NLL Notebook: Opportunity Knocks for Bandits
by Neil Stevens | Twitter
The Buffalo Bandits are entering a crucial weekend as they have an opportunity with games in Toronto on Friday and at home against Georgia on Saturday to move ahead of the NLL East pack.
Buffalo and New England, both 4-2, are tied for first place and the Black Wolves don’t play this weekend.
“It’s real big, especially with both games being divisional games,” says GM Steve Dietrich. “If we can somehow come out of it with two wins, it gives us the tiebreaker against Georgia and puts us another game ahead of Tornto and those are things that give you an advantage later in the season. Any doubleheader weekend is big but this one is bigger with both games being within the division.”
The Bandits have won two in a row using backup goalie Davide DiRuscio as Anthony Cosmo rests.
“Davy is a good goalie,” says Dietrich. “He got to play a lot with the Kitchener Kodiaks (of Ontario’s Major Series Lacrosse) last summer and was a big reason we were in most games. He’s a big guy, a big blocker, and with the defense (assistant coach) Rich Kilgour has put in it fits his style. We’ve got faith in him. Coz is still our No.1 guy. With two games this weekend, I imagine we’ll see both guys play.”
Bandits forward Dhane Smith is thrilling Bandits fans with his scoring exploits. He scored five goals and assisted on eight in a 21-14 road win over Georgia last Sunday and his 13-point outing boosted his output to a league-best 50 in six games. His strong play has softened the impact of the retirement following the 2015 season of all-time NLL scoring leader John Tavares.
“Dhane is a special player,” says Dietrich. “We knew coming into the year that Dhane had to take the mantle when JT retired and be the guy who leads this team. But he’ll tell you he’s only as good as the other guys on the floor with him including Mark Steenhuis and Anthony Malcolm on his side and Ryan Benesch, Chad Culp and Daryl Veltman on the left side.”
Smith and Colorado’s Adam Jones are the top goal scorers in the league with 21 each. Georgia’s Johnny Powless, New England’s Shawn Evans and Calgary’s Curtis Dickson have 19 each.
Smith has added an enhanced playmaking element this year. He has 29 assists. Only Colorado’s Callum Crawford has more with 34.
“He’s a student of the game,” Dietrich says. “He watches a lot of video. Being part of our program in the schools helps, too. He works out with a personal trainer every day. He’s always got a stick in his hands. Dhane is one of those guys who just always wanted to play lacrosse. He was never a hockey player. It’s always been lacrosse. He is going to keep getting better, too, because of the attention he pays to training and to nutrition.”
THE IT FACTOR
It looked as if Toronto would win its first game of the season when Stephan Leblanc scored on a power play to give the Rock a 16-15 lead with 18 seconds remaining. But Shawn Evans intervened. With the ball in his stick to the right of goaltender Brandon Miller, he waited for Kevin Crowley to set a pick then whipped an underhand shot along the floor for his sixth goal of the game with 6.8 seconds left, forcing sudden-death overtime. Kyle Buchanan then scored 49 seconds into extra play to give New England a 17-16 victory.
“He’s so dynamic,” head coach Glenn Clark said of the 2015 NLL MVP and scoring champion. “Some guys have the IT factor. I don’t know how he does it. He just gets it done. He’s a little unorthodox but it’s kind of like you let the horses run a little bit.”
Evans moved up two places to 12th spot on the career points list with 831. One of the players he passed was assistant Black Wolves coach Tracey Kelusky (823).
HE GETS AROUND
The Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut is Jordan Hall’s fifth home arena in his nine years in the NLL.
The 31-year-old native of Surrey, British Columbia, was drafted first overall out of the University of Delaware by the New York Titans in 2007 and played for them for two years. They moved to Florida and folded after one season in Orlando. Rochester took him in a dispersal draft and he was there for two years before being part of a multi-player swap with Philadelphia, where he played in 2013 and 2014. Rochester reacquired him, the Philly franchise shifted to New England, and the Black Wolves traded for him last Friday.
“We’re extremely excited to welcome Jordan Hall back,” said assistant GM Rich Lisk. “He was a key member of this franchise prior to our relocation from Philadelphia and this move really strengthens our left side.”
Hall dove into the crease to score a fourth-quarter goal in his debut with the Black Wolves, who beat visiting Toronto 17-16 in overtime Sunday.
Hall wore 44 in Rochester but, because John Ranagan has 44 with the Black Wolves, Hall now wears 24.
Brett Bucktooth was in street clothes serving the first game of a two-game suspension when his Black Wolves teammates edged Toronto. The suspension was assessed for a high hit on Buffalo’s Ryan Benesch. When Bucktooth learned Benesch missed a game with a concussion, he wrote Benesch a note of apology. Nice touch of class. Benesch returned to the Bandits’ lineup Sunday. He scored three goals, surpassing the 300 career plateau, and assisted on six, giving him 700 career points, in a 21-14 win at Georgia, and nobody was happier than Bucktooth to know Benesch was back in action.
54 AND COUNTING
When Colorado forward Adam Jones scored four goals in a 13-8 win at Calgary last Saturday, he stretched his consecutive-games streak of scoring at least one goal to 54. Few players can boast having a scoring touch this impressive.
FIRST NLL GOAL
Rookie Calgary forward Riley O’Connor fired in a sidearm bouncer for his first NLL goal last Saturday night. The goal opened the scoring in the fourth quarter in a game the Roughnecks lost 13-8 to visiting Colorado. With vet Dane Dobbie out due to what the club termed an upper body injury, O’Connor got plenty of floor time on the left side of the attack.
O’Connor was the seventh overall pick in the 2015 entry draft. He played NCAA lacrosse at Georgetown. He helped his home-city Whitby Warriors win the 2013 Canadian junior championship. He was the first player since John Grant Jr. with three consecutive seasons of 100 or more points in Ontario’s summer junior league.
Owner-GM Jamie Dawick was asked after Toronto lost 17-16 in overtime at New England, falling to 0-6, if more changes will be made.
“I’m all ears,” he said. “I’m not delusional. If I have an opportunity to make this team better, I’ll do it. If that means making trades or releasing guys and bringing guys in, those discussions will happen.
“I’m not watching this every week. At least I’m not going to sit here and stand pat and watch it. Guys make their own bed. We’ll see what happens.”
Josh Sanderson had a goal and two assists in his season debut.
A BIG BOY
Toronto defenseman Brock Sorensen first starting wearing No. 3 on his sweater when he began playing box lacrosse in Peterborough, Ontario, at the age of three.
“I was a big boy and 3 was the biggest sweater they had,” he explains. “I wore 3 and we’d try to score on Daffy Duck.”
Explanation: the coaches would stand wood cut-outs of cartoon characters in the nets to amuse the kids. Sorensen kept growing _ he’s six foot six now _ and he still wears 3 with the Rock.
GOODLEAF TO THE RESCUE
Angus Goodleaf does not see much game action with Rochester because No. 1 goalie Matt Vinc is so good but, when he gets a chance, he’s been good.
Last Saturday, when Vancouver took an 8-3 lead in the second quarter, coach Mike Hasen lifted Vinc and sent Goodleaf into the crease. Gus stopped 29 of the 36 shots he faced in allowing his team to rally for a 16-15 win on Cody Jamieson’s goal 7:15 into overtime.
Owner-GM Curt Styres re-signed Goodleaf to a three-year deal last August, which pleased his teammates.
“He comes with that giant smile of his,” said defenseman Scott Campbell. “He is a great team guy. He is a quality backup who can jump in and stop the ball, arguably, as well as Matt. He is ready to go at all times.”
BRIEFEST OF APPEARANCES
When Rochester scored three consecutive goals to move within 8-6, Vancouver lifted starting goalie Eric Penney and sent in Tyler Richards, who began a comeback a few days earlier when he was signed by the Stealth. He’d announced his retirement after the 2015 season. But Richards wasn’t in for long. Penney was back in the nets to start the second half. Richards played all of 28 seconds and was not required to make a single save.
BANDITS FIRST AT GATE
Average attendance: 1. Buffalo 13,733; 2. Colorado 13,352; 3. Calgary 11,291; 4. Toronto 9,866; 5. Saskatchewan 9,117; 6. Rochester 8,119; 7. Georgia 6,301; 8. New England 4,325; 9. Vancouver 3,974.
BUFFALO (4-2) AT TORONTO (0-6), 8 p.m. EST
The last time these teams met was Jan. 23 when they played in Buffalo and the Bandits cruised to a 12-6 victory.
Buffalo is coming off a 21-14 win at Georgia. Dhane Smith is averaging more than eight points a game and Toronto has been allowing a lot of goals so look for the Great Dane to have another big night.
Toronto remains winless after a 17-16 overtime loss at New England. This is the first of five straight home games. The turnaround starts here or it doesn’t start at all.
ROCHESTER (3-2) AT SASKATCHEWAN (3-2), 8:30 p.m. EST
The last time they met was March 28, 2015, in Rochester and the Rush trounced the Knighthawks 16-3. Captain Sid Smith and his teammates have not forgotten that one.
Cody Jamieson’s overtime goal gave Rochester a 16-15 home win over Vancouver last Saturday.
Saskatchewan lost 9-7 at Colorado last Thursday. Mark Matthews is due for a dominant game.
GEORGIA (3-4) AT BUFFALO, 7:30 p.m. EST
Georgia is going to need better goaltending than it got in losing 21-14 to the Bandits last Sunday. Time for Zach Higgins to get a start? Buffalo will have played Friday night in Toronto.
CALGARY (3-4) AT VANCOUVER (2-4), 10 p.m. EST
This will be the second meeting this season. Calgary won the first, 15-13, at home Jan. 30. The ‘Necks will be determined to win the season series.
Calgary is coming off a 13-8 home loss to Colorado. Dane Dobbie sat out. The offense will perk up if he’s able to play.
Vancouver lost a 16-15 overtime thriller in Rochester last Saturday. The Stealth are taking more penalties minutes - 23/game on average - than any other team. Defenseman Rory Smith has been on injured reserve since Dec. 16.
BYES: COLORADO (6-2), NEW ENGLAND (4-2)
Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward had a second straight first-star performance as Colorado won 13-8 in Calgary last Saturday. Their next game is at home against Vancouver on Feb. 27.
New England beat Toronto 17-16 on Kyle Buchanan’s OT goal last Sunday. Next game for the Black Wolves is at home against Georgia on Feb. 28.
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