As an NLL fan, I’m glad I drove to Buffalo Friday night for the Rock/Bandits game. It was an entertaining game, and the atmosphere in Buffalo is always fun and loud. But as a Rock fan, I should have left at halftime. Each team played a very good half and a lousy half. The Rock’s lousy half wasn’t as bad as the Bandits’ lousy half, but their good half wasn’t nearly as good as the Bandits’ good half.
I predicted a Rock victory, as did both of my Addicted to Lacrosse co-hosts, 6 of my 8 colleagues at ILIndoor.com, four out of four guys over at laxallstars.com, and ten out of ten at inlacrossewetrust.com. I kind of doubt the Bandits players knew about all of those predictions, but if they did, they wouldn’t have been happy about it. And after the first half, things were going according to plan. The Rock offense was looking good, Nick Rose was playing very well in net, and the Bandits’ offense was kind of sloppy. Toronto’s fourth goal was a beautiful and perfectly executed give-and-go from Stephen Leblanc to Colin Doyle. The Bandits didn’t score in the first at all and only twice in the second, and both of their goals were followed by Rock goals, dampening any momentum they were trying to gain.
And then came halftime, and everything changed. I don’t know what Troy Cordingley said to his team at halftime, but holy crap. Either he gave a compelling speech for the ages and John Lovell did not, or the two teams just swapped uniforms at the half.
The Bandits came out very strong in the third. They didn’t score until 11 minutes in, but then scored four within three minutes. They kept the Rock scoreless for the entire third. Cosmo played like the Cosmo the Bandits thought they were getting a couple of years ago, and the defense was strong. I particularly remember watching Kevin Brownell covering Colin Doyle and making sure he got nowhere near the net and couldn’t even get a decent pass away. In short, the Bandits played an excellent third quarter – possibly the most complete quarter of lacrosse (in terms of offense, defense, and goaltending) I’ve seen so far this year.
The Rock, on the other hand, didn’t have a great third quarter at all. There were a couple of boneheaded defensive plays and the offense couldn’t solve the Bandits D. A number of Rock passes were intercepted, and even Nick Rose got in on the boneheaded action. After a save, he immediately launched a long pass to Jesse Gamble halfway up the floor. This is usually a good idea, but Gamble was covered and was barely able to catch the pass. Kudos to him for catching it at all, but it was a bit of a dumb pass. A second after he caught it, Gamble got leveled by Billy Dee Smith in the hit of the game and the Bandits recovered the ball.
I have to give props to Steve Priolo. The first time I remember seeing Priolo was in Toronto in 2011, when he got involved in a couple of fights and just played like a complete goon. My first impression stuck with me for a while, so I’ve always thought of him as a big dumb fighter with a lacrosse stick. But even if you don’t count his two goals (on two shots) on Friday, he played a very strong defensive game. It makes me happy when you see players who start off as one-dimensional and gradually expand their skill set until they are much more complete players. Priolo looks like he’s headed that way, and his teammates Billy Dee Smith (who also had a strong game) and Rory Smith are also good examples of this.
In a nutshell, I think coaching was a factor in this game. The Bandits changed their game at halftime and played much stronger in the second half. But not only did the Rock play worse in the second half, they didn’t adjust to the Bandits changes, leading to a 10-4 second half in favour of Buffalo.
Other game notes:
- Mark Steenhuis’ empty net goal was on a 2-on-1 with brother Billy Dee. BDS carried the ball the length of the floor before passing to Steenhuis who put it away. Smith was being covered by the Rock defender and probably could have scored himself but passed it for the sure thing. Very unselfish play by Smith.
- Bandits fans: only 11,000 for a game against the Rock? Wow. I was expecting closer to a full house. Haven’t seen this many empty seats at a Bandits game in a long time. (See picture below, taken near the end of the first quarter.) In fact, that was the lowest attendance for a regular season game in Buffalo since 2006. Note that the Bandits went to the Championship in 2006. Probably unrelated.
- Swennie: “Count it down for me! 1…” Crowd: “2… 3… we want 4!” That’s actually counting up, not down. My son made me add this one.
- With a minute or so left in the game and the Bandits up by two, the music guy decided to play “We Will Rock You” ironically. Well played.
- Talking to my son: “Former Rock players on the Bandits: Williams, Benesch, Wilson, Rooney, Bryan, Suddons, Cosmo. They’ve even got our coach from last year.” My son responds “I guess that’s why they’re called the Bandits.” Also well played.