Last year’s Buffalo Bandits’ team – remembered as the one that was the only team in the National Lacrosse League to miss the playoffs – finished with six wins.
This year’s edition of the squad now has 10 chances to beat that total.
The 2014 Bandits improved to 6-2 on the season – good for the NLL East lead – with a convincing 13-7 victory over the Philadelphia Wings. It might have been the team’s best overall performance of the season, leaving a crowd of 13,980 in the First Niagara Center quite satisfied.
They weren’t the only ones.
“I thought it was 60 minutes of good team lacrosse,” Buffalo coach Troy Cordingley said. “The goals that were scored were well earned. We controlled the ball. ... We were good at both ends of the field. Guys were banging all night.”
“It was a great night. It’s a good game for us, especially with the tiebreaker against Philly,” goalie Anthony Cosmo added. “The last time they came into this barn, they ran us out pretty good. So it’s good to get a little revenge and redemption.”
The Bandits never trailed in this game, and their dominance of the game slowly spread from their own end of the field to Philadelphia’s end. Buffalo’s defense set the tone in the first period, as the Wings were held without a goal. The Bandits weren’t quite that good in the second period, but they still had a 5-2 lead.
“Our defense was good the whole night,” Cordingley said. “When it did break down, ‘The Wall’ was there to stop them.”
The Bandits padded that lead to 8-4 after three quarters. It seemed relatively safe, but bigger margins have been lost in the NLL in a shorter period of time. But it was the Wings that let down in the fourth quarter, and the Bandits more than capitalized. They scored five straight goals in the first eight minutes of the period to turn the contest into a blowout.
“That’s part of our game plan,” Cosmo said. “We want to play the game in a disciplined manner. Come the fourth quarter, we beat up on those guys. It’s not like they want to quit, but their hands get a little bit soft and they don’t want to get to the middle as much.”
The list of offensive heroes was a long one. Mark Steenhuis had three goals to lead Buffalo, with all of them coming in important situations. Ryan Benesch and John Tavares both had a goal, five assists and a milestone. Benesch earned the 300th assist of his career, while Tavares notched his 900th assist. To put Tavares’ statistic in perspective, he would be 10th in league history in scoring if only his assists were counted. (One of the nine players ahead of that total would be Tavares’ goals and assists together.)
“It’s nice to get those out of the way,” Tavares said about hitting 900. “I didn’t even know until 894 or so, and whenever that happens I seem to get stuck. So maybe I’m better off not knowing about it.”
Joe Resetarits, Aaron Wilson and Shawn Williams also had two goals each. Mitch Wilde had a goal, but it was a big one – it was the first of his NLL career, and it came in his first game as a pro. Wilde celebrated with a nice jump into the glass, just as Resetarits had done when he scored his first goal in Buffalo as a Bandit.
“My best buddies told me to do that,” Wilde said with a smile.
Cordingley added, “Mitch was ready to go. You saw his speed getting up there as the trailer. He’s got soft hands.”
Meanwhile, Cosmo finished with 45 saves on 52 shots as he and the defensive unit continued his run of success.
“A good defense is one that you don’t want to play against, and we have a defense that I wouldn’t want to play against,” Tavares said. “They are big, strong and tough.”
Meanwhile, Philadelphia lost its third in a row and fell to 3-6 on the season.
“When your best players don’t play like your best players, you expect that result. We’ll have to make changes,” coach Blaine Harrison said.
It’s probably a bit early to call the Bandits championship contenders. They were 5-3 last season and collapsed after that. Still, Tavares is optimistic about the rest of the season.
“It’s a different mentality. The guys are not accepting losing like we did in the past,” he said. “We want to set the tempo, and we believe we can win.
Buffalo is off until March 8, when the Minnesota Swarm come to the First Niagara Center.