January 15, 2014

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Banner Weekend Has Bandits Flying High

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter
Chad Culp celebrates after scoring on Friday at home against Toronto. (Bill Wippert)

It all started so inconspicuously, but it wound up being the best NLL weekend for the Buffalo Bandits in nearly two years.

They were down 4-0 after one quarter and 6-2 after two on their home floor last Friday night and the possibility of falling to 0-2 in the young season loomed large. Then something happened.

The Bandits rallied to defeat the Toronto Rock 12-10. Goaltender Anthony Cosmo was outstanding, John Tavares scored the winning goal, Troy Cordingley got his first win as head coach at the expense of the team that fired him last spring, and a seven-game home losing streak going back nearly a year had mercifully come to an end.

Sweet.

Somebody had said something during the halftime break.

''Our captain, J.T., talked about going out there to win, not just hoping to stay close,'' said Cordingley. ''We were going out there to win, to go for it. That's what captain's do, and who's not going to listen to him?''

Apparently, 17 teammates listened. Cosmo emerged from the dressing room afterwards wearing the hard hat the coaches are giving to one player after a win.

''Coz was our MVP,'' said Cordingley.

The numbers 212 are black on the front of the white hard hat. So, what is that all about? Well, the temperature at which water boils is 212 degrees Fahrenheit.

''One degree over that creates steam which creates energy,'' Cosmo explains. ''That's kind of our philosophy this year: one extra play or one extra shift with effort is going to make a difference.''

Okay, so then the Bandits roll into Philadelphia and win 12-11 in overtime Sunday afternoon to achieve their first two-win weekend since March 2012 and, all of a sudden, they are 2-1 and back in contention in the NLL East.

Cosmo again supplied the high calibre of goaltending of which GM Steve Dietrich always knew he was capable, and Tavares again scored the winning goal. The league's all-time leading scorer, 45 years young, nimbly tossed in five in all, which earned him the 212 hard hat.

''It fit him like a glove,'' says Cosmo. ''He kind of reminded me of a Portuguese prince.''

Cordingley was a teammate of Tavares during his playing days in Buffalo so the two go back a ways.

''John has played well in all three of our games,'' Cordingly said. ''The ball wasn't dropping for him the first two games. He's such a smart player. When his shot is on, it's hot. He was real good on Sunday. He scored some huge goals for us. When he's in tight (to the crease) it's pretty well going to be a goal. He's a legend and he's just adding on to that.''

Cosmo lauded the work of his defensemen in the two wins.

''They played incredible in front of me,'' he said. ''Their job is to keep the ball to the outside and pressure hard on opponents and they did a great job. Against Toronto, our defense eliminated their whole right side. Their whole right side only got one goal.''

A 95-save weekend will boost Cosmo's self-confidence.

''I'm one of those goalies who needs confidence in order to move forward,'' he says. ''I credit my defense for keeping the ball outside and letting me make the easy saves, and then when you need to make a hard save you have the confidence to stop it.''

And stop it he did _ 95 times.

''I feel a little bit old today,'' he said Monday. ''But anytime you bring home four points you're bringing home some bumps and bruises, but it's well worth it.''

To Cordingley, there was one thing in particular to be realized after the two-win weekend.

''What I take away from it is that our guys came to play,'' he said. ''We didn't worry about results, we just worried about the work we had to do, and success followed. We were very disciplined in both games. If we can manage to do those things, success will follow.''

It's early yet.

''I honestly still think we're trying to find our identity,'' the coach says. ''There are so many things about the team that are new _ the players still getting used to me as a coach and me still getting used to some of the players. Defensively, we are a very aggressive team. We're a very big team. We're physical.''

Things are different than they were last season, when the Bandits missed the playoffs, says Cosmo.

''We were always worried about making mistakes and looking bad,'' he explained. ''This year we've tried to change that mindset to being more positive. Even when things aren't going well, we'll find a way.''

They'll find their way to Denver to play the Mammoth on Saturday. After last weekend, the sky is the limit, says Cosmo.

''There was a lot of pressure on us the first game (a 17-13 home loss to Philadelphia) and when the result didn't happen guys looked to the past and said, 'Not again.' But now our mindset has changed. We're not going to worry about losing. Instead, we'll think about winning. What's up next, that's what we'll look at. It's a refreshing attitude, something I haven't been part of for three or four years. It's nice to get back to that. We have a great group of character guys, a great mix of young and veteran guys. There'll be bumps along the road but I like the feeling I'm getting.''

For Cordingley, an innocent bystander might have anticipated he'd do some gloating about the win over Toronto. But that was not the case. He said there was no grudge to settle with the team that fired him a month after he was named coach of the year. Really? Not a shred of significance for him in beating the Rock?

''None whatsoever,'' said Cordingley. ''We needed a win. It didn't matter who we were playing. We want to beat everybody.''

After witnessing their exploits this past weekend, it is not out of the realm of possibility that beating everybody is a distinct possibility for the Bandits.

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