Surging: Five up, five down for Bandits
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • March 20, 2012 @ 12:22pm
Buffalo Bandits’ head coach Darris Kilgour’s one-on-one meetings with individual players delivered a clear, simple message: perform or lose your job. After the 21-14 road victory over Toronto Friday and the 13-10 home triumph over Minnesota Saturday, Buffalo has risen from the league’s cellar to sit in the thick of the East Division title race, only two games back of first place Philadelphia.
Five players up: (in no specific order)
1) Mike Thompson, goalie: Buffalo’s All-Star goalie was excellent after replacing Anthony Cosmo against Toronto, conceding only four goals on 20 shots after the Bandits’ prized trade acquisition allowed 10 first half goals. Thompson’s strong play carried over to Saturday evening against Minnesota, as he didn’t let in any weak goals—he was screened on a few—and reaped the benefits of a more organized defense. Kilgour can ride the hot hand, and that’s Thompson right now.
2) Billy Dee Smith, defense: I can’t imagine that Smith’s solo meeting with Kilgour was particularly pleasant, as the hulking defender had underachieved through eight games. Against Minnesota, though, Smith was rock solid defensively and looked more eager to join the attack, boosting a transition game that surprised Minnesota. Smith’s alertness in finding John Tavares “streaking” off the bench and ensuing delivery of a pinpoint pass served as one of the game’s highlights.
3) Scott Self, defense: After scoring five points in the season-opening win over Toronto, Self’s offensive game vanished. While he’s never been an offensive stalwart—his career high in goals is six in 2002—there’s an added element of danger in the Bandits’ attack when he and Smith ignite the break with long outlet passes or dashes up the floor. With two goals in the win over Minnesota, Self showed again that he can finish when given the opportunity.
4) Chad Culp, attacker: A player that Darris Kilgour accused of fading down the stretch last year, Culp began the latter part of the 2012 schedule with a season-high eight points in the whopping of Toronto. More importantly, Culp’s points weren’t all earned when the game was beyond reach—he tallied four assists in the first quarter as Buffalo rallied from a 5-1 deficit to keep the game within reach. If the offense didn’t start clicking then, there’s a fair chance that the Bandits would have been major sellers during today’s deadline. Plus, he became a father for the first time, which is pretty sweet.
5) Kevin Buchanan, attacker: To a degree, Buchanan was Mr. Tough Luck in the first half of the season. Sure, his blistering outside shot was far from accurate, but he didn’t benefit from any good bounces and had his confidence shaken. Don’t look now, but the dispersal draft pick has scored in his last three games, and while he’s still not producing at the rate that Buffalo fans had hoped, Buchanan looks more dangerous than he did in January. Baby steps.
Five players down (again, in no specific order):
1) Anthony Cosmo, goalie: The trade that sent two future first round picks to the Minnesota Swarm for a veteran goalie in Cosmo hasn’t panned out how the Buffalo Bandits were hoping, but Kilgour has insisted that the fault isn’t Cosmo’s. The Bandits’ general manager and head coach said in the NLL Tonight podcast that he’s been surprised that he hasn’t received any calls (through Monday) about his three goalies, although rumblings about a possible deal with Toronto for Nick Rose weren’t verified or denied by Kilgour in the chat. The numbers look horrible—16.09 goals against average, a .673 save percentage and no full games played—and that’s certainly dampened Cos’ trade value.
2) Darris Kilgour, GM: Truly, Darris Kilgour the head coach is deserving of a spot in the “up” category, but I can’t seem to figure out his vision as a general manager. After trading away one of the league’s best young defenders, Chris Corbeil, to get younger, he then dealt two first rounders to land a veteran goalie and then sent away another talented young defenseman in Jeff Cornwall. Then, in his interview with the NLL Tonight podcast, Kilgour mentioned draft picks, particularly targeting young attackers, as his most desired commodity for Tuesday’s trade deadline and presumably, going forward. Determining and committing to a blueprint for the organization—whether it’s relying on veteran acquisitions or building through the draft—would give some clarity to a currently confused fan-base.
3) Ian Llord, defense: It’s easy to feel a little sympathy for Llord, who was the lone effective Bandit defender early in the season. The last month hasn’t been kind to the 26-year-old, as he was a healthy scratch for both weekend victories after a string of poor outings. The return of Darryl Gibson from injury has knocked Llord down a peg on the depth chart, and practice squad call-up Jimmy Purves has seen time in the lefty D role as well. If Buffalo continues to win, it will be a challenge for Llord to find his way back into the lineup.
4) Jeremy Thompson, transition: It was a positive to see Thompson notch his first NLL goal into an empty net against Minnesota, and perhaps his clean face-off win was even more impressive. Still, Thompson’s struggled with the physicality of the National Lacrosse League, and to my rather untrained eyes, Tom Montour looks like the better bet of the two. With Jay Thorimbert sidelined indefinitely, Thompson will remain in the lineup because of his value on draws, but it would be great to see a few more glimpses of his potential.
5) Roger Vyse, attacker: Tough luck for Vyse as a healthy scratch in both wins last weekend, but he’s stuck in a numbers crunch. With Tavares, Culp and Buchanan hogging the lefty forward minutes, and Darris Kilgour’s preference for Brandon Francis in the lineup recently, Vyse’s booming shot has been left off the active roster. Expect Vyse to receive a few more chances this year, probably at Francis’ expense.