The Buffalo Bandits’ first game of the 2020 calendar year will be a matchup of two teams looking to bounce back and return to the win column.
The Bandits return from a week-long break with their first road trip of the season as they will head down south to take on the Georgia Swarm on Saturday at Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth, Georgia. Faceoff is at 7 p.m.
It’s just the third game in a little over the month for the Bandits as their schedule included a two-week break in December between their season opening victory on Dec. 8 and their Dec. 28 contest against Halifax, a 15-10 loss. That was followed up with another week off before the trip to Georgia.
“We have to do a better job of coming in prepared and practicing on our own time and getting better at preparing for what’s next,” Bandits forward Josh Byrne said of the preparation for the Georgia game. “We know how these two-week breaks can go, so it’s 100 percent on us.”
The Bandits are now hoping to get back into a groove as the schedule picks up throughout the rest of January. The game against the Swarm is the first of four games on the schedule in the first month of 2020.
Buffalo is looking to rebound after taking its first loss of the season on Dec. 28. The game was decided in large part because of a disastrous second quarter that saw the Thunderbirds outscore the Bandits 6-0. It was part of a 9-0 Halifax run that carried into the third quarter.
In the Halifax game, the Bandits were without captain Steve Priolo, who missed the contest with an injury. His presence was greatly missed on the defensive end as the Bandits surrendered 15 goals and 50 shots.
“That’s the biggest loss we could have,” forward Dhane Smith said. “He’s our leader. He’s our captain. He leads by example. He’s definitely our best defender as well, and the best defender in the league. Losing a guy like that, it definitely hurts us. At the end of the day, [Halifax] shot really well and hopefully we have him back [for Saturday].”
The Bandits’ opponent on Saturday night will also be looking to get back in the win column. The Swarm (2-1) are also coming off their first loss of the season, a 13-11 defeat at the hands of the Colorado Mammoth on Dec. 28.
The Bandits will get a tough test from a talented Georgia team that finished second to the Bandits in goals scored last season with 230. The Swarm bring back largely the same group of players as last season and have also taken a big step forward on defense through three games.
Georgia has surrendered just 23 goals so far, second fewest in the NLL and the fewest of any team that has played three games.
The Swarm are led by talented forwards Lyle Thompson and Shayne Jackson, who have 19 and 18 points, respectively. Both players have a team-high nine goals. Georgia’s leading playmaker is Randy Staats, who has a team-high 14 assists.
Defensively, the Swarm are backstopped by veteran NLL goaltender Mike Poulin, who is in the 15th season of his pro career. Poulin has allowed just 21 goals in Georgia’s first three games, good for an .844 save percentage. Connor Sellars has anchored the Swarm defense with a team-high 20 loose balls, while Jason Noble and Alex Crepinsek lead the team with four caused turnovers each.
Infinite Energy Arena will be a tough place for Buffalo to come away with a victory as opponents were just 2-7 against the Swarm in that building a year ago. The Bandits visited on Feb. 9 last season and were dealt a 19-9 loss by Georgia. Buffalo did return the favor with a 14-9 win over the Swarm on March 9 at KeyBank Center.
The Bandits will be looking for another big game from Smith, who leads the team with 11 points (5+6). Chris Cloutier is tied with Smith for the team lead in goals with five. Byrne (4+5) is another player off to a strong start for the Bandits this season.
Buffalo will be looking for a bounce-back performance in net from Matt Vinc, who was pulled in the second quarter against Halifax.
Vinc returned for the start of the third quarter but was pulled again after giving up two additional goals. The 37-year-old netminder has stopped 67 shots in Buffalo’s first two games of the season and has a .753 save percentage and 14.37 goals-against average.
Fans can follow Buffalo’s trip to Georgia by streaming the game on B/R Live or tuning into the radio broadcast on ESPN 1520.