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Immediate reactions: Bandits 13, Wings 7

blog by Ryan Nagelhout  • 

The Buffalo Bandits beat the Philadelphia Wings 13-7 in front of 13,980 home fans on Saturday at First Niagara Center. The lede is simple and the story is straight: Buffalo is a much better team and the result reflects that.

I’m doing a Bad Sportswriter thing here in that I decided what I wanted to write about before I watched a second of the game I was going to cover.

But here’s the thing: I basically felt like I knew how this game was going to go beforehand. I’ve now watched three Bandits-Wings games over the course of seven weeks. The first game was the season opener. Buffalo played bad against a bad team and lost.

They rebounded in the second game two weeks later, and so on Saturday I completely expected them to beat up on a bad team because the Bandits are now playing good lacrosse. There was little opportunity to lose the script here.

The challenges of making a working schedule for the National Lacrosse League are obvious. I know the guy that does it and understand what a massive undertaking it is. The problem is that the things that determine any league schedule are not things any one human being can control.

Indoor lacrosse isn’t getting first pick of venue availability. Cross-country travel is always an issue. The season is long and there are just not many teams in the NLL these days. There are television contracts to fulfill and accommodate for. Teams have rivals they want to play and scheduling issues of their own.

Everyone has a preference and none of them ever add up. It’s a nightmare, but a necessary one to endure so they can have a season at all.

One of the biggest issues is that the bottom line needs to add up. More games mean more revenue for teams. That’s why the league decided to add two games to its 16-game season this year.

After all, it’s just what the NFL wants to do, and many sports leagues play many more games. But those leagues also have many more teams. The NLL has nine, which means a lot of meetings with familiar foes. The first eight games of the Bandits season featured three games against Philadelphia and two against the Toronto Rock. Buffalo plays Toronto once more and has a home-and-home series with rival Rochester—a team they played last week—to end the regular season.

Repetition is necessary to round out the schedule because there just aren’t many choices at this point, and flights are expensive.

Attending a sporting event is not like going to a movie or a play in that the show won’t be the same just because of identical billing on the ticket stub. Bandits fans that went to both the home opener and Saturday night’s game saw completely different performances, and they were much happier with the result the second time around.

But there is something to be said for scarcity. A big rivalry game against Rochester certainly feels more special if it comes to Banditland once a year because there’s no option to “get them next time.”

Rochester gets two of these games this year. It’ll be good for the profit margin and for fans of regional rivalries, but I’d rather they save “next time” for the playoffs, when those two teams absolutely deserve to decide a season series.

The silver lining here is that the National Lacrosse League continues to tinker when it comes to game format and scheduling. They’re not resting on its strong franchises and simply raking in the gate with the same product.

The league seems strong overall, and they continue to make changes that appear to be in the fans’ best interests. You’ll see a new playoff format this year and a championship series to decide the Champion’s Cup winner. Maybe someday the league gets rid of divisions and has each team play twice to make it nice and even. (Actually, that probably won’t ever happen.)

For now, we are left with the quirks of this year’s schedule. Buffalo plays at home again in two weeks, then goes on two 3-game road trips in the season’s second half. It’s going to be a tough road no matter how you look at it, but the good news is that the Buffalo Bandits are winning their home games while they have them.

They are atop the East and will be competitive in the postseason. It’s an exciting time to be in Banditland no matter who the team is playing.

If that wasn’t the case, though, this whole running into the same teams thing could be a bit more awkward than it is.

Fresh Indoor Lacrosse Takes, Right Out of the Oven
— The Bandits and the NLL as a whole are doing some incredible work for Tucker Williams in his fight against lymphoma. Buffalo will host a Tucker Out Lymphoma night on April 5 when the Bandits host Calgary. Braver Than Brave shirts were all over First Niagara Center. I even saw a few in the press box on Saturday.

The support this kid has been given from fans and the league has been just tremendous. Buy a shirt for the kid and come have some fun in April. I’m sure it’s going to be a pretty emotional evening.

— The Happy Wheel prize was handed out to section 118. Congrats to them. Unfortunately, what was once a prize of a Big Mac or something similar is now merely a coupon for a free small fry. I know the small fry was recently taken off the Dollar Menu at McDonalds, so presumably section 118 won a prize of slightly more than a dollar.

As Steve Bermel pointed out, the Happy Wheel prize is now small potatoes.

— The game was all but over when Jay Thorimbert scored shorthanded eight seconds into the third quarter. He won the faceoff, picked up the ball and raced down the wing to net the goal that made it 6-2 Bandits.

Philadelphia scored quickly afterward, but you could see all the energy go out of Philadelphia from there. The Wings didn’t get many bounces on Saturday night, and they never really had any consistent offensive push.

— One of my favorite things about the NLL is the insanely quick restarts they have on infractions and balls out of play. Early in the third quarter a ball went into the Philadelphia bench. A coach caught the ball on a bounce and flipped it to his own player, who immediately rushed down the field to set up the offense.

Not forcing the official to touch the ball to reset a play makes for a quicker, more fluid lacrosse game. It’s a great move the league has made to speed up the game.

— Anthony Cosmo had himself a solid game, with 45 saves and a first star from The Buffalo News’ Budd Bailey.

He’s played well over the last few weeks, and looks to have found the cease more comfortable than he did earlier in the season. When Cosmo is on his teams are tough to beat, and right now he definitely has what it takes to lead a team to a title.

— Things got a bit silly in the fourth quarter, with Buffalo scoring a goal when a Wings defender ran into his own goaltender and the Bandits scoring again just seconds later.

Buffalo’s fourth-quarter goals featured a lot of the swagger this team used to have when it was contenting for NLL titles yearly. A good at the former midway point of the season.

— Bandits rookie Mitch Wilde scored his first career NLL goal on a nice feed from Chad Culp just 2:01 into the third quarter. He was excited about that, and he should have been.

— John Tavares notched his 900th career assist in the fourth quarter. He is quite good at indoor lacrosse, and has been for a long time.

A Criticism of Ryan Nagelhout, Press Box Occupant
— He’s just not a good person. Let’s call it what it is.

Stat-line I liked:
— Mark Steenhuis goals scored. Hey, just like last time I was here!

Stat-line I didn’t like:
— All orange everything on Saturday. Not much to criticize here.

Next Game:
Saturday, March 15 vs. Minnesota (7:30 p.m.) — Two weeks off. I’m sure after this one they’d like to keep rolling through, but they haven’t had a break in a while.

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

TAGGED: buffalo bandits, downtown, immediate reactions, nll, philadelphia wings, ryan nagelhout

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