Wow, what a crazy game last Saturday night in Hamilton! The Bandits won 16-14 over the previously unbeaten Toronto Rock.
Twenty-two goals were scored between the two clubs over the 30 minutes combined between quarters two and four. And that didn’t include the Rock coming out of an 8-3 deficit to take a one-goal lead into the fourth.
The Bandits’ seven straight in the fourth was good enough to hold back the Rock’s minute-and-a-half four-goal splurge at the end.
Both Matt Vinc and Rock’s Nick Rose turned in solid performances. Vinc made key saves in quarter one, shutting out the Rock’s offense, which was refueled by Tom Schreiber’s return.
107 shots on the net between the two clubs, not including the 45 that went wide of the nets.
The Bandits’ victory generated much enthusiasm following the game. It validated their effort against a very strong Toronto lineup and improved their record to 4-3.
What about those first six Bandit games?
“Inconsistent, 3-3 is probably where we should have been, but not where we wanted to be,” said Steve Dietrich, Bandits GM and defensive coordinator. “But I like our group and fully believe in them.”
Bandits forward Chris Cloutier echoed Dietrich’s thoughts and commented on his performance leading up to his six-assist night, which eclipsed his 200th career point.
“It’s very up and down. We are trying to find that consistent level of play, but I think we are really close,” said the fifth-year Bandit, who now has 91 goals and 205 points.
“Theres a lot more I can be doing. Sometimes, I let my emotions get the best of me, gripping my stick a little too tight. I must return to letting the game come to me, getting my teammates open, and letting things follow.”
Cloutier indeed handled things Saturday night with all those helpers. And congratulations on the 200th career point.
On the defensive side, Dietrich noted the imbalance from the left to the right side, noting the loss of Adam Bomberry and Bryce Sweeting and the trafficking of Ian MacKay out the front door, calls for the righties in Nick Weiss, Matt Spanger, and especially Steve Priolo to log heavy minutes throughout.
“There’s nothing more I can say about Pri than what I haven’t already said. He’s our leader back there, both vocally and in his play on the floor. He gets loose balls, plays physically, and is just a machine. He comes off the floor, I call his name, and he goes right back on. Pri has just been phenomenal,” said Dietrich.
OK, the left defense is young and not as vocal. But they are working in sync, witness the solid play of Justin Martin. Just goes about and does his job precisely.
“Justin Martin is very quiet and, in my opinion, has been our defensive MVP so far, but we don’t have that guy that will speak up over there,” noted Dietrich.
Regardless of the opponents’ scoring in bundles at times, there is a foundation of stability, which starts with simple rules: Physicality, Communication, and Trust.
“Communicate on defense, open on picks. Trust that your teammate is going to do the job. Don’t start cheating before you are told to cheat. If we get back to playing simple basic lacrosse and trust that our goaltender will stop the shots he wants to force, we’ll be OK.”
Too, Bandits left defense rookie Zack Belter, 6’5″, 225 pounds, awaits in the wings, getting healthier from injury.
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It might have taken a while, but the Bandits’ recent signing of Josh Byrne to a five-year extension was a smooth transaction and great for the franchise.
“We have two really great (offensive) pieces, so we should be sound and know what we have for the next five years. It lets us know, salary-wise, what we have to play with, where we need to go in the draft and future trades.
“The guys are very excited to know that the best two players in the game of lacrosse will be with them for the next five years,” said Dietrich.
OK, was I drawing straws for the storyline of Saturday’s pregame radio show with intellectual creativity?
No, I was merely forecasting from the bleachers what approach this incredibly talented Bandits team should take to improve their 3-3, sixth-place standing in the league in place of cliches.
Drawing from the definition and relating to box lacrosse, it’s about the ability to create moves from existing knowledge to produce new and meaningful plays, fulfilling a need and follow through others can’t even dream about.
It’s that instinctive split-second decision, made with the trust of other players in position, using associative thinking and communicative skills to make a productive move on offense or defense.
Reviewing last Saturday’s game, I thought the Bandits’ play fulfilled the description above nicely. That, of course, was from the gondola high atop the First Ontario Centre.
The Knighthawks are back in the picture after a couple of weeks. Currently on a three-game skid, Rochester will be tuned up for this second encounter Saturday night inside KeyBank Center.
Coming off a 13-8 loss to Halifax last week, Connor Fields leads in scoring with 18 goals and 19 assists for 37 points. Ryan Smith, who scored four goals in the previous Bandits game on January 13th, is second in scoring with 18 goals and 16 assists for 34 points.
Newcomers Ryan Lanchbury (6+18=24) and Thomas McConvey (9+11=20) are fun players to watch. Former Bandit Matt Gilray is off to a good start with a 6+5=11 standing.
Goaltender Riley Hutchcraft, taking over for the injured Rylan Hartley, made 42 saves in the K-Hawks loss to the Thunderbirds and entered Saturday night’s game with a .760 save percentage.
Saturday’s game will be covered on CW23 TV along with ESPN+ and TSN+. The broadcast time will be 7:30 p.m. Radio coverage will be on WGR Sports Radio 550. The pregame show will start at 7 p.m. and feature interviews with the coaches and players from both teams.
Steve Bermel joins me in the Ted Darling Memorial Press Box, while Dave Buchanan will provide updates between the benches.