March 24, 2016
A win Saturday would put Anthony Cosmo in line for the first Champions Cup finals start in his long career. (NLL.com)
A win Saturday would put Anthony Cosmo in line for the first Champions Cup finals start in his long career. (NLL.com)

NLL Notes: Buffalo Coming Together in First Place

by Neil Stevens | Twitter | Stevens Archive

Anthony Cosmo's 16th NLL season is turning out to be one of his most satisfying.

The Buffalo Bandits goaltender says he loves the vibe around the team, which is having its best season in a decade as it strives to reward loyal fans with a championship celebration. Average attendance is a league-best 14,893.

"Attendance comes with winning and that's what we've been doing," says Cosmo.

The Bandits have not finished a season in first place in their division since 2009 when they went 10-6. They are 7-4 today, including 4-1 at home, and sit atop the NLL East as they prepare for a home game against the Vancouver Stealth, who are last in the NLL West, on Friday night.

"This year has been quite a good year not only on the scoreboard but in the dressing room," says Cosmo. "(Captain) Billy Dee Smith and our leadership group has been really good."

Cosmo played through injury during the first half of the season but is back in full stop mode now. The 38-year-old goalie has the fourth-best save percentage among 15 goalies around the league and Davide DiRuscio has been a capable backup when Cosmo needs rest.

"I'm getting old so it is tougher to manage aches and pains but I'm feeling a lot healthier now than at the start of the season," says Cosmo. "Having Davey come in and perform well gives me a break rather than rushing back."

Billy Dee Smith and Mark Steenhuis are the only players on the roster who were in the lineup in 2008 when the Bandits last won the championship. There has been turnover on the floor and in the stands.

"All the boys who built this team over the years, this year is a tribute to them," says Cosmo. "And some fans from the older generation have come back to see what the Bandits are all about these days. Hopefully, they're liking the product we're putting on the floor."

The Bandits are stacked with players who receive scant recognition but who provide a depth of talent few teams can match. Kevin Brownell, Matthew Bennett and Andrew Watt, a veteran who missed the first half of the season completing rehab from injury, come to mind.

"Bennett is a rookie but he's playing really well," says Cosmo. "He's an unsung hero on our team. Brownell is another. He's a guy who gets all the little things done. Andrew has been back in now for two games and has stepped up in a big way."

The Bandits are eager to get back into action after a weekend off.

"It's an important game for us after a bye week to get back into the win column," says Cosmo. "Vancouver is looking to bounce back and now they have a new coach in Jamie Batley behind the bench. They can be a scary team. They have such a great offense. Defensively, we'll have to keep them to the outside and not allow their transition players to get easy goals on us."

20-POINT CUSHION

Buffalo attacker Dhane Smith retains a 20-point lead in the scoring race. No. 92 has 91 points including a league-high 42 goals in 11 games. Colorado's Callum Crawford is second with 71 points including a league-best 50 assists. Calgary Curtis Dickson is next with 38+29=67. Last year's scoring champion, Shawn Evans, has moved up to sixth spot with 64 points in two fewer games with New England than Smith and Crawford and three fewer than Dickson.

Adam Jones saw his record-setting streak of games with a goal end in Calgary on Saturday. (NLL.com)

STREAK ENDS

Adam Jones did not score a goal during Colorado's 13-8 loss in Calgary last Saturday, ending his streak of goals in consecutive regular-season games at 56.

HIGH HIT

Mammoth forward Jeremy Noble's cross-check to Mike Carnegie's neck, sending Calgary's captain to the floor in an off-ball altercation during the second quarter in Calgary, will surely prompt disciplinary action by the league. No penalty was assessed on the play.

ROOKIE WATCH

Georgia's Randy Staats is first among rookies with 48 points including 22 goals, teammate Jesse King has 45 points including 12 goals, and Calgary's Wes Berg has 44 points including 15 goals. The three are leading candidates for the award that will go to rookie of the year. Points totals should not be the only benchmark. Rochester's Graeme Hossack should also be in the mix for the rookie award. It rarely if ever goes to a defenseman. This would be a good year to recognize D-men and Hossack certainly is worthy.

TRADING DEADLINE

The trading deadline is Tuesday afternoon.

There were three big deals one year ago: New England acquired Andrew Suitor from the Swarm for Joel White; Toronto sent Garrett Billings to New England for Kevin Crowley; and Vancouver added Logan Schuss from the Swarm for Johnny Powless.

SON ON RUSH PROSPECTS LIST

Rush GM-coach Derek Keenan has three first-round picks in the 2016 entry draft and his son Ryan is a prospect worthy of first-round consideration.

Keenan acquired Vancouver's first-round draft picks in 2016 and 2019 when he traded forward Corey Small to the Stealth on Jan. 19, 2015. The Stealth now are last overall and the 2015-champion Rush will have the first pick of new talent if the Stealth finish last.

Ryan Keenan is a lefty forward. His dad has coached him since he was three and he has played on the junior team his dad coaches in Whitby, Ontario, during summers. He is playing NCAA field lacrosse at Quinnipiac in Connecticut.

Meanwhile, this is the last year Derek Keenan will be head coach of the junior Warriors.

"It's time to move on," he explains. "It's a really good program and others deserve the opportunity to coach. Programs need new blood."

Ryan is to play this summer in Ontario's Major Series Lacrosse with the Brooklin Redmen and his dad will be lending a hand with that team on top of putting in his last year with the Warriors.

EDMONTON IN EXPANSION PLANS

The Oilers Entertainment Group, which operates the NHL's Edmonton Oilers, has talked to NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz about bringing a team back to the city. The Rush ended their 10-year stay and moved to Saskatoon to cut arena rental costs after winning the 2015 championship.

"We have had some interesting conversations and look forward to talking more about bringing lacrosse to Edmonton," OEG vice-president Jim Shipton tells the Edmonton Journal. "It's interesting. It's not a done deal, that's for sure. The conversations have been positive. It always comes down to the details. But there is interest there."

The Calgary, Buffalo and Colorado NLL franchises are owned by groups that run NHL teams. The three lead in attendance so it only makes sense that Sakiewicz is trying to find other NHL teams to join his expansion party. He toured Edmonton's new arena project last Friday. It has been reported that he is hoping to add four teams for 2018.

The NHL's Minnesota Wild owned an NLL franchise for several years before selling the Swarm to current owner John Arlotta.

Calgary's Mike Poulin has the league's top save percentage, the only goalie over 80% (Dale MacMillan)

POULIN ON TOP

Goaltenders' save percentages:

1. Mike Poulin, Calgary .803
2. Matt Vinc, Rochester .794
3. Nick Rose, Toronto .790
4. Anthony Cosmo, Buffalo .786
5. Dillon Ward, Colorado .783
6. Tyler Richards, Vancouver .783
7. Evan Kirk, New England .782
8. Alex Buque .768
9. Frank Scigliano, Calgary .752
10. Brodie MacDonald, Georgia .748
11. Davide Diruscio, Buffalo .741
12. Aaron Bold, Saskatchewan .737
13. Brandon Miller, Toronto .725
14. Eric Penney, Vancouver .715
15. Zach Higgins, Georgia .708

HAPPY BIRTHDAY

Colorado defenseman Greg Downing turned 31 and Calgary defenseman Mike Carnegie turned 32 on Thursday.

Downing, from Auburn, N.Y., via Connecticut's Fairfield University, scored his first goal of 2016 last weekend and it was a dazzler. Downing poked the ball out of the stick of Calgary's Jeff Shattler in Colorado's end, snared the bouncing ball in the mesh of his stick, raced to the other end on a breakaway, and fired in a bounce shot.

WEEK 13 Preview

FRIDAY

ROCHESTER (6-5) AT NEW ENGLAND (5-4), 7 p.m. ET

A home-and-home set this weekend will go a long ways towards determining which of these two teams is going to be in the best position to earn home-floor advantage in the playoffs.

In one previous meeting this season, Rochester got a six-goal night from Stephen Keogh to win 17-13 at home March 12.

Rochester is coming off an 11-4 win at Georgia last Friday. Matt Vinc made 53 saves. The Knighthawks know that, with that quality of goaltending, they can make a push for first place.

"The last couple of games we have had glimpses of the type of lacrosse we want to play," says Vinc.

New England has not won a game since February. The Black Wolves are coming off a bye week that followed losses in Rochester and Denver.

Rochester is 3-3 on the road and New England is 3-1 at home.

SASKATCHEWAN (7-3) AT TORONTO (3-7), 7 p.m. ET

Saskatchewan would move into a tie, at the very least, for first in the NLL West if it sweeps its home-and-home set with the last-place team in the NLL East this weekend.

The Rush got five goals from each of Zack Greer and Curtis Knight in clobbering the Stealth 24-16 at Langley, B.C., last Saturday for their third win in a row. The 40 goals were the most in an NLL game in nine years.

Toronto is coming off a bye week. Last game, at home March 13, was a 9-6 win over Vancouver thanks to a 46-save effort by Nick Rose.

This will be the first meeting since the 2015 Champion's Cup finals in which the Rush, then based in Edmonton, won 15-9 in Toronto and 11-10 at home to sweep the best-of-three series.

Saskatchewan is 3-1 on the road and Toronto is 3-3 at home.

The Rock have activated D Scott Johnson off the injured list and have placed F Kevin Ross on practise roster.

VANCOUVER (3-8) AT BUFFALO (7-4), 7:30 p.m. ET

This will be the second of two meetings. Dhane Smith scored five goals in a 13-8 Buffalo road win March 5.

Vancouver has lost four in a row.

Buffalo had a bye last weekend after winning three in a row.

Vancouver is 1-4 on the road and the Bandits are 4-1 at home.

CALGARY (5-7) AT GEORGIA (4-7), 7:30 p.m. ET

Calgary is hot. Its 13-8 home win over NLL West leader Colorado last Saturday, after it trailed 4-1, was its second straight victory and goalie Mike Poulin, who stopped 48 Mammoth shots, has been sensational.

Georgia has gone cold. An 11-4 home loss to Rochester last Friday was a third consecutive setback. A supposedly potent offense wilted under the Knighthawks' punishing checking.

This will be the second of two meetings. Tyler Digby scored five goals when Calgary won 12-11 at home on Feb. 6.

Calgary is 2-3 on the road and Georgia is 1-3 at home.

SATURDAY

NEW ENGLAND AT ROCHESTER, 7:30 p.m. ET

The battle for second place in the NLL East intensifies. Black Wolves goalie Evan Kirk is going to have to up his game to give his team what Vinc is giving the Knighthawks.

New England is 2-3 on the road and Rochester is 3-2 at home.

CALGARY AT COLORADO (8-3), 9 p.m. ET

The Roughnecks are going to have to cope with a midnight flight out of Atlanta to get to Denver in the wee hours. Forget about a morning shoot-around.

This will be the third of three and it is of significant importance: Calgary won 13-8 at home last Saturday and Colorado won 13-8 at home Feb. 13, leaving the result of this one to serve as the standings tiebreaker should they finish their schedules with identical records.

Calgary is 2-3 on the road and Colorado is 5-0 at home.

TORONTO AT SASKATCHEWAN, 9:30 p.m. ET

Toronto must get at least a weekend split to have even the slightest hope of making it into the playoffs. Look for Brandon Miller to get the start if the Rock lose to the Rush on Friday night. If the Rock lose both games, and consider that they are 0-4 on the road, they might as well follow the lead of Toronto's NHL team and do whatever it takes to ensure a top draft pick come September.

Two Rush wins and a Colorado loss would lift the Rush past the Mammoth and into first place in the NLL West.

Toronto is 0-4 on the road and Saskatchewan is 4-2 at home.


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