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Bandits & Rock fired up to reignite East Division rivalry in Buffalo

01/07/2014, 4:15pm EST
By Rock beat writer Justin Millerson & Bandits beat writer Alan Rosenhoch for NLL.com

Buffalo hosts Toronto on Friday as new head coach faces former team

The Buffalo Bandits (0-1) host the Toronto Rock (1-0) at First Niagara Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. (Photo: Bill Wippert)

After defeating the Calgary Roughnecks in their opener, the Toronto Rock (1-0) are now faced with another challenge as they ready for a divisional battle on the road against the Buffalo Bandits (0-1) at First Niagara Center on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Click here to watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

Last week's 16-11 victory over Calgary shed positive light upon the Rock dressing room heading into Week #3. With a couple of a new players coming into the lineup and a few regulars assuming greater roles, Rock head coach John Lovell feels satisfied with his team's Week #2 effort.

“We were really excited about that win against Calgary because we know they're a top team. It was a great start for our guys and considering our lineup and the new guys we had, it was a good win,” said Lovell of his first career win as an NLL head coach.

For the most part, it was the usual suspects leading the Rock to victory, but a little help came from a couple youngsters who could play big roles for the Rock this season.

2013 draftee Ethan O'Connor played his first career NLL game and chimed in with a goal and two helpers in the victory. With the absents of now assistant coach Blaine Manning from the lineup this season, 21-year-old Rob Hellyer logged a lot of offensive minutes and answered the bell. Hellyer scored his second career hat trick along with an assist. 

There's no time for the Rock to rest on their laurels however. The Bandits, after a Week #2 bye, have been waiting patiently to redeem their Week #1 17-13 loss to the Philadelphia Wings.

“We know it's coming, we know they'll be out with a lot of energy off the pop,” said Rock transition player Jesse Gamble. “It will be a similar game plan for us, they'll have energy and they'll be trying to get loose balls, but if we win that battle, if we can win the face off battle, I think it might come down to that.”

There are a lot of Week #2 positives to bring into Buffalo, but perhaps none larger than Toronto's tenacious energy level. In the Calgary victory, the Rock won the loose ball battle 87-77 and amounted 76 total shots attempted. Although the final score read relativity close, Toronto players collected a whopping 40 points to Calgary's 29.

“I think if we play the way that we did [against Calgary], we have a pretty good shot this week,” said Gamble.

Toronto defender Bill Greer has been placed on the IR after suffering an injury in last week's victory over the Roughnecks. Lovell is still unsure of who will replace Greer, but narrowed it down to either Dustin Dunn or Michael Lum-Walker.

Meanwhile, the Bandits left much to be desired in their opening night defeat to Philadelphia as the ‘Banditland’ faithful were sent home wondering if the 2014 campaign would mirror their disappointing 6-10 season from a year ago.

Buffalo might have a little extra something to play for as Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley faces his former team that he spent four years with and enjoyed relative success including a championship in 2011. Cordingley was relieved of his duties as Rock head coach during the offseason despite winning the Les Bartley Award as the 2013 NLL Head Coach of the Year.

"I can't speak for the extra motivations the players may have," said Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich. "All I can say...Troy honestly has never brought it up, has never said anything about his dismissal. I do know Troy has the utmost respect for the Toronto organization.

"I don't think Troy will outwardly speak about an extra motivation. I know deep down he probably wants to win. But if you know Troy Cordingley deep down, he wants to win every game."

"[Troy] hasn't said anything to us about it or anything like that," added Bandits second-year transition player Dhane Smith. "I want to win it for him. But also, we want to win it, period. It doesn't matter if it's his old team or not. I think he's trying to put that in the past as well. We want to win this regardless but it's going to give us an extra push."

The Bandits were idle last week, giving them ample time to stew over their opening week disappointment.

“Of course, you’d like to follow [a loss like that] up with a game the next day, if not the next week,” Dietrich said. “[Instead] we had two weeks to sit and wait for this. So we’ll be ready Friday night.”

Following the loss to Philadelphia, Cordingley was candid with the media emphasizing that it was a lack of effort and will from his players, resulting in a disproportionate number of shots on goal for the Wings and ultimately led to his team’s first loss.

Working hard to scoop loose balls and earn extra possessions was an emphasis at Bandits practices leading up to the matchup with Toronto.

“Work ethic was the key thing in the Philadelphia game and we worked on that at practice,” Smith said.

“We’re going to work hard Friday night and if we can out-possess Toronto I think we have a good chance at winning,” Dietrich said.

In what became an all-too common occurrence last season, Bandits starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo was unable to finish a contest. Having Cosmo settle into a zone and finish a full 60 minutes will be a key to a Buffalo victory against Toronto.

The Bandits are fully healthy coming into Friday’s game, with forwards Aaron Wilson and Chad Culp now available coming off injuries. Dietrich would not confirm that either or both would be in the lineup.

After such a disappointing opening loss, what should Bandits fans expect to be different from their team on Friday night?

“To be honest, what’s going to be different is that we’re going to be a little more focused,” Dietrich said. “Not saying that we took Philadelphia for granted, because when you’re 6-10 and finish dead last you can’t take anybody for granted.

“I think coming in [to the opening game] we had a little too much swagger for a team that was 6-10 and they definitely knocked the swagger out of us.”

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