My sojourn to San Diego was highlighted by a return to my old haunt on the sands of Pacific Beach. The sun had just appeared for the first time in eight days, with the temperature rising to the mid-60s.
Cold by the locals but warm to me. To see the rough waves breaking and that sound of crashing curls is so soothing. The winds were amazingly calm, and nary a threat of impending clouds resting off on the horizon of the Pacific Ocean.
While my days have passed surfing the six-to-seven foot swells, I admired the salty beach blonde dudes stretching their full wetsuits on and heeding the advice of the shore patrol’s warning: “Shark warning left side of the coral, severe rip tide at the break, frigid water, full wetsuit advised.”
I watched with anticipation and enjoyed their attempts to rock the swells. Still, I said there was no way I could do that now, even in perfect conditions.
Oh So Good
The conditions were perfect Saturday for the Bandits, entering a much-anticipated battle with the West Conference-leading Seals. The club was riding a four-game winning streak, which included a 17-9 win the night before in Forth Worth against Panther City.
Two of the best offenses in the NLL are going head-to-head on a surface of 200’ x ’85 feet, spraying shots from every angle afar and close range.
The Seals fired 81 shots, with 26 going wide, while Buffalo pulled the trigger on 58 with only 14 going wide. That’s three times better than the Colorado game.
Both teams started fast with possessions, only to be turned aside by the stellar performance of Bandits Matt Vinc and Seals Frank Scigliano. It was a goaltending clinic all night long between the two protectors.
Did you order the code red?
Vinc, in particular, stopped a Gatling gun barrage of first-quarter Seals shots from everywhere, including them capturing rebounds time after time (73-57 in loose ball advantage by the Seals). By the game’s end, Vinc made 49 saves, including 17 in the first quarter.
He was stellar. And so, too, was the defense.
“The defense is stepping up like crazy. They are our backbone this year as everybody is talking about our defense, which is awesome,” said Dhane Smith, who broke the one-hundred-point barrier in scoring (28+75=103) with his 1+4 performance in San Diego.
“Defense wins championships; I believe in them. But offensively, we need to put the ball in the back of the net as well.”
Last Saturday was not the lowest-scoring Bandits game (April 19, 2014, the Bandits lost to Rochester 8-4). Still, it was a classic, gritty affair with plenty of hard checks and soaked shots (Steve Priolo with three).
Finishing off Buffalo’s tenacity, here is an example 14 seconds into the third quarter with Nick Weiss getting mugged by Seals defenders and tossing the ball to Josh Byrne like he was coming on the 190 entrance ramp at full speed.
In the volley of saves by Vinc and Seal’s Scigliano, the Bandits power play was executed perfectly, with Smith and Ian MacKay circulating the ball confidently and teeing up Brad McCulley, who’s becoming the new rifleman, tying the game at 5-5.
“We took it to heart (the loss to Colorado), and it was a good reset for the team. We don’t like losing in Banditland,” said Smith.
You would think with the Bandits entering their third overtime session of the season, the cast of usual suspects would score the game-winning goal. Not the case as the captain of the team and leader on defense, Steve Priolo (13 loose balls, three blocked shots, and two caused turnovers), highlights the harvest of a grand defensive corps and goaltending with the game-winner.
The 7-6 overtime victory shows how much the karma has changed on this club from last season, and it’s so noticeable.
“I think we are grittier; we know what’s at hand. Last year we had one of the best offenses in the league, and this year we have a few other guys that fill the roles that we needed last year, and I think that is what makes us better,” said Smith.
It seems like the Bandits have a perfect set of waves coming up. They have to ride them all the way to the end, putting in the same effort teamwide they did in San Diego.
No question there is a shark warning in effect.
Last Monday’s trade deadline went without much fanfare, including the Bandits keeping their roster intact.
But GM Steve Dietrich was busy with the intent of making the Bandits even better.
“We were going big game hunting, and we did. I thought we got close on a couple of deals, we were only going to make one, but at the end of the day, both teams decided not to do it,” said Dietrich.
“And I don’t begrudge them (the other teams) for not doing it because the guys we were talking about are pretty important players. We were willing to put some pretty big pieces with players and/or draft choices out there, but it didn’t work.”
“I think we are in a good state of mind here, and we have a pretty good team, and one we can win a championship with.
The next game for the Bandits will be this Saturday night, 7 p.m., against the Rock in Hamilton. Need we say more?
TV and Radio Information
Saturday’s game will be covered by ESPN+ & TSN+. It’s also the TSN game of the week with a 7 p.m. eastern time start.
Our radio coverage is slightly different this week as the coverage switches to 107.3 FM and AM 1400 or streaming online at audacy.com. The content remains the same, with the pregame starting at 6:30 p.m.
Bandits coach John Tavares will provide an update on the team and his thoughts on the Rock. Defenseman Bryce Sweeting will give a Bandits perspective. Coach Sawyer and player Dan Craig will join the show on the other bench.