What a difference a year has made for Anthony Cosmo.
Last season, the Buffalo Bandits goaltender suffered through a disappointing season while his team was the only one in the National Lacrosse League to miss the playoffs.
“I’d have to say it was one of the toughest years I’ve had, personally,” Cosmo said in looking back.
But now, the Bandits (5-2) are on top of the NLL East, and Cosmo is the major reason why. He’ll try to build on his superb 2014 campaign tonight when Buffalo hosts the Philadelphia Wings at First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM).
Much was expected when Cosmo came over in a trade with Minnesota for two first-round draft choices in the middle of the 2012 season. He hadn’t played all year, and displayed a little rust when he first entered the lineup. Cosmo was 3-3 with a goals-against average of 12.41, a career-worst.
There were no such excuses entering the 2013 season. Yet the veteran never could regain the form that had placed him in the ranks of the league’s best goalies. His goals-against average went up to 13.37, and he didn’t finish eight of the games he started.
“I tried to get things going,” Cosmo said. “But it was a case of taking two steps forward, and then four back. I thought that on the next play, next shift, things would change.”
They never did. Entering this season, the 36-year-old knew he needed to do everything possible to be ready.
“I took on a personal trainer – the guy who trains us with the Bandits, Wayne Burke,” Cosmo said. “We worked on some things that were more sport-specific for what I needed to do.
“The workouts were movement-based. Everything was planned around a goalie’s moves, such as quickness and power.”
The netminder was ready to show what he could do on opening night against Philadelphia. The Wings had other plans, though, chasing Cosmo from the nets as he allowed 13 goals in fewer than three quarters of play.
“It was one of those things,” he said. “I think the words ‘not again’ were the first things in my head. But every game is a new game. You have to look at it that way. The way this league works, even three or four games doesn’t mean you’re out of the playoffs.”
The turnaround came immediately after that.
“It was in practice right after the Philly game,” Cosmo said. “I said to the coaches” and General Manager Steve Dietrich, “ ‘I’m starting to feel good.’ Against Toronto, we were down, 4-0, in the first quarter, but I still felt right. Going into halftime, we all had a different mind-set. Last year, everyone would blame each other in that situation to a certain extent. This was different.”
The Bandits rallied in the second half and beat the Rock, and Cosmo finished with 52 saves. That was followed by four more wins, a streak that ended last week in Rochester – although no one was blaming Cosmo for that loss.
Cosmo enters the weekend with a goals-against average of 10.68, and is among the league leaders in goals-against average, wins and saves. That gives him plenty of confidence going into tonight’s game with Philadelphia. His play has created a ripple effect that has carried through the rest of the team.
“It lets the rest of the guys play with more confidence, it lets them play with more swagger,” Dietrich said. “We can send two guys in after a loose ball, or take some chances. … If a guy makes a mistake, he knows it might not lead to a goal.”
This is Buffalo’s last game until March 8, as it will be three weeks before Minnesota comes to town. Cosmo figures a loss to Philadelphia (3-5) tonight would undo some of the good work that the team has done in the first portion of the season.
“In the beginning of the season, looking ahead, 6-2 would be exactly where we wanted to be at this point,” he said. “If we can be 6-2, it would give us a sense of confidence. I don’t want to sit for three weeks on a two-game losing streak.”
Cosmo knows that goaltenders receive too much of the credit and too much of the blame for a game’s outcome, but it’s a challenge he likes. He’s just happy that his side often has been on the correct side of the score so far this season.
“Part of being a goaltender in this league is that you live by the sword and die by the sword. You’re a hero or a zero,” Cosmo said. “I’m playing well now, and I’m a hero. But last year I was a zero.”