“Time really never stops for the great ones.” – The late Al Davis, Oakland Raiders
Unfortunately, it does in this time of Covid.
Normalcy is not an option anymore as the National Lacrosse League must adhere to the protocols for fans in every state and province there is a franchise. Some have strict rules with vaccine and mask mandates, some have a few, some don’t have any, and some won’t allow anybody in the venues.
Such is the case this coming weekend, in what was to be the first encounter of the year between the Bandits and the Halifax Thunderbirds. The government of Halifax, Nova Scotia, has enforced a no-activity rule inside the Scotiabank Centre, hence the postponement of the Saturday, January 22 game. There is no makeup date as of yet.
All of the players in the NLL are constantly tested, both antigen and PCR, and there is “Covid Protocol” if a player tests positive.
It’s just the flummoxed life we live in now. We must stay positive, adhere to the rules, try and stay healthy, and move on.
That’s what the Bandits will do this week. They will contact each other, complete workout instructions, review game video snippets, practice together as a team in safe confines, and stay focused.
“[The goal] is nothing less than winning a championship at the end of the day,” said Dhane Smith. “With the week away from a game, it’s tough and one of those obstacles we have to fight through. We are going to have some good practices in the next week, and we look forward to playing in New York January 29th.”
Oh, that’s good
The Bandits are feeling good with their 4-0 start, the best since 2009, and the consistent play on both ends of the turf.
“On the front end, these guys are ridiculous. And it’s coming from both sides of the floor. The lefties, the righties. Looking at the stats, almost even numbers, I mean pick your poison,” said Randy Mearns, my broadcast partner, former NLL player, and now head coach at St. Bonaventure University.
“The ball movement is just absolutely incredible, and then you add the guys on the defense, transitioning the ball, taking advantage of those 3-on-2’s, 2-on-1’s, scoring timely goals that change the momentum of the game. The Bandits are hard to beat.”
To Randy’s point about the Bandits transition, see below how Steve Priolo and Matt Spanger follow through with a score.
Might I add, Priolo is pretty talented upfront on his own. Still, he has dedicated his play to lead the defense.
“That shows you what type of player he is. He’s basically giving away the transition aspect of his game just so he can anchor the defense for us,” said Bandits GM and defensive coordinator, Steve Dietrich. [Priolo] is so good for us, it’s so hard to come up with so many great words about him, and it doesn’t even describe how good he’s been.
“He’s like Matt (Vinc) on the floor; two different coaches for us out there. The stats may not show it, but I put him up there with Graeme Hossack as the two best defenders in the game.”
Too, you might have noticed Smith and Josh Byrne scoot back and help out defensively without interfering with the scheme of things.
Dietrich, echoing Mearns’s transition comments, flavored with Smith and Byrne involved.
“JT (Tavares) has preached it for years: It’s a lot easier to score in this league 3-on-2, 2-on-1 than it is 5-on-5, so a lot of teams are trying to run, ourselves included, but yeah, it’s great when you can have some offensive guys come back and not change things up defensively.”
The tough get going!
Every Bandit game from here on out will be tough as opponents will tune their game up a notch, just like the Georgia Swarm did last Saturday with the Bandits prevailing 12-10 in a close one.
It took a total team effort to hold off Lyle Thompson and company, but individual dividends paid handsomely, including Brad McCulley’s first goal in the National Lacrosse League.
“I think getting Connor Fields and Brad McCulley this year strengthens our left side. Then adding Kyle Buchanan and Tehoka Nanticoke on the right side, it just gives us a lot of depth and a luxury we have,” Dietrich said. “But you never know with Covid and injuries, and those eight could turn into four or five on any given night. We are lucky to have them.”
A number of things
The Bandits are the hottest team in the NLL with their four-game winning streak out of the gate. The club averages 13 goals a game, and is backstopped by Matt Vinc. He has a league-leading .844 save percentage fronted with solid defense that stymies opposing offenses.
Josh Byrne enters the short break tied for fourth in scoring (10+15=25), but leads the league in short-handed goals with three, and is shooting 22.2 percent from the floor. Dhane Smith is tied for fifth (7+17=24), and tied for third in assists. Steve Priolo is tied for eighth with 39 loose balls, third in caused turnovers with nine, and first in blocked shots with seven. Meanwhile, Tehoka Nanticoke is tied for sixth in rookie scoring (6+4=10).
As for the Bandits’ special teams, the power play stands at 33.3 percent, with 45 percent in the last two games. Buffalo’s penalty killing is at 72.6 percent, second only to Colorado for the league lead.
They’ve shown they can be team tough, too, with their first line brawl in years.
In this age of Covid, time does stop, even for the great ones.