The Bandits are back!
I could write rested, reinvigorated and ready. But I’m going with aggravated, angry, and agitated – and that’s a good thing!
Being away from game action for almost three weeks can be frustrating, with hours of video, individual workouts, and practice, practice, practice. Time to “let the rabbit run!”
Bandits Coming back home!!!
See you the 28th… https://t.co/dS7tai1sln
— John Gurtler (@john_gurtler) December 22, 2019
The soothing factor, as the Bandits transition into a real game week, is Christmas and being with family and friends for the moments we cherish. But the team will be right back at it the day after.
“Obviously it’s difficult to carry the momentum of our home opener win into a back to back bye weeks. I personally just take time every day to get to gym and watch game film. I find that helps me stay focused,” Corey Small, who netted five points (3+2) in the Bandits 13-10 win over
San Diego back in early December, said.
“The feeling around the room is that we are all really excited to get back out there and compete. Our practices have been a mix of our game strategy and conditioning. The team has looked great! Obviously, we’re all going to take a little time to celebrate and spend time with family, but we are a focused group and everyone is eager to get back on the floor on the 28th.”
Eye on the ball
And that’s the Bandits target right now: Saturday, December 28 at 7 p.m. against Halifax at KeyBank Center. The preparation continues and it starts with head coach John Tavares going over the scouting game tape.
“Our entire staff prepares a lot of specific things for the guys to watch as the week goes on,” Bandits general manager and assistant coach Steve Dietrich said. “We’ll get together for a spirited practice on Boxing Day and then get ready for Saturday. It is always exciting to be back in Banditland on game day.”
Small, who enters his second season with the Bandits, noted the club has been evolving and working on developing a new identity.
“I think the strength of our team will always be our defense and goaltending,” he said. “Our defense, for the most part stayed intact through expansion and when you have Matt Vinc, the reigning Goaltender of the Year, you can expect good things from our defensive group.
“I think offensively, we’re going to see a more balanced attack this season. Josh Byrne and Chris Cloutier seem poised to have breakout seasons. JT preaches that we need to be an unpredictable offense. I think that will be even more important this season after losing [Shawn] Evans and [Jordan] Durston [in the expansion draft].”
The time away from game action and the week-to-week regime has given Dietrich a chance to analyze the roster and come away with some of the big-picture takeaways.
“It starts with JT and his relaxed demeanor and it flows through our leadership group. We never seemed to get rattled during the game. The bench was very calm and positive which was great to see,” Dietrich said.
“Our depth has impressed us as well. Dallas Bridle played well in Game 1 offensively. San Diego presented some unique challenges for our defense and I thought rookies Marcus Minichiello and Brent Noseworthy fit in very well.”
Thunderbirds are flying high
Through all the aggravation and short temper eruptions during the time off comes a harvest of hard work. True, good things come to those who wait, and that will be met head-on Saturday night as Halifax comes to town with a 2-0 record and a roster loaded with talent, which includes former Bandits Ryan Benesch and Mike Accursi, who serves as the Thunderbirds’ head coach.
“They’re a great team. They are a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year, but I think they’re looking like a newly motivated group in their new home,” Small said. “They have a veteran offense and a solid defense/transition. They’ll be a true test.”
Benesch, who just moved into ninth place in all-time NLL scoring, is tied with Cody Jamieson for the team lead in points. Stephen Keogh and Austin Shanks are tied for second, and Kyle Jackson and rookie Clarke Peterson are right behind. Peterson had a terrific first game last Saturday by scoring a hat trick and earning two assists in their 14-12 win over Rochester.
Defenseman Graeme Hossack, the back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year, is off to a strong start on both ends of the floor. Last Saturday, Hossack scored two goals, added an assist, scooped up 11 loose balls, and had two caused turnovers.
Jake Whithers has elevated his faceoff numbers by winning 73 percent of his draws. Goaltender Warren Hill has a .818 save percentage along with his 2-0 record.
Accursi, an assistant coach last year with the Knighthawks, played 108 games during two stints with the Bandits, scoring 370 points overall. The first-year head coach has inspired this group with confidence in their new home of Halifax.
“They are a very well-coached team. Being around Mike Accursi both as a teammate and as a coach, I know they will be well prepared and will resent some very difficult challenges,” Dietrich said. “They have a very strong core that will only continue to get better as the year goes on.”
Yep, the Bandits are back in town. Angry and agitated but they will be ready.
“I think we have the makings of a team that can be very successful. When Chase comes back that will help strengthen the offense and we will continue to monitor what may be available to help this team get even stronger,” Dietrich said.
Saturday night is Hometown Heroes Night, as the Bandits salute the military, police, fire, and first responders.
We know who our hometown heroes are.
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) December 23, 2019
Coverage of Bandits vs. Thunderbirds will be available on B/R Live online and on the radio at ESPN 1520. NLL Game Day Live on radio and the B/R Live pregame show will each start at 6:30 p.m. Randy Mearns joins me in the booth and Dave Buchanan will be between the benches.
You can purchase the game on B/R Live. Sign up for an individual game pass, the month of January, or a full season here.