An undefeated 6-0 record out of the gate for the Bandits reads and looks pretty. Yes, it’s the best start for the Bandits since 1996, the year they won their third championship. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
With 12 games remaining in the regular season, anything can happen. As the Bandits have experienced and watched, there are a lot of good teams in this league.
“The parity in this league is fantastic. Do I like being 6-0? Yes, without a doubt, but a couple of games easily could have been losses for us,” said Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich. “I think we need to learn some lessons and realize that everybody is good. It doesn’t matter who you are; you have to bring your A-game.”
While Rochester scored four straight in the fourth quarter and received outstanding goaltending from Rylan Hartley (48 saves), the Bandits were free and clear from injuries and COVID. There’s no question they brought their A-game with the 11-8 victory.
Everything seemed to flow smoothly as the Bandits, combined with Matt Vinc’s 38 saves, had a textbook defensive and transition game, coupled with fine scoring from the seven forwards up front. 10 separate Bandits players figured in the scoring, and Dhane Smith had the hot stick (4+3=7).
“It’s good that we keep winning. I don’t know about the New York game though. It was a little bit of a rough one on the defensive end. Thankfully the offense carried us in that one,” said Bandits alternate captain Kevin Brownell.
“It’s a tight league. Every team has its good players, and you can’t take any nights off. If we take the foot off the gas at any point, it ends up like what happened in New York, and we don’t want to be in that position. We must play our game, focus on what we do, and let the rest take care of itself.”
Oh, it certainly took care of itself last Saturday night.
Here is a different perspective on the game, using the five M’s: Meticulous, Matriculate, Miraculous, Magical, and Marvelous.
The Bandits’ assembly of seven forwards dressed Saturday night kept a solid rhythm with ball movement, spacing, forechecking, loose balls, shooting, and scoring.
Below, the Bandits are on the power play in the first quarter. Watch the passing and movement as everybody gets a touch after Dhane Smith rattles the goalposts. And continuing to control the game by scooping loose balls and relentless forechecking, and, after a reset on the shot clock, the Bandits storm again, with a Tehoka Nanticoke scoring opportunity.
And again below, the Bandits are relentless in their playmaking, positioning, shooting, and scoring. Watch below on this dominating offensive set, finished off by Kyle Buchanan.
Using the Scottish definition, where arms are accounted for. Watch the firepower the Bandits forces employ their tactics as a unit, winning the faceoff confrontation, and setting up the surge of offense, finished off by Chris Cloutier.
“Those faceoff battles are important, doing anything we can to win a good percentage of those split chance ones because those can swing a game at an important time,” said Brownell.
More arms on deck, again from the faceoff circle. A gaggle of Bandits jump right in for accountability. Justin Robinson comes up with it, allowing a mixture of forwards and Steve Priolo to cause havoc. Smith finishes it off with a goal.
“We are anchored by Steve Priolo, in my opinion, the best defensive player in the league. He is the heart and soul, and we build off that”, Brownell said.
Again, the Bandits react as a team, regardless of offense or defense in this sequence below. Watch the breakout of everybody’s full stride in transition, with Bryce Sweeting setting up Smith for a scoring opportunity.
Then, Matt Spanger intercepts Hartley’s outlet pass and set’s up Smith again, this time with a beauty of a finish.
How about this one with the Bandits on a penalty kill, getting a reset of the shot clock, Smith finds Nanticoke, who goes beast mode and scores a short-handed goal.
While Matt Vinc made some great saves, which has become standard operating procedure, the Knighthawks netminder Hartley had a beauty, along with 47 other stops. But this one is worth seeing again – and again.
“He bailed out that team with his acrobatic saves,” said Vinc.
Another magical moment for Chase Fraser. Watch the ball movement and players keeping position as Fraser does his own pick-and-roll. Buchanan creates a decoy with Fraser going over the top.
After a Connor Fields goal was disallowed, the play was not reviewed (because the 35-second challenge time elapsed during a brouhaha down in the Knighthawks crease). The 9,371 fans in attendance were not happy. Brownell helps to give them what they want by scooping a loosie and setting up a running Dhane Smith for a shorthanded goal.
And it’s great to see the Bandits transition time and time again, rolling up the floor and into the offensive zone.
Below Nick Weiss sets up Steve Priolo with a scoring opportunity. Bryce Sweeting trails for the loosie with a feed to Brownell back out at the center, allowing the offense to go to work.
“Every Bandits team every year is a little bit different. This is a product of a group of 10 terrific defensive guys. We have some new young guys in the defensive end this year, who are stepping up, and our offense just continues to gel. We’ll ride the course out and see where we end at the end of the year,” Brownell said.
Six straight wins sure look good in the standings. But it means nothing unless you go all the way with a championship.
The Bandits meet the Rock for the second of three meetings this Saturday night in Hamilton. No fans will be able to attend because of COVID precautions in Ontario.
With a healthy roster, the Rock have won two in a row and stand 4-3 on the season, third in the Eastern Conference. They handily defeated Philadelphia last Saturday night in the Wells Fargo Center.
Saturday’s game from Hamilton will go at 5 p.m., a change made for the TSN Game of the Week. Digitally, you can also capture the Bandits/Rock game on ESPN+.
I’ll have the radio broadcast call on WGR Sports Radio 550. The pregame show will start at 4:30 p.m. and feature a one-on-one with coach Tavares and up-front with goaltender Matt Vinc.