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Immediate reactions: Bandits 12, Rock 10

blog by Ryan Nagelhout  • 

I think the Buffalo Bandits are good again.

It’s not necessarily the 12-10 win over Toronto on Saturday at First Niagara Center that convinced me. I suppose the win—Buffalo’s fifth straight—helps make my case, but it wasn’t what I saw that convinced me.

Rather, it was what I heard from the 12,768 fans in Banditland that leads me to believe things are moving in the right direction for the Bandits.

Indoor lacrosse can be an odd game at times. It’s commonly called “a game of runs,” and teams can go silent for lengthy stretches of a game and still come out on top.

Win a few faceoffs in a row and you can string goals together and change the landscape of a game quickly. Lose focus or intensity at the wrong time and you could get pushed right out of a game.

It’s rare a game is decided before the final frame. That’s part of what makes it great, really.

Last week Buffalo nearly blew a 7-goal lead in the fourth quarter before winning, 11-10.

On Saturday night, Buffalo’s 7-5 halftime lead was erased by nearly 13 minutes of offensive futility in the third quarter. A John Tavares 5-minute cross-checking major put Buffalo’s slight 9-8 lead in doubt before the Bandits found two goals from Mark Steenhuis and Ryan Benesch to put the game away as the noise in Banditland reached its apex.

The noise was always there.

Even when the offense went away and the game was tied, each hit and save got an ovation. The game’s intensity rarely dipped, and neither did the enthusiasm in First Niagara Center.

The creeping feeling that can plague a building when the road team comes on was never present.

Last week Ben said I was being too hard on Swennie, the in-house announcer for the Bandits. Obviously I think he’s wrong, and it’s because of the fans that come to these Bandits games.

The last few seasons have been lean times for Bandits fans, with empty seats in the upper deck and disappointing losses at home.

The creeping feeling was everywhere, and for good reason. The first game of the season led me to believe more of the same was coming this year, but midway through the second game of the year the Bandits turned it around.

The fans here have reacted in kind. When the teams are good, the economy or the job market or even what else is on television matters to fans. They go to games because they know they’ll get a good show.

I know Bandits fans who have stuck with their season tickets, even through the muck of missing the playoffs in a league where only one team stays home for the postseason.

They renewed because there’s always the chance you miss when things finally turn around and it’s fun to be in Banditland again. Saturday night was the first time in years where it felt to me like I’d be missing something special from the team if I stayed home.

I hate the Electric Slide approach to sports because I think fans are better than that. Especially Bandits fans. They know lacrosse and when to react to big hits, great goals and excellent games. 

If the lacrosse is good, people show up and get loud. If the Bandits keep winning games, Banditland will fill with orange and get louder as the weather gets warmer. It’s totally going to be a thing, and it has nothing to do with how enthusiastic the guy announcing penalties is.

There was a bit of drama after the game. Players from both sides got to shoving and the officials had to break it up. After hard hits and some cheap shots, the teams weren’t exactly happy with how things went.

Eventually the teams separated and got ready to shake hands. It was so tense I honestly forgot that the teams do this every week.

There was a standoff at midfield, both teams waiting for the other to make the first move. The crowd at First Niagara Center waited to see what happened. Then they started chanting “Let’s Go, Bandits.” No provocation. Nothing on the blinking video boards made them do it.

The fans didn’t need to be told what to do. They were proud of the win and how Buffalo had played.

They knew that chant was the trump card for a team that’s now 5-1 and in control in the East Division.

It was a great moment made greater by a smart, passionate group of fans who seem to feel something great is coming their way this season.

Right now it’s pretty hard to argue against them.

Fresh Indoor Lacrosse Takes, Right Out of the Oven
—Tucker Williams, the 8-year-old son of Bandits assistant captain Shawn Williams, was recently diagnosed with Stage III Burkitt Lymphoma. Lots of people have written about Tucker’s fight.

They had Banditland sing him Happy Birthday via Facetime midway through the first period. It was pretty damn awesome.

Hopefully we’ll see Tucker back in Banditland soon. It was the one thing everyone in the building could agree upon on Saturday night.

— Buffalo won against Toronto by the same score in its first meeting with the Rock, but this one definitely felt different. Much more in control in the endgame this time around.

— On Steenhuis’ fourth goal, which made it 12-9 and sealed the game for the Bandits, Colin Doyle was cherry-picking back in the Buffalo zone, which essentially made it a 4-on-4 game.

I was making a note of that when something happened and Tavares was lying on the ground. Doyle went to the box. I say this with all seriousness: I am amazed there wasn’t a fight in this game. It’s one of the great mysteries of our time.

— Goal of the game goes to David Brock, who went coast-to-coast, bounced off a Rock defender and snapped a shot over the right shoulder of Toronto’s Nick Rose to give the Bandits the 9-8 lead at the end of the third quarter.

Really impressive moment from a guy not exactly known for his work on the scoresheet. Keep an eye on The Lacrosse Network’s YouTube channel to see if Brock’s tally makes the weekly Top 10 Goals clip.

—With 5:20 left in the second quarter we were looking at 3-on-3 lacrosse. 3-on-3 lacrosse is kind of fun. It’s also an absolute disaster. It’s like watching a practice session with a few thousands people looking on.

Also, as Dave Buchanan pointed out, the next penalty would have meant a penalty shot.

Later, the Bandits had a too-many-men penalty. Because it was inside two minutes left in the fourth, Toronto was awarded a penalty shot. I think the NLL hands out penalty shots a bit too willy-nilly for my liking.

You can’t just be giving away the good stuff. Have some respect for yourself, NLL. You’re a classy broad when you want to be.

— Rory Smith got nailed in the neck by a Rock shot while they had an extended power play opportunity in the fourth quarter. I was amazed he got back up and kept playing. It was a really impressive sequence for the Bandits, who led 9-8 at the time.

The Bandits also had two shorthanded breakaway opportunities during that Toronto power play. The Rock hit a post before finally scoring to tie the game at 9, but that power play was the turning point in the game.

Limiting Toronto to just one goal in that five-minute stretch turned the game around for Buffalo.

— This pace of the game itself was fine, but in regard to the actual passage of time it was SO. SLOW. So many stoppages for reviews, penalties, and explanations. None of which we could really hear.

It was quite the physical game punctuated by long bouts of vague confusion and instant replays. I’m not sure how it translated on TSN2, but there were some rough patches in-house on Saturday night.

— John Tavares notched his 1,700th point on Saturday. I would really like to be good at something the way he is good at something at 45.

— Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley’s post-game press conference was once again held under by the foosball table underneath Section 102. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this happened against his former team once again. I, for one, and DYING to know what happened between he and the Rock. A better reporter than I must know.

A Criticism of Ryan Nagelhout, Press Box Occupant
— Watched closing minutes of Syracuse/Duke game on ESPN3 app.

— Failed to eat popcorn and give proper review.

— Wore too many shades of gray.

— At one point had two (2) full cups of Diet Coke on his person. Downright uncouth.

Stat-line I liked:
4
— The number of Mark Steenhuis goals. He had six points on the day. Strong.

Stat-line I didn’t like:
83
— Number of total penalty minutes with ZERO fighting majors. Made for a very choppy game at times.

Next Game:
Saturday, Feb. 8 at Rochester (7:30 p.m.) — Making it six in a row against the defending champs is a tough ask. Huge game.

(Top photo courtesy of Bill Wippert at the official Bandits Facebook page.) All internal photos are from Buffalo.com photographer Robin David Brown, whose full gallery you can find here.)

Ryan Nagelhout is a freelance writer who blogs at The Goose’s Roost when he’s not writing children’s books.

TAGGED: box lacrosse, buffalo bandits, downtown, immediate reactions, nll, ryan nagelhout, shawn williams, toronto rock

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