What with the injury list growing and uncertainty of personnel availability, yeah, let’s just shut things down here for a bit with rest and reflection. Let’s hope the Bandits find their jive to start of the second half of the season, which starts at home February 29 against Halifax.
The team must draw within and come out firing on all cylinders at the end of the month.
“I think we are pretty happy with our play, we just gotta keep moving in the right direction,” veteran defenseman Bryce Sweeting said. “Obviously, we are dealing with some injuries, but we just gotta keep getting better each game; keep following our systems and keep finding ways to get wins.”
Sweeting, now in his second year with the Bandits and fifth season overall, likes to keep the team loose with his enthusiasm in the room and out on the field.
“I try not to be too high and not too low. I like to keep it light in the room, it’s kinda the personality I have, and when the timing is right, you have to be serious but it’s good to keep guys at ease.”
Numbers at the Halfway Point
At the halfway mark, the Bandits 6-3 record has them fifth overall and third in the North, half-game behind Halifax and Toronto. That will change on Friday as the Rock and Thunderbirds square off in the NLL Game of the Week, free on B/R Live.
Despite on injured reserve, with no timetable of his return, Dhane Smith is tied for fifth place in league scoring with 15 goals and 33 assists. I am confident he can break the 100-point barrier this season. Josh Byrne is seventh in NLL scoring, and second in goals scored, with a 24 goals and 19 assists for 43 points. He holds the league’s season record for most goals scored in a game with seven.
Matt Gilray is tied for fifth in defense/transition scoring with five goals and six assists. Ian MacKay is fifth in loose balls with 81. Mitch de Snoo is third with 15 caused turnovers. Byrne and Corey Small are third in the loop among forward with a plus-44 status. Nick Weiss, still on injured reserve, missing three games, leads the league in average time on the field with 26:39.
Goaltender Matt Vinc takes a rest with an impressive .801 save percentage and a 6-3 mark. The Bandits offense is averaging 12 goals a game, just 0.5 off the most from Halifax. The team shooting percentage from the floor is impressive with 16 percent. The power play has dropped dramatically to 10th place at 42 percent and the penalty killing is 11th at 53 percent.
Two Great Bandit Fans
Ever since I experienced my first encounter with the fans of Banditland years ago in a jammed packed Thruway stop coming back from Rochester, I am amazed by their passion and undeniable love for this team. Buffalo is known for its dedicated sports fans but the Banditland community is cut from a different cloth in their knowledge and non-stop promotion of the indoor box game.
Tony Failla and Tony LaMonica are long-time Bandits season ticket holders and represent the thousands of true-blue Bandit fans. They both bleed orange and black and will be the first ones to chime in on the performance of the team’s play.
“Buffalo has been a little bit up and down recently. When Priolo is out of the line-up, their defense has been suspect, with opponents cutting through the middle, because he has such a big presence,” Failla noted in an interview with me after Saturday’s loss to Philadelphia. “He prevents a lot of stuff with cutters going through that seam. When he’s in the lineup, the opponents seem to cut through a lot less.
“The defense buckles down and play stronger with him on the back end. And he is very skilled offensively when he does go on transition. He’s got the tricky shot with the long stick. He sets picks when he does go up there on offense and transition. He’s the captain, he’s a leader, he knows what’s going on.”
LaMonica, who does his own video takes before, during and after the Bandit game on the digital platforms, gave me his candid review: “I feel very comfortable with the way they’ve been playing as a team. Yes, they struggled here and there, especially when you lose your key players like Chase Fraser, who was out for a little bit at the beginning. But when he got back in the line-up, the team felt comfortable, they felt as one and the offense was clicking.
“After tonight’s little standoff when we didn’t have both Dhane Smith and Fraser, it was a big step-up for the guys that need to step up, like JP Kealey, Garrett Billings, and Corey Small. Those guys tried to make the offense look back to the way it should be. But when you score only two goals in the first half and then make that last second push, it’s too little, too late. You always have to keep your foot on the gas and always keep scoring goals.”
Representing Banditland in fine fashion, Failla and LaMonica can be easily spotted during the games, and they are two of the three who stand with the four-foot boxes that spell B-O-X and bounce them in unison when an opposing player heads to the penalty box.
“I was the original creator of the ‘BOX’ boxes. I felt like if it’s the box chant, let’s make big boxes to hold up for the chant,” Failla said. “We’ve been doing that for years and years with my season ticket crew. I try to get our section going, creating loudness for each game.
“I wasn’t the creator of the chant as that goes to Ed Hughes, who sits in the middle of the lower bowl. I think he has been there since day one (1992). He came up with I think the chant. I just take his lead with the boxes, and the whole crowd goes off of his chant.”
What is it about Banditland that makes it one of the strongest and most colorful fan communities in sport?
“This sport has grown in the Buffalo community and now the game of lacrosse [field and box] has become more popular than other sports,” LaMonica said. “In my humble opinion, and in my heart, I’d have to say this is a team to cheer for; this is a team that makes it so exciting. I love this sport, I love this team, and I love the city and want more and more people to support lacrosse.”
The Banditland population grew rapidly after the first home game in 1992. Since that time, it only takes a stroll around the main concourse to see how strong the community is.
” As they mentioned in the old commercials back in the nineties when the game was in the Aud, ‘we’ll sell you the whole seat but you’ll only need the edge’, to this day you only need the edge of your seat, its such high energy,” Failla said. “With the music playing, Chris Swenson on the PA getting the crowd going, it’s high-paced end-to-end action, with high scoring, and a lot of hitting. Yea, I’m on the edge of my seat all the time.”
LaMonica started going to Bandit games back in 1993 and has been a season ticket holder since 2005.
“I’m glad the league is expanding, and I would like to see more teams showing up. But fanbase wise, I think what we should do, as season ticket holders, is do more to promote the game to people that haven’t seen a Bandits game live, get them into the KeyBank Center, let them experience for themselves,” LaMonica noted.
“Just outside, not too long ago, I ran into a few guys saying how great the game was with the fast-paced action and will indeed come back again That’s the kind of spirit we want to bring to this game. Every family member would love to come to these games.
“We keep promoting and keep pushing the envelope in making people go to watch these guys play. I guarantee you, after that first experience, they’re going to come back for more.”
Failla has a season ticket group of eight and brings new fans to every game, which adds to his totals. The Bandits Brigade has its own group of hardcore fans, who have been coming to Bandit games since the Aud days.
The two longtime Bandit fans are OK with the way the game has changed but they want more physical activity as well.
“It’s different from the old days where you had five players running back and forth on offense and defense. The transition has changed the game where the offensive players hit the floor and create scoring chances,” Failla said.
“I think they should bring back more of a physical attitude. Yeah, you want to make sure players are safe, making sure that no one will get seriously hurt, but bring the checking back. Don’t go for the guy’s head of course, but make it interesting,” Lamonica said.
Like hockey, fighting has been a part of the game and Falla and Lamonica feel the players should take care of situations out on the field, standing up for each other. They expressed their frustration in the NLL wanting to curb the fighting.
“When you take fighting away, too much chippiness happens. You’d have more under control, and you wouldn’t have cheap shots. You need fighting in the game. I’m not saying to have these orchestrated dropping the gloves, but you need to let fighting happen and don’t call the instigator penalties.”
Tony Failla and Tony Lamonica. Two incredibly devoted Banditland members who are growing the population every game and will continue to do so because of their love of the Bandits.