By Alex Beilman - Bandits.com
MORNING SHOOTAROUND UPDATE
The Buffalo Bandits' lineup could be forced to deal with a major loss Saturday night at KeyBank Center as leading scorer and reigning NLL MVP Dhane Smith took a spill during the morning shootaround and left the floor with a lower-body injury.
Smith went down early in the session, and was assisted off the floor by the training staff.
“It doesn’t look good to be honest with you,” Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. “We’ve talked about depth and we’ve talked about guys getting an opportunity. We’ll see closer to game time.”
In addition to this morning’s injury, Bandits captain Billy Dee Smith will be forced to sit out his second straight game with a hamstring injury. Craig England will also be out with a lower body injury.
“It’s one of those years where everything went right last year; everything’s not going right this year,” Cordingley said. “Again, there’s an opportunity to step in and take over.”
There will be a vacant spot behind the bench as well, as assistant coach Rich Kilgour suffered an accident at home, and will not be on the bench tonight. He was present at the shootaround and in good spirits despite a broken shoulder and broken foot. However, per doctors’ orders, he will be forced to stay behind the scenes tonight.
“It’s something I have to do. It sucks because this is a critical part of the season. I’m going to do what I can tonight,” Kilgour said. “I hope [it motivates the guys]. It’s not why I’m here. I committed to this team. I can get up and go the grocery store, I can get up and go to the Bandit game. I love these guys and that’s why I’m here. I want to see this season through.”
The Bandits are hoping that a full tank of gas will help them bounce back from a loss at the Georgia Swarm last weekend at the backend of back-to-back road games.
“Last week, defensively, I thought we were real good. I would probably like to have about 10 minutes back of defense,” Cordingley said of his team’s effort a week ago. “We were just not on the same page, so to speak. The biggest thing is us following the game plan.”
“Offensively, we’re sharing the ball. Guys are moving with purpose without the ball. You create opportunities that way and that’s what we did last week.”
Georgia has the top seed in the East locked up and they’ll look to maintain their incredible form going into the playoffs. The Swarm lineup will be at full-strength, and the Bandits know they are not looking at an easy game.
“It’s a tough offense to defend. They are creative. There’s no set plays. They’re moving the ball and freelancing,” Cordingley said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us. We’re going to see their full lineup. There’s no gimmies in this league.”
The Buffalo Bandits will look to do their part to keep the playoff dream alive and get revenge for last weekend’s setback, as they prepare to face the Georgia Swarm on Saturday night at KeyBank Center.
The Bandits (6-10) are coming off a back-to-back weekend that saw them go 1-1. The first game of the set was an 13-8 win at Toronto (8-8) that saw the team hold its hosts without a goal for over 30 minutes of play. The Bandits looked to be riding high the next night in Georgia, as they got out to leads of 5-1 and 8-3 against the league’s best offense.
However, the Swarm (11-4) flexed their offensive muscles after halftime. They came storming back and outscored the Bandits 9-6 in the second half to take a 17-16 decision.
“Our defense was spectacular on Friday night. Our offense carried us on Saturday and was real good throughout,” head coach Troy Cordingley said. “We had moments defensively [on Saturday], where we missed assignments. If we could put both of them together at the same time, we would have more success than not.”
“It was a good weekend. It kind of brought back some memories of the way we used to play,” forward Dhane Smith said. “[Friday] was a good road win for us. We needed that. Then, going to Georgia, we almost squeaked one out but we ran into some trouble that we have all year. It was a tough one.”
The Bandits playoff hopes are still alive.
They are currently in fourth place in the East Division and the top three teams qualify for the postseason. The Rock can clinch a playoff spot with a win Saturday at Saskatchewan. The Bandits can be eliminated from playoff consideration with a loss Saturday against Georgia. Buffalo can be eliminated with New England and Toronto wins. The Rochester Knighthawks (5-10), meanwhile, can be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss Saturday against New England.
The main focus right now, though, is getting the win over the Swarm. The Bandits have yet to beat the division’s top team this year. Sitting at 0-2 against Georgia, the team knows it will be no small feat, despite Georgia being locked into the top seed in the East.
“We’ve talked about it. Our main focus is beating Georgia this weekend,” Smith said. “Our first step is to beat Georgia. If we can do that, then we can hope Saskatchewan can beat Toronto, and then it comes down to the last game.”
“There certainly is hope. We have another shot at Georgia this week,” Cordingley said, “We have to focus on this Georgia team because they’re awfully good.”
The Bandits learned why Lyle Thompson is one of the top scorers in the league last weekend, as he posted eight points (4+4) in the Swarm’s comeback victory. Thompson currently sits third overall in league scoring with 98 points (38+60), just four points behind league-leader Curtis Dickson.
“It’s a difficult thing. However, when we’re in the proper position and we’re protecting the inside and allowing the shots from the outside as contested shots, that’s when we were successful against them,” Cordingley said. “We have to be more consistent. I thought our first quarter last Saturday was real strong defensively. We have to replicate that first quarter for four quarters.”
While the offenses, on pace to post 25 more goals for than last season, goaltender Mike Poulin has reinvigorated the Swarm’s backend. The veteran keeper has been a mainstay at the back, and has helped a team that frequently scored goals and shipped goals in bunches last season.
At the close of the 2016 regular season, Georgia had surrendered 240 goals. In 2017, they are on pace to give up around 210.
Despite not getting the result they wanted, the Bandits were able to take a lot of positives from the game in Georgia and the weekend as a whole. The offense was particularly potent last Saturday, scoring early and often, as well as sustaining good ball movement throughout the game.
“I know they’ll be looking at film and making adjustments, as will we. But, when we share the ball and guys are doing the little things, it creates opportunities for whoever,” Cordingley said. “That’s the philosophy of an unselfish offense, a strong offense. Everyone touches the ball and everybody works without the ball.”
“We stuck to our game plan. I know [offensive coach John Tavares] has a great lacrosse mind, he’s the best in the game for a reason. What he brings to the table is unbelievable. We stuck to that,” Smith said. “If you look at the stats, everyone kind of chipped in where, at the beginning of the year, it was one or two guys scoring quite a bit.”
Although Smith (3+5) and Ryan Benesch (6+2) had remarkable games on Saturday, it was forward Anthony Malcom who shined throughout the entire weekend. He posted nine points (5+4) in two games, and looked to be in top form after battling a series of bizarre injuries, including an injury to his sternum.
“He was real good for us this weekend. Everybody seems to forget he was six or eight weeks with a chest injury,” Cordingley said. “He sat and watched and that’s a tough thing to do. He’s a competitor. We expect that out of him and we expect him to play like that.”
“It’s awesome. We’re so deep. He’s great a player, he’s one of the quickest players I’ve ever watched play,” Smith said. “When he has confidence, he’s really hard to stop. He brings that aspect to the right side that we really need.”
The Bandits will also have a special motivation on Saturday night, as the team celebrates the fourth annual Tucker Out Lymphoma Night at KeyBank Center. The night is a celebration of the life of Tucker Williams, son of former Bandit forward and current Eastern Scout Shawn Williams.
Tucker lost his battle with Burkitt Lymphoma in December of 2014, and the team will hope to honor not just by raising money and awareness for pediatric cancer, but with a win as well.
“It’s special. We definitely want to win this one for him. It’s going to be a lot of emotions,” Smith said. “It’s one of those things. I think if we can come together and play for him and his family, it will be something special.”
“It means the world to our team. Tucker was a special kid,” Cordingley said. “Shawn is a big part of our team, and was when he went through the situation with Tucker. We’re excited for this game and we know what it means. We will be playing in honor of Tucker and the Williams family.”
For those who like to take the game in the old-fashioned way, John Gurtler will have the call over the radio airwaves on ESPN 1520 AM in Buffalo and WGWE 105.9 FM in Salamanca.