Game Report: Toronto 15 @ Buffalo 9

The Rock have traditionally played well in Buffalo; they were 13-6 in Banditland (including one playoff game) before Saturday night’s game. Given that, plus the fact that the Rock beat the Knighthawks convincingly last week and the Bandits lost even more convincingly in Calgary before coach Darris Kilgour questioned the heart of “everybody but about four people” on his team, it seemed inevitable that the Rock would prevail in this game. But this year, the inevitable may not happen, and what “can’t possibly happen” does. That’s why they play the games.

In this case the inevitable did indeed happen, as the Rock beat the Bandits 15-9 in a game the Bandits were only in for the first quarter and a half. Toronto took a couple of early leads, but never led by more than two. The Bandits tied it up early in the second before Garrett Billings’ second goal put the Rock up 5-4. The Toronto defense really stepped up their game at that point, and the Bandits offense didn’t get much in the way of good looks after that. Luke Wiles was shut down entirely (one assist) and Tavares was kept to 4+1. This year if you can shut down Wiles and JT, you’ve got yourself a win against the Bandits (and keeping JT to only 5 points is shutting him down). The Rock led 7-5 at the half, having already scored 4 power play goals. They would score another three in the fourth quarter.

Nick Rose had another solid outing for the Rock. In his second career start, Rose gave up 9 goals on 44 shots. He didn’t have to stand on his head, but was tested more than he was in Rochester last week, and made a number of very nice saves. The defense played very well in front of him once again, and a couple of people on the Wingzone message boards commented that Troy Cordingley was quite calm, cool, and collected behind the Rock bench because of it. (I was sitting up in the 300 level – best two seats I could get together on Thursday – so I could barely see Troy, let alone judge his mood.)

Late in the first, I wrote in my handy-dandy notebook that the Rock were passing very well, looking like a well-oiled machine. I then realized that this is a little easier to do when there’s five of you and only four of them. The Bandits were in penalty trouble much of the night, leading to the aforementioned 7 PP goals. It’s not even that the Bandits did dumb things and took penalties, they did dumb things at dumb times. Case in point: Doyle was given an “unsportsmanlike conduct” penalty (which should really have been a delay of game) at 14:59 of the first, I believe for taking a shot after the shot clock had run out. Troy Cordingley must have disagreed with that rather vehemently, as the Rock were also given a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct (which was likely not really a delay of game). So the Bandits would have started the second quarter with a power play (they already had a man in the box) for 1:17, and then a two-man power play for 43 seconds after that. But what happens? Tom Montour takes a penalty 3 seconds into the second, and we play 3-on-3 lacrosse instead.

The biggest story of the game was the play of Garrett Billings. The man was everywhere. Four goals, eleven assists, fifteen points. He was involved in every goal scored by the Rock, and the NLL has said that this is the first time that’s ever happened. Seems weird that Stephan Leblanc can put up 4+5 and Doyle 2+6 and they barely get mentioned. Brendan Thenhaus also scored two, and it must have been nice for him to score a couple against the team that cut him earlier this year.

Other than the penalty thing, the Bandits didn’t really play all that badly. Thompson wasn’t at his best but wasn’t terrible, and did make a number of really good saves. Cosmo, on the other hand, was terrible. The Rock had 60 shots on net, but you have to wonder how many of those were on the PP. Take away the 7 PP goals for the Rock, and this is a 9-8 game with the Bandits winning. But you can’t just dismiss “the penalty thing” saying “if we just fix that, we’ll win more games”. Taking undisciplined penalties against a team with such a potent power-play unit is a recipe for disaster, and taking undisciplined penalties is fairly standard for Banditball. Whether it’s this year or not, the Darris Kilgour era in Buffalo will end at some point, and it will be very interesting to see the evolution of Banditball in the years following.

Other game notes:

  • Mark Steenhuis looks terrible in the picture they put up on the Jumbotron when he scores. His curly hair hangs down to his right shoulder in what looks like the weirdest comb-over you’ll ever see. Good God, man.
  • Just to continue the Bandits reputation as fighters and goons, there were two trivia questions asked by the in-game people at this game, and both involved penalty minutes. One was “who currently leads the Bandits in penalty minutes?” (answer: Travis Irving), and the other was “what is the Bandits record for most penalty minutes in a game?” (answer: 70).
  • Tom Montour scored a goal early in the fourth and then turned around and started stomping his foot and raising his arm in the air. I’m sure it was an inside joke of some kind, but that might have been the weirdest goal celebration dance I’ve ever seen.
  • My season tickets for the Rock are right at centre, seventeen rows up behind the player benches, and I love those seats. But at this game, my son and I were sitting (waaaaaay up in the 300 level) in a corner to the left of (and behind) the goalie at one end. In the first, Colin Doyle picked up a loose ball and ran behind the net and I could see, just as Doyle could, that Thompson was standing a little to the left and looking over his left shoulder. I thought to myself “there’s a hole on the right side! Jump and tuck it in!” just a split second before Doyle did just that. It was very cool to see the entire play develop, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that from the centre.
  • I have heard stories about fans wearing jerseys of the opposing team being taunted, harassed, or even physically attacked at sporting events, but I haven’t heard any such stories from Buffalo. I have never had an issue there in the ten years I’ve been going to Rock games there, and this time was no different. I even had a nice conversation with the Bandit fan whose young son was sitting next to me. I’m sure there are Bandits fans who are jerks (just like there are Rock fans and Wings fans and Stealth fans who are jerks), but I’ve never met one. I remember going to a Bandits game shortly after the 2002 Olympics, and a group of Bandits fans who saw our Rock jerseys stopped us and shook our hands, congratulating us on Canada’s double-gold performances in hockey.
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