A picture is worth a thousand words. The photo above speaks volumes for the Bandits and Rock players who gathered together in emotional support for both Tucker Williams and all of the indigenous children who suffered through the horrific era of residential schools.
They played for the spirit of Tucker in the eighth annual Tucker out Lymphoma Night and also Every Child Matters. The latter was a league-wide NLL Unites program to recognize those taken from families, some never to return, during a senseless era of supposedly learning the white person’s way of life.
Both sides played the Creator’s game with plenty of emotion and toughness, which had great playmaking, solid defense, and excellent goaltending.
Too, it was a spirited battle that resulted in 73 minutes in penalties. The two sides gathered a little begrudgingly back at midfield for the traditional handshake or fist bump when the game was over.
True to a player, the game was left out on the field with the Bandits prevailing 12-6. However, Tucker’s memory, and that of the victims of residential schools, remain with them forever.
How intense was the game itself? Take a look at this shot below with Chase Fraser on the bench with profound focus.
Here is an excellent example of the solid defensive play by the Bandits in the first quarter.
You wouldn’t have thought the Bandits were away from game action for 26 days with this well-timed play. Watch Connor Fields below set up Chris Cloutier, who delivers a doorstep shot on Rock goaltender Nick Rose.
“Connor has been unbelievable for us. He’s obviously known as a shooter, but he’s an underrated feeder, and he’s underrated at loose balls,” said Kyle Buchanan, who played with Fields while in San Diego.
“The boys on the left side are teaching him how to pick and time those things as well. His game is only going to grow, and the sky is the limit for him.”
Remember that Fraser look on the bench? He was dialed in on this one, going full stride as Ian MacKay pushes the ball into the Rock offensive zone, gets a reset, and makes a perfect pass to Fraser, who slices the ball, like butter, between the pads and post, short side of Rose for a 3-0 Buffalo lead.
Matt Vinc, leading the league with an .861 save percentage, takes on a breakaway, making his fifth consecutive save at that point of the game.
Oh, and another beauty by Vinc.
And later in the game, some more fine saves by Vinc.
“He’s having a great season as expected,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares. “He’s better than ever. Bigger, stronger, faster. I think he’s actually getting younger. I thought about the time off, and people who are into fitness, it’s going to add a couple of years to their career, and that holds true for Matt Vinc.”
In the early stages of Saturday night’s game, the Bandits held an 18-9 shot advantage, resulting from solid positioning and players like Steve Priolo and Kyle Buchanan scooping up loose balls and breaking out with a fast transition.
In fine fashion, Buchanan picked up two assists for his relentless efforts.
“That is something I’ve always focused on; being a quick player, I’m able to get to spots and do things a little bit different than some bigger guys, and I’ve had to learn that throughout my career,” Buchanan said. “That is something that I’ve always prided myself on is getting extra possessions for an offense.”
“If you look at the skill of our offense, if I can do that every night, just contributing that way, I’m happy.”
Again, we pick up on the speed of Fraser, who comes into the video below in full stride from the penalty box, gets a pass from Dhane Smith, fires a shot a away, then a blast in the face, which needed immediate attention.
Not to be outdone, or left behind, Fraser gets patched up and returns with this beauty, and one I called impossible in the moment, for a 4-1 Buffalo lead.
“Lacrosse is a huge game of momentum and swings and its about riding those waves. As we get going, scoring goals is fun obviously, and once you get that flowing, you have another burst of energy. You’re able to do different things and get defenses thinking twice, goalies thinking twice, and I think we were able to do that in the games,” noted Buchanan.
Chris Swenson, the Bandits PA Announcer, who has been with the club since they started, was busy Saturday night with his popular refrain, “What’s He Got?”, which he says after a Vinc save, especially in the first half with the seven-time Goaltender of the Year making 22 saves.
He was in complete form. No rust from the layoff, maybe even better.
“With that amount of time off (between games), it’s easy for people to be lazy, but Matt is texting guys who wants to have a push-up competition, who wants to have this competition. You look at his physique, and it looks better than ever. He’s doing something right,” said Tavares.
Here is a perfect example of more teamwork below with Ian MacKay on a tic-tac-toe score, thanks to Buchanan and Chris Cloutier, breaking a 4-4 tie.
With 30 loose balls and nine caused turnovers so far this season, Bandits team captain Steve Priolo was all over the floor Saturday night. Below, Priolo takes the ball, draws a penalty, and later sets up a scoring opportunity.
Another nifty move, watch Dhane Smith in a dipsy-doodle, fake this-way-and-that, score while playing four-on-four. It was the Great Dhane’s 700th career point.
Like in every sport, many players are considered unsung heroes, who don’t show up on the scoresheet or get mentioned in the play-by-play quite as often as the stars, but are key contributors nonetheless. Bandit players like Justin Martin, Ethan O’Connor, Kevin Brownell, Brent Noseworthy, Justin Robinson, Matt Spanger, and the two youngsters, Jordan Stouros and Dalton Sulver (played his first NLL game) are certainly that. They constantly battle behind the lines, then dish off the ball in transition.
Watch this sequence of the Bandits penalty-killing unit holding the Rock at bay, who had a five-minute major power play.
And the payoff at the other end was a thing of beauty with this shorthanded goal by Josh Byrne.
Earlier in the game, Bryne recorded his 100th career assist.
Certainly, it was Fraser’s night to put the ball in the net, with an impressive four goals tallied.
Following Tehoka Nanticoke’s and Cloutier’s goals, extended skirmishes with some palm sandwiches and takedowns were delivered.
The best from the penalty blotter was the 30-second fight between Bandits rookie Jordan Stouros and Rock’s Billy Hostrawser. Not bad for Stouros, who earned the game belt for his strong play Saturday night.
Note the extra liberty punches Hostrawser when Stouros’s sweater is over his head. The officials should have stopped the fight earlier, which Vinc voiced with animation.
It was a big win for the Bandits, standing 3-0, but more importantly for Tucker and the Children.
The homestand continues this Friday night when the Georgia Swarm comes to town for a 7:30 p.m. start.
It’s The Office night, so wear your best Dwight Schrute outfit. Also, a special ticket package with T-shirt is available. “That’s what she said.”
Coverage of Friday night’s game will be on ESPN+ with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. Radio coverage will go at 7 p.m. on WGR 550 with the pregame show, featuring GM and assistant coach Steve Dietrich and Bandits great Dhane Smith.
Randy Mearns joins me in the booth for our 18th season together. Dave Buchanan will set up shop between the benches.