The shape of things to come calls for the elimination of time and space.
Yeah, that statement reads like something from a science report. But come to think of it, there are now several complex systems installed in the game of box lacrosse, so it is a bit of science.
Not only for offense and defense (front door, back door) but for power play, penalty kill, unique six-on-five formation, and faceoffs.
But, back to the top. Since the game was created by Native American tribes, one thing that has been a constant is the importance of eliminating time and space for your opponent.
And that’s the element that the Bandits need to employ in Game 2 of the National Lacrosse League Finals this Saturday night in Denver’s Ball Arena against the Mammoth.
Take away time and space from Mammoth players like: Zed Williams, Eli McLaughlin, Connor Robinson, Bret McIntyre, and Chris Wardle. Oh, hell, throw the whole Mammoth roster in – these guys are good.
You Can’t Stop’em
It’s a standard refrain from every coach, no matter what sport: “Ah, we can’t stop him, but we can attempt to take time and space away, limiting his opportunities.” Colorado is paying the same homage to the Bandits, with refrain.
“They have a really explosive offense, a really good transition, and arguably one of the best goalies to play in the NLL,” said Mammoth head coach and assistant general manager Pat Coyle. “Us (Mammoth), maybe, a little bit more of a by-committee team, just a grinding, sort of wear-you-down. Not as flashy – the two teams are really contrasting styles; it will be interesting.”
I am sure the Bandits concur, and even the styles of Tavares and Coyle when they were players back in the day of the tough box game can show clear distinctions.
“Not that he (Tavares) was flashy, but he played more of a high-risk, high-reward sort of game where they pushed the ball with high volume shots; early in the shot clock. (I took) care of the ball a little more, slowing the pace down a bit, and once we get on offense, really work their defense. I probably think of it more on the defensive end – and he (Tavares) thinks just go, go, go,” Coyle said.
Ok, enough of the breakdowns, matchups, and how they played back in the day. Game 2 of the NLL Finals will come fast and furious, and the Bandits need to be prepared.
Gotta Play Meaner
The Bandits need to play meaner, more physical and take time and space away from the Mammoth. I am talking about eliminating space, making it difficult for them to consider coming back into the area they roamed. They will pay the price.
Below, the Bandits defense and goaltender Matt Vinc show their character and strength in the first quarter, holding off a Mammoth surge. Exceptional coverage taking away options, and the play was finished off by Kevin Brownell, who had a great game with five loose balls and two blocked shots.
Adjustment to High Altitude
“When you’re a favorite, I think it’s harder. The Mammoth had a great game. There is a lot of pressure on the favorite team to win, and I thought our guys did a great job fighting off a resilient team.”
This game will be played at a dramatic elevation change where the air is thinner, creating a further challenge for the Bandits.
Here is an excerpt from the March 28, 2022 edition of Fast Break, where Ryan Rajk, the Bandit’s head athletic trainer, focuses on the elevation change from Buffalo’s 600 feet above sea level to Denver’s 5,279 feet.
“(The game in) Denver will be a new challenge for this team due to the rise in elevation, but being aware and educated will prepare us for this task. The good news is that we get in early on Thursday/Friday and have more than 24 hours before game time to adjust to the altitude,” noted Rajk.
“Our medical team will be aware of altitude sickness and symptoms like; headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, and nausea.
He continued, “Preventing these symptoms from happening will start before we even land in Denver by eating a slightly higher-calorie diet in carbohydrates. Too, drinking plenty of water and water enriched with electrolytes (potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium.)”
Mammoth, No Problem
On the other hand, the Mammoth have nine players living in Denver. They take advantage of their consistent high-altitude training.
“I think that’s something that hasn’t been talked about enough. Luckily, we were able to get nine guys to live in Denver, so they’ve been there for five months now. And I think training at altitude, maybe that’s why we are doing so well in the third and fourth quarter,” noted Coyle.
And that, historically, is when the Mammoth start their comeback but wasted little time last Saturday. Down 5-1 after the first quarter, Colorado outscored the Bandits 4-1 in the second half of the second quarter to rest at halftime down one, 9-8.
Equaling three scores in the third and fourth quarter and tying the game three times in the fourth, the Mammoth kept the pace but never the lead.
“We’ve done it every game these playoffs. Just a resilient group, a lot of character in the room, and a kind of team that is going to play to the final whistle. It doesn’t matter how many we are down; we are going to keep coming at you every shift,” said Mammoth defenseman Joey Cupido.
And even moreso this Saturday night in Denver’s Ball Arena, a.k.a. “the Loud House”.
“I would say they have the next best crowd in the loud house. Again, they have an advantage with their great fans. They are used to the thinner air as it’s harder to breathe. When we were there in April, we were sucking wind a bit. It’s a tough place to win, and we lost there, and now we have something to prove.”
And not just for the fact of beating the Mammoth on their home turf, but the opportunity to bring an NLL Championship back to Buffalo for the first time since 2008.
“We’ve made it to 11 finals, and we have only four to show for it. That needs to change, and we need to improve that average,” Tavares said.
The shape of things to come – period.
Game 2 of the NLL Finals will be carried by ESPNU and TSN. Coverage will begin at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Radio coverage will be on WGR Sports Radio 550. The pregame show will start at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. Steve Bermel joins me in the booth while Dave Buchanan will be roaming Ball Arena giving his perspective, and catching interviews during the game, halftime and postgame.