Let’s face it, the Bandits game last Saturday night was just plain odd.
On a night when the organization celebrated the ’90s era, which included fanny packs, big hair, and fashion statements (Steve Priolo’s ensemble of blazer and Nirvana T-shirt was classic), the weather played a role with a lot of people deciding to stay home and not put up with the mixture of wind, sleet, snow, and rain.
Icy outside and inside tonight. ❄️😏 pic.twitter.com/KPNNaWkxjl
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) January 18, 2020
But those who did brave the elements were treated with an entree of a fight, penalty shot, insane goals, Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne sitting in the penalty box together, coming from behind to win, and, watching the newest member of the team, Garrett Billings.
Didn’t you think the first quarter was out of sync, with Bandit players just out on the floor watching while Toronto’s Rob Hellyer scored two goals, elevating the Rock to a 3-1 lead? I did.
And then in the second quarter, the Bandits just kicked into gear with six goals, turning the tables with a 6-3 lead. The second half featured an entirely different game with the two clubs exchanging goals to keep the game within reach from each other. Chris Cloutier’s game-winner was a beauty and Matt Gilray’s empty netter allowed everybody to breathe.
Officially marked as game No. 32 on the NLL schedule, the Bandit players relied on their natural talent to win the game as a team. And that they did, especially with superb defensive positioning by soaking all those shots and a 54-save performance by seven-time Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc.
Goaltenders, in general, are an odd lot. Most of the time, they stick to themselves, not wanting to be bothered. Some seclude themselves while they prepare to be bombarded with rubber at 85-plus miles per hour. But not Vinc. He is the chief communicator with his players, talking to them throughout the game, even when a goal is scored against him.
“It’s a little bit of a reset moment when the goal happens. I just talk it through and hopefully move onto the next play. It’s a great way for me to communicate with guys like Priolo, Kevin Brownell, Nick Weiss, all the veteran players we have on the defensive end,” Vinc said. “Then they can relay a little bit of a message to the coaching staff.”
Bandits head coach John Tavares has relied on former goalies Steve Dietrich and Anthony Cosmo for advice.
“Honestly, I don’t know how those goalie’s brains work, very different mindset completely. I am fortunate to have Steve Dietrich and Anthony Cosmo on our coaching staff that can help me understand their mentality, the preparation for games and drills you want them to do, not messing with good things,” Tavares said. “I just let them be and cater to them of what they want – more shots, fewer shots – just to get them ready because the goalie is a huge part of the game.”
Yes, a huge part of the game. And Vinc keeps himself prepared with a strict conditioning program that rivals any pro athlete, and a routine that starts right after one game ends.
“It really does start after the game we just played. I go through Monday and Tuesday, easing back into it and then a good practice on Wednesday.” Vinc said. “I like my routine. It’s one of those things where I like to cross off a lot of things on the list so I feel like I’m going to be in a place where I’m going to be successful come the start of the game.
“It really ramps up the day before the game. I watch a lot of film and all the little things with the family. Then it’s trying to get your mind in the right spot. I do some juggling routines and skipping rope, along with some visual stuff. In goaltending, you can be as physically ready but if your mind is not in the right spot, then you might have a tough night.”
Even with an odd night here and there, Vinc remains as solid as goaltenders get. He’s been doing it for 15 seasons as a pro.
The Bandits travel to Denver this Saturday for a meeting against the Mammoth who stand 4-3 on the season. I would expect even more throttling of the Bandits offense with Chase Fraser back big time along with Josh Byrne and Dhane Smith.
Having newly signed Garrett Billings will certainly help defray defensive coverage of the other Bandit guns, which will enhance the playmaking with his innate passing skills.
Colorado returns home following a back-to-back weekend going 1-1 but coming off a decisive come from behind 12-6 victory over Saskatchewan. Down 3-0, the Mammoth mounted a six-goal run, eventually outscoring the Rush 12-3 en route to the victory.
Goaltender Dillon Ward was outstanding earning the first-star award for his 53 saves. And that’s why Colorado has stingiest in goals-against with an 8.70 GA average. Ward, the two-time team MVP, has a stellar .837 save percentage.
Ryan Lee leads Colorado in scoring with 31 points (10+21) mark. Lee recorded seven points (1+6) last Saturday night. Chris Wardle (12+12) is shooting 23 percent from the floor and netted five goals Saturday.
Eli McLaughin scored a hat trick and four assists against the Rush, adding to his 6+17=23 totals (6 goals and 7 assists for 13 points). Jacob Ruest is another forward to listen to and watch for. Shooting 21 percent from the floor, Ruest has 12 goals and 7 assists.
The always hard-working and colorful Joey Cupido is having a good year with five goals and five assists, second overall in the league defenseman/transition scoring.
Broadcasting one, two…
Radio coverage of Saturday’s game will be on ESPN 1520 and B/R Live. The radio pregame show starts at 9 p.m. and will feature Bandits defenseman Mitch de Snoo and head coach John Tavares.
I will also check in with former Bandit and current Mammoth offensive coordinator Shawn Williams, and veteran Mammoth defenseman Dan Coats. Teddy Jenner, host of the Off the Crossbar podcast and the play-by-play voice of the Mammoth, will be my halftime guest. The game is set for 9:30 p.m.
On B/R Live, Teddy Jenner and Jamie Shewchuck will have the call. You can subscribe to B/R Live with a monthly pass or pay per game. Go to BRLive.com for complete details.