Bandits Return to Action Looking to Continue Winning Ways
A few days have passed since the organization’s big brother, the Bills, lost a playoff heartbreaker in overtime to the Kanas City Chiefs. A word, phrase, or metaphor can’t fill the emptiness left from the result. It was a great season performed by a great team, backed by the best fans in the sport, anywhere.
The community of Banditland welcomes you with open arms.
Let the Rabbit Run
This week, the 4-0 Bandits resume their regular season campaign with a first-ever game against the New York Riptide on Long Island. Idle since their 12-10 win over Georgia on January 14, the Bandits did not play this past weekend after their game against the Halifax Thunderbirds was postponed due to Covid concerns.
Practices, individual workouts, and game tape study has kept the idling forces together, anxious to resume a schedule that will hopefully run nine straight weeks.
“(General manager) Steve Dietrich has done a great job of bringing the right pieces to the team,” said Dhane Smith, averaging six points per game. “We were terrific then, and we are even better now. I know we are only four games in, but we are looking forward to seeing where we can get to.”
This is the most complete team I have seen, from the “great eight” (eight forwards who can score anywhere on the floor), the Steve Priolo-led defense and transition, to the ageless and league-leading Matt Vinc between the pipes.
“I don’t get a chance to watch the offense because we are talking to the defense,” said Dietrich, who is also the defensive coordinator. “But when I do take a peep, they are pretty to watch. It starts with Dhane and Josh (Byrne), our leaders, who are so unselfish. Sometimes we get too pretty, and (at times) we have to be more selfish and shoot the ball.”
Class in session
Randy Mearns, my broadcast partner and head coach at St. Bonaventure, summed things up following the Bandits 12-10 victory over Georgia.
“The system isn’t rocket science. It’s share the ball, play with your head up, and the ball doesn’t need to get stuck in the stick. If you keep the ball hot, north/south, east/west, the picks and slips, I mean you have guys that can pick corners on this team.”
It all starts on defense and goaltending in a game like box lacrosse, and the numbers speak volumes through four games. With a 19-goal differential between goals for and against, opponents have only averaged 8.25 goals per game. Goaltender Matt Vinc has turned aside 179 of 212 shots for a stellar .844 save percentage.
“If teams can’t score more than ten goals on the Bandits, odds are they are not winning,” noted Mearns, a member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame. “When you have Matt Vinc in the net, you know you have an opportunity to win every game. He is so profound on knowing where shooters shoot where they like to shoot.”
“From the core defense, starting with Steve Priolo, they are playing a type of defense that allows Matt to see the shots, where he wants to see them. And if you’re shooting from 10-15 feet out, and he’s got a beat on the ball, he is hard to beat. He’s played lights out. If you have great goaltending, you know you’ll always win games.”
With all of the scoring talent up front, change can be a good thing for a star player like Smith, which affords him more time and space to set up the plays – witness the 17 assists awarded to him so far. But that has always been the core of Smith’s play. He will pass it along if he can’t find a shooting lane, even over to the lefties. No doubt he remains a constant scoring threat, but he takes on more responsibility now that he is “one of the older guys”.
“I try to be the best leader I possibly can be. I’ve been here for nine seasons, and my main goal is explaining to guys where they need to be, or do the best I can do. Whether it’s with or without the ball, leading by example and talking as much as possible,” Smith said.
Too, one of the added ingredients this season is Kyle Buchanan. A veteran of nine NLL seasons, and five 20-plus goal campaigns, Buchanan is a ballhawk out on the floor. From the faceoff formations, the corners, setting picks, to teeing up players and picking his own spots.
“He plays with a ton of heart, a ton of passion, and he’s always moving; it doesn’t matter if he scores the goals but he’s a guy that’s going to dig for the loose balls, and given the opportunity, he can bury the ball just like the rest of them,” noted Mearns.
Noted previously, it’s not going to be a picnic out there for the Bandits. They meet a Riptide team Saturday night coming off their first victory of the season, 13-12 over Philadelphia.
The New York club is led by former Bandit Callum Crawford (9+19=28), who is one goal shy of his 400th in the NLL. Kieran McArdle (6+19=25), a 2019 sixth-round expansion pick from Toronto, is tied for third in the league for assists. Former Canisius product, Connor Kearnan (16+4=20), is on a tear of late with four and five goals respectively in his last two games, and shooting 50 percent from the floor in three of five games played.
There is a group of young snipers, which includes Jeff Teat (7+12=19) and Tyson Gibson (5+12=17). Familiar names? Indeed, as fathers Dan and Daryl played with the Bandits. Larson Sundown, second round choice in 2020, has five goals and eight assists.
Defenseman Dan MacRae, who played nine seasons with Calgary before being selected in the fourth round of the expansion draft, is the captain. Goaltender Steve Orleman is 1-3 on the season with a .761 save percentage. Orleman made 56 saves this past Sunday in the Riptides win over the Wings.
On the Bell
Moving forward, the Bandits are in the eye of determination. A massive block of games ahead, with Covid and injuries always lurking, but this team’s depth and talent will persevere.
ESPN+ will provide coverage of Sunday’s game from NYCB LIVE: Nassau Coliseum and Radio 1520 AM The Bet. Game time is set for 1 pm.