Shorthanded Bandits host nemesis Toronto tonight
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • February 02, 2013 @ 11:43am
The Buffalo Bandits’ post-season quests have reached the same conclusion the last three years: a narrow loss to the Toronto Rock. Last year’s debacle was the most heart-breaking, as Buffalo’s Tracey Kelusky was ruled in the crease as Tavares rifled in what was thought to be the game-tying goal just before the final horn.
With both squads tweaked for 2013, the rivalry will be even more vicious—it continues at 7:30 tonight at the First Niagara Center (tickets here).
NLL all-time leading scorer John Tavares has been ruled out for the Bandits with a calf strain, while former Bandit captain Chris White signed north of the border due to a lucrative contract and to be close to his family, a loss that’s hurt Darris Kilgour’s team in several categories.
Tavares, who’s notched 14 points over the first four games, will be missed on the power play and late in a close game, but perhaps the addition of a youngster like Carter Bender—a big, hungry rookie—could make Buffalo’s offense even more dangerous.
The Rock stand at 4-1, while the Bandits trail by a half-game at 3-1. With defending NLL Champion’s Cup winner Rochester off to a bumbling 0-3 start, the East Division could be decided by the three regular season head-to-head meetings between Buffalo and Toronto.
Toronto hasn’t won a game in convincing fashion, but Troy Cordingley’s club has eked out several close wins. The Rock’s four victories (over Calgary, Edmonton, Minnesota and Rochester) have come by a total of eight goals—an average margin of victory of two goals. Toronto’s lone loss was a one-goal defeat against Philadelphia.
The usual suspects make up Toronto’s high-powered attack, as Garrett Billings (second in NLL in points), Stephan Leblanc, Colin Doyle (fourth in points), Josh Sanderson (fourth in goals) and Kasey Beirnes are all dangerous, especially in man-up situations.
White, who’s currently appealing a one-game suspension, will be active for the Rock tonight since a ruling hasn’t been handed down from the NLL. He joins Sandy Chapman and Rob Marshall to form a solid defensive corps in front of stellar net-minder Nick Rose, who leads the league in wins, goals against average and saves—impressive even if Toronto has played at least one more game than any other team beside Washington.
This will be a crucial night for Buffalo’s Jay Thorimbert, who’s won 56 face-offs and lost 55. Toronto, however, loses draws at an alarming rate—neither Chapman nor Hoar has topped 39% in that category, with Hoar’s 28% especially poor. If the Bandits can take advantage of extra possessions and ignite runs, it could be a long night for the visitors.
Reports are that young Bandit defender Mike McNamara has been placed on injured reserve, but it hasn’t been confirmed by the NLL.com transactions page or by the Bandits. The onus will fall on rookie Hayden Smith, newcomer David Brock and veterans Billy Dee Smith and Scott Self to raise the level of physicality in McNamara’s absence.
Bandits Director of Lacrosse Operations Scott Loffler mentioned on the IL Indoor message board that Buffalo’s 2012 Unsung Hero Award recipient Mat Giles has been placed on injured reserve for more weeks after opening the season on the shelf as well. His hamstring is clearly a concern, and Jon Harasym will serve the second game of his suspension tonight as well. It seems likely that Nick Cotter will return to the active lineup and Bender will see his first action, but time will tell.
(Photos courtesy of Robin David Brown from game last week vs. Philly - see the full gallery. Chris White photo by Dave Marino.)