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Weekend double-dip crucial for Bandits

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Let’s pump the brakes a little bit.

Buffalonians tend to go to extremes when discussing professional sports teams.

“C.J. Spiller had a terrible year! Let’s draft a running back.”

“The Sabres are going to trade Ryan Miller for a legion of skating hamsters!”

You just need to look at comments on the respective Facebook pages of the Bills and Sabres to understand the mind-bending overreactions that actually mirror these examples.

Likewise, we’re probably putting too much emphasis on the Bandits’ season-opening 17-13 defeat at the sticks of the Philadelphia Wings. [Box score from home opener].

If I was fed a slice of cheesecake for every time I saw “Oh no, not again!” from a Bandits fan on Twitter, I’d be one very large half-Asian man.

Here’s a smattering of pre-game notes to bear in mind as you check out the Bandits vs. the Rock at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Grab tickets here to be a part of the orange-and-black clad Banditland.

After Friday night’s clash, Buffalo will hit the road on Saturday for Philadelphia, where the Bandits have a rematch date with the Wings at 4 p.m. Sunday.

1) Newcomers: NLL superstar Ryan Benesch (pictured right, No. 17, celebrating) and Andrew Watt, an important transition cog, weren’t going to fit into the Bandits’ system overnight.

More than likely, Benesch’s three-point effort (two goals, one assist) against Philly will be his lowest output of the 2014 season.

Needless to say, the Bandits’ recent cast-offs—Tracey Kelusky and Kyle Sweeney—shined much brighter than Buffalo’s acquisitions during the home opener.

Though there’s a lot of familiarity among players and teams in the tight-knit NLL, you simply can’t expect even a player burdened with sky-high expectations to seamlessly fit into a brand-new offense—especially when the entire Bandits team is adapting to Troy Cordingley’s preferences. Benesch will be more productive.

2) Cosmo on thin ice: It will be tough for GM Steve Dietrich and head coach Troy Cordingley to justify trotting out starting goalie Anthony Cosmo game after game if he continues his sub-par form.

Buffalo’s starter finished second-to-last in the league last year in goals against average and began a bad habit of conceding goals in bunches—permitting scoring runs from the opposition from which the Bandits could rarely recover.

With former head coach and GM Darris Kilgour no longer a factor in the organization, the commitment to playing Cosmo to validate shipping away two first-round picks is becoming less of a factor.

Though backup Kurtis Wagar is a capable fill-in, the Bandits’ goalie of the future—and maybe the not-too-far-away future—is probably not on the roster right now.

3) Old and slow: A quality discussion was had in the Bandits’ forum on the IL Indoor message board, centered around whether or not John Tavares and Shawn Williams (pictured together in header) are actually hindering Buffalo. It’s okay to be confused and a little angsty that I just questioned two saints of the NLL, but hear me out.

When Tavares and Williams are on the floor together offensively, the ball moves quickly, open teammates are found and scoring chances are created.

What happens when the ball is turned over or a shot whizzes wide of the target, though? The Bandits are in trouble. Neither Tavares (45 years old) nor Williams (39) can be considered anything close to spry, and opponents drool at the odd-man rushes that result.

It’s a touchy subject, how to handle two NLL greats in the twilight of their careers, two stars whom fans pay money to see. If they’re liabilities defensively in speed-oriented league, how can the new administration gracefully cut ties? Or is there a way Buffalo can adjust to capitalize on their skill sets and hide their weaknesses? The smaller rosters—20 players instead of 23—aren’t helping matters.

Buffalo-Philly was probably an anomaly for the duo offensively—Tavares and Williams totaled two goals on 18 combined shots on target—but we’ll see how much their future production offsets their utter lack of transition ability. This is a big storyline to watch this year.

4) Shooting lanes: Say what you want about Darris Kilgour, but his defenders knew they had to stand in shooting lanes or risk getting reamed out by their hot-tempered head coach.

Allowing 80 shots—68 on goal—is so humiliating that it borders video-game numbers, and Buffalo’s defense needs to force more turnovers, anticipate more passes and boldly stand in the way of more shots.

With Scott Self in Rochester and Chris White wearing the visitor’s colors on Friday, who will step forward as the defense’s leader? Billy Dee Smith is the longest tenured, while Rory Smith was brought over from Colorado to fill the veteran void.

5) Axe to grind: Troy Cordingley will obviously be fired up to face the team from which he was fired from last year—after winning the Les Bartley Award for NLL coach of the year, no less.

Cordingley’s assistant in Toronto, John Lovell, took the reins of the Rock, so don’t expect major changes from 2013. The offensive core of Garrett Billings, Colin Doyle, Stephan Leblanc, Kasey Beirnes and Josh Sanderson remains intact, while the only major departure is Blaine Manning’s retirement.

While we’ve already cited Anthony Cosmo’s recent woes between the pipes, Toronto’s Nick Rose had about as anti-climactic season as an NLL goalie can have in 2013, registering a sparkling 10.61 goals-against-average (third-best in the NLL), a 10-5 record and a .791 save percentage before getting battered by the Minnesota Swarm, 20-11, in the first round of the playoffs.

At least in the first game of the new season, Rose righted the ship in Toronto’s thoroughly dominant 16-11 win over Calgary.

Quick additional points:

**Aaron Wilson deserves to be active on game-day—he was scratched for the home opener. He’s quietly one of the team’s best players, and his ability off the ball complements the Bandits’ stars.

**I’m all for giving players the benefit of the doubt, but it’s hard for me to believe that Steve Priolo (pictured right, taller) is No. 41 on this NLL best players list.

**You have to feel a little sympathy for Chad Culp, the Bandits’ lefty who’s essentially stuck in a numbers crunch behind Tavares, Williams and Benesch on the left side. Buffalo needs his grit, but is there room on the floor for him?

**I’m beginning to appreciate Glen Bryan (pictured right, shorter) more and more. He’s undersized (obviously), but he’s also a smart and savvy defender. “Cagey” would be an apt description.

**Total Patriots move by Lovell and the Rock organization in signing Nick Diachenko, the Bandits’ second-round draft pick in 2013. He does have a lot of promise, but ulterior motives could have played a role here, too.

I know the NLL season has been pushed to 18 games in length, but the playoff spots available have been trimmed, and the Bandits should be in panic mode if they close this weekend at 0-3.

(Photos in the post courtesy of Robin David Brown from the Bandits’ home-opening loss to Philly).

TAGGED: anthony cosmo, buffalo bandits, john tavares, lacrosse, nll, ryan benesch, shawn williams, toronto rock

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