Bandits clip Wings behind Wiles’ heroics
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 26, 2013 @ 9:40pm
Through three games and 59 minutes, Luke Wiles had been a shell of the 2012 Bandit who finished third in the National Lacrosse League in scoring.
He held out for a week of training camp over a contract dispute, was passed over for a letter when Buffalo chose captains and tallied only two goals on his first 32 shots. Midway through the fourth quarter, a visibly-exasperated Wiles—who’d been left off the man-advantage unit for much of the night—slammed his stick against the glass in frustration as he jogged to the bench.
All was forgiven in the final minute, however, as the second-year Bandit and fan-favorite stuffed home a John Tavares pass from close range to propel Buffalo to a 14-13 victory over the Philadelphia Wings. In his first season as GM, Steve Dietrich improves to 3-1 and his Bandits sit only a half-game back of first-place Toronto with a game in hand.
An illegal body-check by Philadelphia transition player Paul Rabil—with the Bandits in front 13-12—appeared like it secured Buffalo’s victory, but a shorthanded goal from Drew Westervelt off a Brodie Merrill rebound knotted the game with 1:17 remaining. Buffalo called timeout with 36 seconds left so assistant coach Dan Teat could design a final offensive play.
“I can’t even believe they put me out there after how badly I’ve been shooting the ball,” a jovial Wiles admitted in the post-game press conference. “[Teat] called the play for Johnny [Tavares] to drag and for Dhane [Smith] to come up the top, and the ball to come to me. [A Philly defender] kind of crept up, and I said “yeah, yeah,” and [JT] gave it to me and I shot it as hard as I could, because that’s what you have to do when you’re struggling.”
“[The goal] makes me feel a whole lot better,” a relieved Wiles said. “I’ve been struggling a little bit. I’ve been in Philadelphia trying to get my green card figured out, so I’ve been struggling getting to practice, and I think that’s affected my game a little bit. It’s nice to get that goal and hopefully get a little monkey off my back and get going.”
Head coach Darris Kilgour, who’s shown Wiles plenty of tough love in the past, has been a positive influence in pulling the Philadelphia-native out of his slump.
“I’ve been telling him to keep shooting,” Kilgour said of his advice to his 2012 All-Star. “The worst thing you can do is to let it get to your head and stop shooting. Then, you’re never going to get out of the slump. He kept shooting, and he buried the ball when we needed it most.”
Although Wiles notched the game’s most important goal, several Bandits buoyed the offense while No. 15 floundered. Mike Hominuck registered his second consecutive hat-trick, and Shawn Williams recorded six assists—five in the first half. The veterans have lent consistency and smarts to a unit that was lacking both last season.
“[Hominuck] had a big loose ball goal last week and a big loose ball goal this week,” Kilgour explained. “You get a guy like that who’s real hungry and trying to earn his way, and he’s definitely earning his way.”
Williams’ intelligence and vision has had the greatest impact on Buffalo’s new-found willingness to share the ball on offense, a selflessness that wasn’t apparent often in 2012.
“[Williams] knows the man’s going to be open before the guy even knows he’s going to be open,” Kilgour said. “It’s all about smarts with him, and it’s rubbing off on a bunch of the guys. We’ve slowed the game down a lot on offense and work 5-on-5 a lot better than we did the last couple years.”
While Kilgour mentioned that only four Bandits penalties Saturday night was “pretty darn good,” he was sharp in his criticism of Rabil’s late-game decision to plow a defenseless Mark Steenhuis into the boards, a high-hit that left many of the 13,808 fans at the First Niagara Center gasping. The nearby official immediately pointed to the box, and the outdoor lacrosse star’s unforced error played a major role in Philadelphia’s demise.
“He cost their team the win tonight,” Kilgour said of Rabil’s penalty. “Obviously there are 13 other plays that somebody could have made, but when you take a penalty in the last minute of a tie game, that’s not a smart play.”
Buffalo hosts first-place Toronto at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the First Niagara Center as the Bandits try to extend their winning streak to four games and vault over the Rock into the East Division lead.
(Header photo courtesy of Robin David Brown from last night’s game—see the full gallery here).