Buffalo Bandits (NLL)
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GURTLER - BANDITS GEARING UP FOR FINAL REGULAR SEASON GAMES

4/11/2019 3:30:00 PM / John Gurtler

Ok, move on, nothing to see here, just another bye week to put up with. 

For the third time in five games, the Bandits went for more playing time, and despite the OT loss to Toronto last week – a game that featured four lead changes and six ties – it was a very entertaining game. 

There are lots of things the Bandits can improve upon as they find themselves in another eddy of their schedule. And, I can’t believe I am typing this, it's a good thing. 

During this 14-day lockdown from real game action (which will finally end with Fan Appreciation Night on April 20), each member of the Bandits will find themselves reviewing video clips, reading game reports, talking with their teammates and discussing things with the coaches. Too, more wall ball and working out and staying sharp. 

We will simulate some game-type situations (in practices), trying to keep the guys in game shape, keeping their timing on and the like," said Bandits head coach John Tavares. "You can practice and do drills all you want, but if you’re not playing a game, you kind of lose that timing, that cohesiveness, especially on offense. When you play one game in 14 days, you lose that edge."

All they can do is watch all the other Eastern Division team play and take advantage of their positions in the standings. 

Georgia (12-4) take their five-game winning streak on the road to Calgary. Toronto will host New England; Rochester visits Colorado and Philadelphia will be on a two-game swing with games in Saskatchewan and Vancouver. 

A Toronto loss would give the Bandits a home playoff game for the first round, which would be played on Saturday, May 4 at 7:30 p.m. But let's face it both Toronto and New England are playing really well, so the Bandits just need to firm up their game for April 20 when the Black Wolves come to town and just win the dang game. 

Georgia has two games remaining: April 12 at Calgary and April 20 at home against Philadelphia. Toronto has two games remaining: April 12 vs. New England and April 26 at Vancouver. New England has three games remaining – all on the road – starting with the Rock then April 20 at the Bandits and  April 21 at Rochester. 

"We are definitely in a better spot than we were last year, but you know, anything can happen, and we don't have anything locked up yet," Tavares said. "We feel home floor advantage is a big part of the playoffs, especially playing in Buffalo. They guys love playing there and having our crowd behind us, I think will help us."

One of Tavares' mantras this season, because the Bandits offense is so powerful, is don't become predictable. I think the team fell into the predictable trap last Friday night, but my word, the playmaking was solid and the goal scoring by Dhane Smith was head-shaking, as many in the stands at Scotiabank Arena will attest. 

More goals must come from everybody, however. 

"I think we are successful when all the guys on the floor are a threat. When we have five guys out there that are a threat, we are hard to stop. That has been the key to our success this year," Tavares noted. 

"With 214 goals scored, we've got guys that are spread out on the roster and they are putting the ball in the net. We need to continue to get production from everybody and that’s what makes us successful."

While he hasn't found net in a couple of games, Shawn Evans continues to plow his way, literally, in playmaking in setting up others to take shots. 

His 60 assists are second in the league to Dhane Smith, and there is a good chance for the 14-year vet to reach 100 points for the sixth time of his career. And knowing what’s at stake for the Bandits with these next two regular season games remaining, keep your eye on number 15 and watch how he elevates his game in prep for the playoffs. That's what savvy veterans do. 

With 30 goals and 61 assists, Dhane Smith, too, will undoubtably reach the century mark for his fourth time in his seven seasons. HIs moves and shots get better and better every game. I spotted one fan Friday night held in a trance after Smith's go-ahead goal in the third quarter, his third of five on the night. 

Most impressively, the Bandits defense continues to play with confidence, conviction and communicating-always. I noticed a constructive banter amongst the defensive corps while sitting in on one of their video breakdown sessions. Everyone was cross-talking as to opponent moves, predictions, and how to handle the attacks. It's pretty amazing of how "locked and loaded" the defense must be in their assignments as the game moves at a Mach-9 pace. 

"The further we get into the season you can really see how well we know each other, and that includes knowing where each other is going to be on the floor and I think that has shown with our success," said Bandits defenseman Matt Spanger.  

"We are definitely a tight-knit unit. Honestly, it's big brotherhood in the dressing room and that’s something that has contributed to our success. We all would give an arm and leg for each other, sticking up for each other and I think that really shows day in and day out and I think that is really the difference maker with this club."

Of course, having the best goaltender in the game, Matt Vinc, helps. Not only has Vinc established a solid communication line out on the turf with his players in front of him, he encourages players to speak up and be responsible for their actions. 

With a franchise best 12 victories, Vinc is having one of his best seasons backstopping the Bandits. The six-time goaltender of the year has faced 50-plus shots in six of his last seven games, allowing only 73 goals on 367 shots for a .801 save percentage.

This is a good team looking to be better and that is a good sign. 

"We need to get off to a good start next week. Continue to improve things we do well," Tavares said. 

Have a great week and enjoy the Frozen Four NCAA hockey championship at KeyBank Center. 

GAME CENTER
5/25/2019 9:00 PM / Calgary, AB
Buffalo Bandits vs. Calgary Roughnecks