Game report: Buffalo 11 @ Toronto 18

The Rock and the Bandits really don’t like each other. This is not news to anyone who’s ever watched them play, and may be surprising considering the Bandits have eight former Rock players in their lineup plus their GM while Roger Vyse, former Bandit captain Chris White, and both the Rock coach and GM are former Bandits. We thought we’d be in for a long game during the first, with penalty after penalty after penalty, but eventually things settled down and we actually saw some good lacrosse for a while. Most of the really rough stuff was over halfway through the first, but the penalties continued all game.

If you read the NLL Message Boards, there’s a thread that starts before every game in the Bandits forum called Keys to the Game. Every week, someone comes up with three ways the Bandits can win – shut down the opponent’s star player, minimize opponent’s transition goals, grab an early lead (or prevent the other team from grabbing an early lead), that kind of thing. For the last ten years, #3 on that list has always been “NO DUMB PENALTIES”. Apparently the Bandits don’t read the message boards. The Rock have the best power play unit in the league, something you’d think Darris and the boys might have paid a little more attention to, but they didn’t. Special teams weren’t exactly root cause of the Bandits downfall, but Toronto’s four power play goals didn’t help.

That said, not all of their penalties were dumb. I’m not generally one to complain about reffing, but there were a number of phantom calls in this game, going both ways:

  • Alex Kedoh Hill was given a penalty for knocking Josh Sanderson down, though (a) Sanderson had just punched him in the head, and (b) Hill barely touched Sanderson, who dropped like a soccer player.
  • No less than eight players got roughing penalties at the same time after the first Bandits goal. It all started with some rough stuff between Josh Sanderson (!!) and Mark Steenhuis.
  • Anthony Cosmo gave Doyle a smack on the back with his goalie stick and although it wasn’t that hard a hit, Cosmo was penalized. Perhaps the refs thought it was too close to the head. I actually thought it did hit Doyle in the head, but on viewing the replay, it did not.
  • Just a couple of minutes later, Derek Hopcroft had possession when the Bandits were called for a moving pick. The whistle was blown and play stopped but Hopcroft did not drop the ball. Jesse Gamble tried to get it from him but he pulled away. Hopcroft should have gotten two minutes right there for delay of game – you must drop the ball as soon as the whistle is blown. Chris White then hit Hopcroft’s stick away (getting a slashing penalty in the process), and Gamble and Hopcroft had words. At this point Bill Greer stepped in which might have been a mistake, since Hopcroft immediately pulled Greer’s helmet off and just laid a beating on him. This was one of the most one-sided fights I can remember. I counted sixteen punches by Hopcroft and zero by Greer.
  • Just two minutes after that, Luke Wiles hit Patrick Merrill in the face, getting a slashing penalty. This was a good call.
  • But later on Wiles had possession when the whistle was blown and he dropped the ball right away. Perhaps it didn’t go straight down and stop – it did roll a little, but it seemed obvious to me that there was no intent to roll it away from the Rock player who was right there. Wiles was given a delay of game anyway. People around me were confused, wondering why I was complaining about that penalty since it was against the Bandits. Simple – it was undeserved.

All of that was in the first quarter.

The game did settle down after that. There were still lots of penalties (4 in the second and 5 in each of the third and fourth) but other than Luke Wiles double-minor for slashing and facemasking, most of them were fairly innocuous. I kind of held my breath near the end of the game, waiting for the Bandits to explode and start more fights (the “go down swinging” attitude that seems prevalent in some lacrosse people) but it never happened.

Cosmo wasn’t great but I wouldn’t place the blame for this loss on him, or on Kurtis Wagar. The problem was Buffalo’s defense. The Rock got a lot of chances in close, and when you have Colin Doyle with the ball standing just outside the crease and no defender within ten feet of him, he’s more than likely going to score. Give him and Kasey Beirnes a few of those types of chances each, and that’s a recipe for a blowout. Nick Rose had a pretty good game, but much of his success on Friday came because the Rock defense was preventing the Bandits from getting clear shots at the net. There is no video of the game highlights up on nll.com yet, but from what I remember, the bounce shot was not Rose’s friend.

As expected, it was an entertaining and exciting game, and I’m glad the rough stuff was taken care of early in the game. Nothing pisses me off more at a lacrosse game than a team starting fights near the end because they’re getting blown out. If your team is getting destroyed, tough. Man up and regroup for your next game, learning from the mistakes you made. Starting fights because you’re losing is just an adult temper tantrum.

Other game notes:

  • It was Kids Night, so there were some special promotions and events and such for kids. What better way to celebrate Kids Night than with 14 roughing penalties, six slashing penalties, and a fight? Maybe pick the Mammoth or Stealth next year for Kids Night, not the Bandits.
  • On a similar note, the song called Dance With Me (which contains the inane lyrics “if you’re sexy and you know it, clap your hands”) may not have been the best choice for the cheerleaders on Kids Night.
  • As I mentioned last week, the Rock were pretty slow on the offense-to-defense transition. This week was much better – no lollygagging.
  • There was a guy sitting behind me who called for Nick Rose to be pulled at least two or three times in the first half. The last time he said “They gotta put Boychuk in. Get Rose out of there” as if it was 15-0 Bandits or 5-0 after three minutes. But this was near the end of the second quarter and Rose had given up 5 goals. He did allow another goal with a second left in the half, but then kept the Bandits off the board for the next sixteen minutes. Didn’t hear any complaints about the goaltending in the third quarter.
  • Also overheard from someone behind me: “That #9 [Steenhuis] is out there an awful lot, isn’t he?” Yes. Yes he is.
  • Nice to see Rock captain Colin Doyle and Bandits alternate captain Shawn Williams going out of their way to get the game ball from the ref after Roger Vyse and Kevin Brownell scored their first goals of the year – Vyse’s was his first as a Rock (that must have felt good, especially against the team that released him before the season) and Brownell’s was the first of his career.
  • Shawn Williams’ nine-year-old daughter Dylana sang O Canada and did an outstanding job.
  • Great to see Roberto Alomar doing the opening face-off. I recently watched a game from the 1992 World Series on TV and I think I had forgotten just how much fun Alomar was to watch.
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