Blogs | 3/12/2014 10:46:58 AM | John Gurtler
We have reached the halfway mark of the 2014 National Lacrosse League season. Has it been everything you expected?
At 7-2, the Bandits sit atop the NLL’s Eastern Division and have now won five straight at home, one of the biggest changes from last year. Saturday’s come-from-behind victory over Minnesota was just another example of how well this team keeps focused and continues to play and not pout.
I believe to a man on the Bandits roster, everybody enjoys taking the challenge to the next level because there is unity on the bench. As Al Franken from Saturday Night Live fame would say: “I’m good enough; I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”
Sure, the 21-day layoff from game-to-game was tough to keep the thread tight, but it had some positives in the form of healing nagging injuries and spending time with family and friends, because there is so much a commitment of time.
Some players went on a break and traveled south. Some remained at post with their day jobs and some, like the coaching staff and general manager Steve Dietrich, watched a lot of games, which included the eight previous Bandits tilts.
Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley focused solely on the Bandits.
“I like our defense,” said Cordingley. “Our defense is playing real well. Goaltending has been outstanding, (but) there is always room for improvement. And offensively, I think we started off slow but we’ve really improved of late.”
From the fans perspective, the first nine games, save the home opener, have been exciting and very entertaining. The best game yet was the one before the break against Philadelphia.
“It certainly was,” said Cordingley. “That was probably the only complete game that we’ve had. We didn’t have any lapses. We had control of that game from the get-go and we played extremely well.”
The Bandits success begins with the play between the pipes of Anthony Cosmo.
Has the head coach ever seen him play any better?
“No I have not,” said Cordingley. “In the NLL game today you need good goaltending. He is seeing the ball real well and that is a credit to our defense. He did a lot of things during the off-season to prepare (that are paying dividends) because he was not happy with his performance last season. He’s a true professional and he knows that the backbone of the team is goaltending. Bottom line, you have to make saves to be successful.”
And Cosmo has done just that. In the last three games, Cosmo has a .839 save%, which includes three straight games of 40-plus saves. In fact, Cosmo has six 40-plus save games and an NLL-high 52-save effort back on January 10 against Toronto – when it all started for Cosmo. In addition to his six assists, Cosmo has a 7-1 record going into Saturday night’s game against the Colorado Mammoth.
It has been interesting to see how the defense and transition complements the offensive attack with their speed and athleticism. Steve Priolo is a perfect example of the confidence the coaching staff has in these versions of monsters of the midway. Priolo has three four-point games so far this year, including his strong four assist performance Saturday night.
Mark Steenhuis’ switch to the front door has really helped this season with 20 goals and 18 assists. The 13-year pro has 12 goals and seven assists in his last four games and is shooting almost 22 percent from the floor.
In addition to the strong play of Ryan Benesch and Dhane Smith, ageless wonder John Tavares has added to the attack with 10 goals and seven assists since missing the Colorado game (on Jan. 18) due to injury. While he make players better around him, I think he is challenging himself and really enjoying this style of game.
What is in store for the next nine regular season games, which includes six on the road?
“The key for us is to take it game by game,” said Cordingley. “We are only focused on one game [Colorado] and that is what we are looking at.”
And playing at home?
“Unbelievable environment we have here playing at home. It’s cliché to say we have the best fans in the league, but it’s really true,” said David Brock in his radio pre-game interview last Saturday night. “With the support of the fans, it’s like the Seattle Seahawks’ 12th man in their stadium. I feel like that similar in our arena; our sixth man, our seventh man. The support at home is unbelievable and that is what makes these games so important. You really have to go 8-1, 9-0 at home if you want to make a push and take advantage of the setting here.
“The next game at home (Saturday vs. Colorado) is going to be very big because we have a bit of a road swing coming up here to Edmonton, Minnesota and Vancouver. It’s going to be very big.”
That said, expectations are high for the second half of the regular season. The team – and fans – won’t settle for anything less.
On Saturday night, the Bandits will wear a new St. Patrick’s Day uniform to celebrate the weekend of green leading into Monday. The jerseys will be auctioned off as well at a later date.
The Mammoth come to town with a new coaching staff, and a team that is also coming off a big 10-9 come-from-behind victory over the Calgary Roughnecks.
Down 5-0 in the second quarter, Colorado went on a six-goal run and took a 9-5 lead into the fourth. They held off a four-goal Calgary run late in the game to preserve the win.
John Grant, Jr, Casey Powell, Drew Westervelt and Sean Pollock can score from any angle. Most notably, Saturday night could be the return of Adam Jones who has missed a handful of games due to injury. The former Canisius College star and 2012 NLL Rookie of the Year, has 25 goals and 15 assists – and that is in just eight games played.
Radio coverage of Saturday night’s game starts at 7 p.m. with the pre-game show on ESPN 1520. The Lacrosse Network will join us at game time, which is set for 7:30 p.m. Randy Mearns will be with me in the booth. If you’d like to join us in Banditland, go to Bandits.com for all your ticket information.
Before I sign off this week, congratulations are in order to Chad and Hinda-Coza Culp for their arrival of baby, Klara Billie Beatrice.