The Buffalo Bandits completed a weekend sweep with wins at Toronto and home versus Minnesota. (Photo Credit: Bill Wippert)
With the NLL trade deadline coming up Tuesday afternoon and the last chance to sign any free agents two days after that, several teams could have a different look next weekend.
Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour said his team was in position to make radical changes. Those plans may be on hold after the Bandits opened the second half of the 2012 campaign with a pair of wins that may have saved their season.
The Bandits snapped a franchise-record six-game skid after erupting for 13 goals in the second half of Friday’s 21-14 win at Toronto. Buffalo continued the momentum by returning home to beat Minnesota 13-10 on Saturday.
“If we had lost two, or even split the games, we would have been in trouble,” Bandits defender Scott Self told Budd Bailey of the Buffalo News here.
At 4-6, the Bandits are tied with the Rock for third in the East Division, two games behind first-place Philadelphia. Had Buffalo faltered this past weekend, changes were coming.
“We were right on the precipice of writing this whole thing off,” a frank Kilgour told Bailey. “We have a pretty big salary as a team … if we’re going to lose, then we might as well lose with cheap players, at least we’d have an excuse then.
“This was a tryout weekend. The guys that wanted to make this team will stay on this team and guys that didn’t, we would make some changes.”
Mark Steenhuis clearly answered Kilgour’s challenge with five goals, six assists and 10 loose balls collected in the two games. Luke Wiles had seven goals and three assists while Chad Culp celebrated the birth of a son with two goals and seven assists on the weekend.
Then there is John Tavares.
Earlier in the week, the Bandits said they wanted the 21-year veteran to take on more of a role as playmaker, citing that he’s slowing down at age 43. All Tavares did was notch seven goals and four assists in the two games, pushing his team-leading point total to 53. His final goal Saturday completed a hat trick and was his 1,600th career point, another league first for the game's all-time leading scorer.
“It’s obviously an honor to have that many points. I kind of joked when I got to the bench, ‘Well, I guess I’ve got to play until 1,700 now,’” Tavares said.
Buffalo will try to take a step closer to .500 on Saturday night in Calgary.
Saturday’s loss was Minnesota’s first in three games after Joe Sullivan took over as head coach. It also extended the Swarm’s futility against Buffalo. Despite splitting the season series in 2012, Minnesota has dropped 16 of 19 all-time meetings including the playoffs.
Sullivan, who is the team’s assistant general manager, has relished the additional responsibility
since taking over for Mike Lines last month.
"It's been great. I love it," he told the Buffalo News’ Bailey in a story here. "I've been trying to get the young players focused. So far, so good."
The Swarm will wrap up their season-high four-game road trip next Sunday in Washington.
Through the first two quarters Friday, it appeared as if Toronto would continue Buffalo’s misery. The Rock went on a first-quarter run to take a 5-1 lead and were up 11-8 at halftime.
The second half, though, may have been the Rock’s worst of the season. They surrendered 13 goals and finished the longest homestand of the year with a 1-4 record.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Toronto captain Colin Doyle told the Canadian Press here. “We played good in the first half. We did everything we were supposed to.
“We knew they were going to come out silly and take bad penalties. … Then we got into penalty trouble and let them get rolling. Everything fell apart. That’s how this game goes sometimes. We just didn’t come out for the second half.”
Toronto is tied with Buffalo for most goals allowed this season with 129.
The defending NLL champions will play five of their final six games on the road, where the Rock are 2-1. Toronto will travel to face a rested Rochester team on Saturday night.
One thing learned in Week 11 was not to count Philadelphia out. The Wings are clearly not the same team that gone 5-11 each of the last two seasons.
Brendan Mundorf scored the tying and winning goals with less than three minutes to play Saturday in a 16-15 win over Edmonton, pushing the East Division-leading Wings’ record to 6-4.
The Wings were powered by 12 points from Mike Hominuck (three goals, nine assists) and 11 from Dan Dawson (two goals, nine assists).
“We wanted to create some separation from the other teams in the East,” said Hominuck. “We knew we needed this game tonight. Losing was not an option.”
The Wings have a one-game lead over Rochester and are two games in front of Toronto and Buffalo. Philadelphia will face the Knighthawks and Bandits once more, and has taken the season series from the Rock.
This coming weekend could be the most pivotal one for Johnny Mouradian’s club. In a matchup of division leaders, the Wings will travel to Colorado on Friday night before returning to the Wells Fargo Center for a rematch Sunday.
For Edmonton coach and general manager Derek Keenan, the message seems to be more of the same following the club’s third straight loss and sixth in seven games.
“It’s something we’ve been talking about for the last month and I’m getting blue in the face talking about it,” Keenan told Jason Hills of the Edmonton Sun here. “I really liked our effort tonight. It was gutsy, but we had too many breakdowns.”
Though the Rush are last in the West with a 2-7 record, Shawn Williams continues to make it a season to remember.
Williams claimed the NLL’s ironman record by playing in his 189th straight game, and tied a season-high with nine points (two goals, seven assists). A week earlier, Williams became the sixth player in league history to reach 1,000 career points.
Edmonton will be back in action Saturday night at home against Washington.