The Minnesota Swarm (5-7) host the Buffalo Bandits (5-8) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8pm ET. (Photo: Bill Wippert)
The Buffalo Bandits (5-8) hope to get back in the win column and playoff race when they visit the much-improved Minnesota Swarm (5-7) at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.
Minnesota has won two straight games, both at home, while Buffalo has lost five straight, just one game shy of their franchise record losing streak set just last season.
Heading into this weekend, Buffalo sits in last place in the NLL. If the playoffs started today, the Bandits would be the lone team on the outside looking in, a situation that is practically unfathomable for longtime Bandits supporters, as the Bandits have never missed the postseason under head coach Darris Kilgour.
The game marks the second meeting of the season between the teams. Buffalo defeated Minnesota 13-12 in the season opener by a score of 13-12 on Jan. 12. Bandits rookie Dhane Smith collected four points (3+1) in the victory.
“They’re a tough team,” said Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan. “They’ve got some great leadership and then they’ve got some great production from some of the young guys, particularly Dhane. He’s just been on fire. When he gets going on a roll, his transition is as good as anybody’s in the league for such a young guy.”
The Swarm hope to keep their offense clicking on all cylinders. Minnesota scored a franchise-record 20 goals in a win over the Philadelphia Wings last Friday.
“That was a huge win for us,” said Swarm transition player Jordan MacIntosh, who was named NLL Transition Player of the Week for his efforts. “Being such a young team, having two wins like that, back-to-back games against very strong opponents is nothing but good signs for us.”
Minnesota’s transition game supplies a large load of the Swarm offense. According to MacIntosh, the plethora of talent across the unit lightens the burden.
“I think our transition game is very well rounded,” he said. “(Tyler) Hass, (Brock) Sorensen – and even guys like (Alex) Crepinsek, Greg Downing, Dave Earl – they’re all very good at getting to the net, getting loose balls and putting it in when they get down there.”
The game carries special playoff significance as Minnesota and Buffalo are two of five teams entering the weekend with a league-low five wins.
“I know how hungry they are and I know how fired up Darris (Kilgour) will get them,” Sullivan said. “We never look forward to playing Buffalo.”
Despite their recent success, the Swarm are just a half game ahead of Buffalo, meaning a Bandits victory could put Buffalo back in the driver’s seat towards a late-season run.
“Obviously this is a huge game; a big position game for both [teams],” Kilgour said. “Right now, we’re just looking to get a win to get our confidence going again.”
Mired in this losing skid, the Bandits players’ confidence is certainly lacking.
“The morale in the room; everybody gets down. We’re a frustrated bunch,” said Bandits transition player Jay Thorimbert. “We’re just trying to find some answers.”
The answers should not be hard to find, as it’s consistency that the Bandits have lacked this season. The team has shown it can compete with any team in the league, but putting together a solid 60-minute effort has been quite elusive.
“If you look back through our losing streak, there’s been one quarter in every game where I don’t know what we’re doing; we just fall apart,” Kilgour said. “When you have those kind of quarters you’re always playing from behind and it seems like you’re behind the 8-ball and it’s hard to keep guys confidence up and keep guys believing.”
While these horrid stretches of games are often blamed on the coach, it is the players that must take it upon themselves to recognize the situation and stop the slide before too much damage is done.
“You can tell right away when the skid starts to occur, all our heads drop, our shoulders drop,” Thorimbert admitted. “To nip it in the bud, you just have to keep guys focused on, ‘yeah, that’s a mistake made but let’s just stop the bleeding and roll from there.’ A big problem of ours is that we haven’t been able to stop that bleeding. It’s just [a matter] of focus.”
The head coach is keyed in on just how his team is reacting to the negatives throughout the game.
“Right now it seems like every mistake we make is ending up in our net and it’s really wearing hard on us right now. “ Kilgour said. “So we’re trying to keep the confidence up and we need to get some wins strung together here to make the playoffs.”