Game report: Buffalo 13 @ Toronto 8

We’ve all seen it before: the team that isn’t playing well starts getting frustrated and angry, and that leads to unnecessary penalties. That means they’re playing a man down for long stretches of time, and that doesn’t usually lead to anything good, so they get even more frustrated and angry, and so on. I don’t know what other people mean when they talk about “Banditball”, but that’s what that term means to me: the physical and undisciplined lacrosse that the Bandits became known for in the 2000’s. They generally don’t play that way anymore so the term is probably misleading and unfair now, but every now and again they revert back. But on this night, it seemed to serve them well.

In the first quarter, it seemed clear that Buffalo just wasn’t interested in winning this game, while the Rock were dominant. They had a five goal lead a few minutes into the second quarter, so the only real question was whether the Rock were going to win by more or less than seven goals. The Rock D was preventing the Bandits from getting clear looks at the net, and Nick Rose was stopping almost anything that got through. Cosmo wasn’t bad, but I noticed that he had been knocked over by several shots, which indicated to me (note: someone who’s never played lacrosse, let alone as a goaltender) that he wasn’t in position for the shot when it came.

I don’t know what Troy Cordingley said to his team at the half but whatever it was, it was better than what Matt Sawyer said. The Bandits had already held the Rock scoreless for 10 minutes by that point, and that strong defense continued in the second half (Toronto wouldn’t score again until 4 minutes into the fourth quarter). Buffalo had chipped away at the Rock’s 6-1 lead until it was 6-5 midway through the third. And then the Banditball returned, as Mitch de Snoo took a penalty for holding the stick. While de Snoo was heading to the box, Troy Cordingley (or someone else on the Bandit bench) said something undisciplined, and a second penalty was added for unsportsmanlike conduct. So the Rock had a full two-minute 5-on-3 power play and as we all know, that’s almost an automatic goal in lacrosse. It wasn’t the first time a two-man advantage led to a goal that turned the game around, but not in the way we might have expected.

The TSN Turning Point

As weird as it sounds, those two Bandit penalties did turn the game around, but in favour of the Bandits. Anthony Malcom continued his strong evening with a shorthanded goal (when you’re down by two, is it a “double-shorthanded” goal or something? There probably no name for it since it NEVER HAPPENS), and Buffalo managed to keep the Rock from scoring for the full two-minute two-man advantage. Then thirty seconds after the penalties finished, the Bandits scored again, grabbing their first lead of the game. They had confidence, they had momentum, and now they had the lead. Any confidence that we Rock fans had that this would be a Rock blowout was gone by this point, and those two goals changed the big question from “How much are we going to win by?” to “Where the hell did the Rock team from the first quarter go?”

Anthony Cosmo

By the fourth quarter, the Bandits D was preventing the Rock from getting clear looks at the net, and Anthony Cosmo was stopping almost anything that got through. (Why does that sound familiar?) The Bandits scored nine straight goals over about 26 minutes, turning a 6-1 deficit into a 10-6 lead. Brett Hickey, Reid Reinholdt, and Tom Schreiber played pretty well, but Stephen Leblanc pulled his all-too-familiar vanishing act. We haven’t seen it much this season but some games in previous years, you forget he’s even out there.

The Rock started to get desperate near the end; being down by three with five minutes left is not insurmountable, but they started taking shots early in the shot clock, and from way out. Jeff Gilbert ran up the floor in transition and despite being covered by two men and not having a great shot available or anyone to pass to, he decided to shoot anyway. Gilbert has twelve goals in his nine-year career, so when your team is desperate for a goal, he’s not the guy you want shooting while being double-teamed.

By the last couple of minutes, the Banditball started in the other direction. Brodie Merrill took a completely unnecessary slashing penalty trying to keep Dhane Smith from scoring an empty-netter. Then he gave Smith another slash right after the goal and was lucky he didn’t get a second penalty.

Nick Rose wasn’t terrible but wasn’t great. Some goals certainly weren’t his fault – when Dhane Smith has a breakaway with no Rock defender in the defensive end at all, you can’t blame Rose for that goal. But he allowed a couple of goals from distance that he normally stops. At the end of the day however, it was the mostly-absent Rock offense that was the problem here. You just can’t go 30 minutes without scoring and expect to win.

It’s still a tough road to the playoffs for the Bandits, but full marks to them for stepping up their game after a rough first quarter and earning that win.

Other game notes:

  • Prior to the game, Billy Hostrawser was awarded the Rock’s Les Bartley award (not to be confused with the NLL’s similarly-named Coach of the Year award) for exemplifying “character and commitment to the game” – and then went out and scored the team’s first goal of the game. Similar to Steve Priolo, Hostrawser has turned from a player I’ve been critical of over the years for taking dumb penalties into a fine NLL defenseman, so congrats to Billy.
  • Most interesting goal of the game: Kieran McArdle took a shot that Cosmo stopped. A Bandit defender picked up the rebound but before he could head up the floor, Kasey Beirnes reached out and checked his stick. This dislodged the ball which bounced backwards past Cosmo into the Buffalo net. McArdle was the last Rock player to touch the ball, so he got the goal. Beirnes didn’t even get an assist. I’m sure they announced an assist or two on the goal but the scoresheet lists it as unassisted.
  • In the third quarter, Brock Sorensen gave Mark Steenhuis a high hit, and Steenhuis dropped to the floor and didn’t move. He was down for at least five seconds, completely motionless, before the refs blew the whistle. The second they did, he got up and walked to the bench. I get that sometimes it takes a few seconds to recover from being hit and then you’re OK, and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but this looked exactly like “I’ll stay down and pretend I’m hurt until the refs blow the whistle, and maybe they’ll give the guy a longer penalty”. Not cool.
  • The Rock have been giving away promotional things on the way out of the last couple of games. This time it was a small spray bottle of Spray Nine, an all-purpose cleaner. Once out of the building, my son comes up to me and says “this is the worst breath freshener ever”.
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