The Bandits instances of good fortune for six straight games has come to a halt, having lost last Saturday night to the Rock.
Considering how talented this league is, it was bound to happen, and I was glad a team like Toronto did it. This sets up the third regular-season encounter, played in Buffalo on April 30.
As the fictional character Tony Soprano used to say when his crew lost something: “Hey, whad-da-yah-gonna do?”
Despite the quick first-half Rock scoring runs, which included three goals in 90 seconds, the Bandits stayed in the game, hanging around the playing surface, trying to get something going.
Ok, Ok, move along. The game is over. Come on, nothing to see here.
Ah, wait. Yeah, there is.
Not to be denied, Josh Byrne uses a stretch of turf as a runway to go wheels up on Rock goaltender Nick Rose to tie the game at one.
Really, I thought the intensity was there for the Bandits in the first half. Witness this penalty killing sequence with Chase Fraser and Josh Byrne managing the penalty and shot clocks right to the second end.
And while being down 4-1 in the second quarter, the Bandits continued to run in transition. Below, Matt Spanger didn’t get lost in translation. When you’ve got a lane, say not a word.
Even after spending two hours on the practice turf the night before, dividends are paid off by working on moves and shots. Watch Fields, number five, come into the frame, decoying himself, and then getting the ball on the Rock doorstep for a score.
“It’s nice when the offensive guys get together, and they start talking about getting the timing down, and what to expect from each other, while working on their shots,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares. “And that’s how you develop comradery, and you improve as a team, just spending that extra time.”
Bandits tied the game at four, but Rock were relentless in setting up their sniper, Tom Schreiber, scoring four first-half goals.
“Tom is one of those players that can do great things in the field and box lacrosse game. He has transitioned well. Athletism has been a big part of the new NLL, and he is a prime example of that. He can score in a variety of different ways,” said Bandits goaltender Matt Vinc.
We’ve seen the team effort to move the ball and shoot at the right time. Here, faced with a four-goal deficit, Kyle Buchanan shows why he is so valuable to the system, finishing off a play started by Chris Cloutier and Dhane Smith.
“When you have a player like Kyle Buchanan pressing guys, fighting for loose balls after a shot, and trying to get a reset, guys stay on the floor a little bit longer. I trust the decision they are going to make,” Tavares said.
Chase Fraser worked hard Saturday with his up close and personal shots. Just his timing and footwork were off to make them count. He was at least putting them in the net. I did think his first attempt was a good goal.
Watch the determination of Fraser below as he drives to the net, keeping his composure while being hit from behind and scoring.
Toronto elected to throw the challenge flag. With that, the intensity and excitement of the game at that point drained out into the cold streets of Hamilton.
It was painful. It took a good 15 minutes for the crew chief to review the challenge of what I thought was the ball crossing the plane of the goal line.
It did within a nanosecond, from the crossbar in and bouncing down on the line. But, after the long wait, the crew chief determined Fraser’s foot was in the crease before the ball crossed the plane. Remember, he was pushed while attempting to shoot.
In Fraser’s second attempt, he goes for a flight, clearly horizontal and scoring before hitting Rose’s porch and the big netminder himself. He was just a little bit late with shoes up, and he was called for stepping in the crease
Later, Buchanan and Smith netted goals to tie the game, 9-9. Still, Toronto countered, and, despite the efforts, the Bandits couldn’t produce a come-from-behind victory.
Good positive notes on numbers as 11 Bandit players contributed scoring, and the team shot 21 percent from the floor. The Bandits shut out the Rock in the third quarter and outscored them by a 6-4 margin in the second half. Cloutier recorded three assists with his strong playmaking Kevin Brownell had eight loosies and two caused turnovers. Congratulations to Nick Weiss playing in his 100th NLL game.
While Vinc allowed 12 goals, he breaks every one of them down immediately following the tally with his players.
“That’s something that I started back in Rochester and carried over here with the Bandits,” said Vinc. You’ll see me with the leadership group discussing it, and then we put it behind us moving forward and have a better defensive chance. Lacrosse is a game of runs, and you don’t want to get one going the opponent’s way.”
Sure, the Rock scored quick goals, including the four by Schreiber and the two by Reid Reinhold. But the duo were shut down in the second half. And really, the star for the Rock was former Bandit defenseman Mitch de Snoo, who went 1+1, 14 loose balls, and three caused turnovers.
Move along now. There is nothing to see until Friday night when the Albany Firewolves come to the Key Bank Center for a 7:30 pm game.
Rock in Hamilton
Rock president and general manager Jamie Dawick moved the franchise from downtown Toronto to Hamilton last fall and hasn’t had a home crowd since mid-December. Saturday was the team’s third game without fans because of the strict Ontario Province Covid rules. And it has been tough.
“We really didn’t have much of a choice. It becomes challenging. We have 10 teams in the states, and for the most part, it’s business as usual,” said Dawick, who has owned the club for the last 12 years. “We’ve looked at this (playing home games) as being a good partner and continuing to do our part (to keep the schedule going).
“Fortunately, we’ve been the TSN game of the week for the three weeks we’ve had to play without fans. It’s disappointing we couldn’t have Banditland in for the game. It will be great once they start lifting the restrictions, and we look forward to welcoming the fans back on March 5.”
Game Ambassador Dan Dawson
Playing in his 20th season, Dawson has been a true ambassador of the box game. He is 12 assists away from becoming the all-time leader with 935 passing coach Tavares. He established the record playing 24 seasons in the NLL.
“It’s on my mind because people continue to remind me. I know it’s a part of what I do as an offensive player, but it will come when it comes,” said Dawson, who has three championship rings. “I’m just taking it one game at a time. Really, I just want to win one more championship, that’s why I’m here and more worried about wins. I still love playing this game.”
And what about the young talented players coming into the league?
“It’s unbelievable, yeah. Some players are coming right out of college and putting up six goals a night. There’s contributions from everyone on the floor. We have a plethora of talent coming into this league, and we’re in a really good spot, and the game is in safe hands.”
Friday’s game with the Bandits and Firewolves will be on ESPN News, ESPN+ and TSN. The broadcast time will be 7:30 p.m. Radio coverage will be on 1520 The Bet, with the pregame show starting at 7 pm. Steve Bermel joins me in the booth, and Dave Buchanan will be down on field level.