helped Philadelphia beat Washington in overtime this past weekend by a score of 10-9.
On Saturday, very early in the morning, the Bandits will travel to St. Paul, Minnesota to meet the Swarm for an 8:00 p.m. (ET) game. Minnesota has not played since their January 14 road loss to the Colorado Mammoth by a score of 20-14, so Saturday’s game will mark Minnesota’s home opener.
By the way, who would win that corner confrontation? The Bandits.
Radio coverage from First Niagara Center for Friday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. on AM 1520. The game will also be streamed live online on NLL.com. The pregame show for Saturday’s game from the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul begins at 7:30 p.m. on AM 1520.