Lifeless Bandits shellacked by red-hot Rochester
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 09, 2013 @ 10:32pm
The true test of a champion’s mettle is how a team handles adverse circumstances—will they serve as excuses or provide a means to band together?
For Mike Hasen’s Rochester Knighthawks, a strange 11 a.m. start on Friday in Philadelphia, a canceled flight, a six-hour bus ride couldn’t derail the defending champions as the visitors crushed the Buffalo Bandits 15-7 Saturday night at the First Niagara Center.
“It was an old-fashioned ass-kicking,” described Bandits’ head coach Darris Kilgour, who used the word ‘frustrating’ nearly 10 times in the post-game press conference.
The Knighthawks led 7-2 at halftime, 11-4 after the third and—after the intermission—never let Buffalo close within six goals. Three of Cory Vitarelli’s four goals were highlight-reel worthy, particularly his sprawling quick-stick shot on the doorstep after corralling a behind-the-back pass from superstar Cody Jamieson on the opposite side of the crease.
Jamieson’s nine points (2+7) included several pretty feeds, while Stephen Keogh (3+3), Dan Dawson (1+4) and Casey Powell (1+4) all registered at least five-point nights. Keogh, in particular, looked unstoppable.
“It’s a matter of execution—we didn’t execute on offense tonight, we didn’t execute on defense tonight, our man-short wasn’t very good, our power play wasn’t very good,” Kilgour continued. “When you get outplayed that badly in so many different areas of the game, that’s the result you’re going to end up with.”
On the heels of pounding Philadelphia 20-10 on Friday morning, the Knighthawks learned that “Winter Storm Nemo” had thrown a wrench in their travel plans, forcing them to bus from Philadelphia to Buffalo for the second game of a back-to-back weekend roughly 24 hours later. Unfazed by the longer-than-expected commute, Rochester stubbornly continued its torrid offense, defense and goal-tending in crushing its thruway rivals.
“It was the best of a worst-case scenario,” Rochester head coach Mike Hasen explained, “because I don’t think we would have been here if we didn’t jump on that bus right away. The guys had a good time on the trip back.”
The Bandits’ Shawn Williams echoed Hasen’s statements that the midnight arrival in Buffalo after an 11 a.m. game earlier Friday was a blessing in disguise instead of an excuse for failure.
“It’s probably better that they all had a bus together because they could talk about everything,” the 38-year-old Bandit said.
Despite being out-shot 61-48, the Knighthawks rode the stellar shot-stopping of veteran Matt Vinc in dispatching the Bandits, pushing the ‘Hawks lifetime edge over Buffalo to 27-20.
Coming off a 14-12 defeat to Toronto last weekend at home—Buffalo’s first loss of the season at the First Niagara Center—the Bandits sought to sustain strong five-on-five play and avoid the costly penalties that doomed them against the Rock.
Unfortunately for Buffalo, the wheels started to come off early, as Rochester scored 26 seconds into the game and shut-out the home team for the game’s first 17:09. Vinc, who denied 48 shots on 55 attempts, sparkled—standing firm in his crease against point-blank opportunities, nimbly shuffling across the goalmouth to narrow shooting angles and finding a bit of luck along the way. Every carom seemed to bounce away from his cage, while Rochester’s shots on Cosmo felt like they had eyes.
“You’re looking down at the other end and [Vinc] has everything going for him, and then down at my end the ball hits me and somehow finds its way in,” said Buffalo’s goalie Anthony Cosmo, who stopped 31 of 44 shots and was pulled briefly in favor of backup Kurtis Wagar. “It’s frustrating—I’m trying to do the best I can and hope that the team still believes in me.”
Although the shots-on-goal category would suggest that Vinc had to stand on his head for much of the night, Buffalo produced countless half-chances, long shots from distance early in the possession that hit a stationary Vinc in the chest or the pads. Unlike the narrow loss to Toronto, the Bandits failed to set-up opposing defenders as screens, and Vinc had a clear look at most chances.
“We could bury our heads in the sand if we didn’t get our chances, but the fact that we got our chances and that we’re getting there is one positive,” Williams said optimistically. “It’s tough, but that’s our league. It’s legit—everyone’s good; every offense is good, every defense is good, every goalie is good.”
Hasen’s response was more leveled, however, praising his defenders for packing in and forcing Buffalo into perimeter shots.
“They’re not allowing quality shots on D, and they’re putting [Vinc] in that position to make saves,” said the Rochester coach.
Williams, the facilitator of the Bandits’ offense for the season’s first five games with 22 assists, went into more detail about how Rochester’s defense threw off Buffalo’s strategy.
“They pack it in—Rochester has five guys inside our Canadian dotted line, so it’s tough to break through,” he said. “You have a game plan where you want to pick and roll, but then they help, help, help, so you want to take outside shots, but those are hitting helmets and sticks, and then it’s ‘now what?’ Then it’s a little bit of panic then ‘I’m going to try [something].’”
Buffalo’s power play went 0-6 and allowed a shorthanded goal to Keogh, while David Brock’s five-minute major penalty effectively killed off a short-lived Bandits power-play early in the third.
“We took a five-minute penalty again on a power play, and that’s the frustrating part,” Kilgour explained. “We’re not correcting the mistakes that we made from the week before, and that’s the frustrating part—we didn’t get any better today.”
As we suspected, the absence of John Tavares and other various injuries (Mat Giles, Mike McNamara, etc) forced rookies Kevin Brownell and Carter Bender into the lineup for the first time this season. Bender found the net in his NLL debut, while Brownell had a few positive moments coming out the back door, even though he wasn’t aggressive in transition.
The Bandits travel to Rochester for a 7:30 p.m. tilt next Saturday, then have a bye week before facing a back-to-back in Toronto and at home against Philadelphia at the end of February.
“You have to be careful with this type of game film because you can break some spirits by showing the mistakes that were made,” Kilgour said of his approach this week. “We could sit there for three hours showing the mistakes that were made, and I think they’re feeling pretty down as it is. We have to let them know that the season isn’t over.”
(Photos courtesy of Cody Osborne from last night’s Buffalo vs. Rochester game—see the full gallery).