Rochester Knighthawks (3-2) host the Buffalo Bandits (5-1) at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Larry Palumbo)
On their first five-game win streak since 2009, the Buffalo Bandits (5-1) head east across the I-90 Thruway to take on their East Division rival Rochester Knighthawks (3-2) at Blue Cross Arena on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Despite sitting alone atop the East division standings, a game and a half ahead of the Knighthawks, the Bandits know they’ve got their hands full taking the two-time defending champions on the road.
“We know what kind of test we have ahead of us,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “We know they’re going to be hungry. They were the best team in the league and the defending champs for a reason and we’ve got to know that they’re going to be real prepared for us on Saturday night.”
In their last meeting just two weeks ago, Buffalo jumped out to a big lead over Rochester, a lead that lasted well into the fourth quarter until Rochester poured in five goals in a mere 3:35, cutting the Bandits lead to a single goal with 19 seconds remaining.
Buffalo transition player and face off specialist Jay Thorimbert was able to win the ensuing draw and retain possession to stave off what would have been an incredible comeback for the Knighthawks.
The Jan. 25 loss was the first of the season for the defending champions, who had come into the first Buffalo game winning their first three games of the season.
“All that week all everyone was doing was praising how good we had been,” said Knighthawks defender and former Bandit Ian Llord. “But I don’t think that went to our head, the coaches did a good job of keeping us focused and on task, but [the Bandits] came out on fire and we [did not].
“Finally in the fourth quarter we crept back towards where we wanted to be, but that was nowhere we wanted to be this many games into the season, that’s for sure.”
Having won five of their first six games in 2014 after a dismal 2013 campaign, the Bandits are focused on maintaining the strong momentum they’ve built for themselves a third of the way into this season.
“The key [to our recent success] is we’re not just doing it one way, we’re doing it every way,” said Bandits defenseman Glen Bryan. “We’ve got [Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo] playing well, the defense is rolling, the offense is chipping in and we’re even getting a few in transition… we’re not just trying to win one way or another.”
Buffalo’s last game was a gritty, highly physical 12-10 win over a feisty Toronto team on Feb. 1. The team realizes that to find similar success against Rochester, a more disciplined approach is necessary.
“We want to make sure we have a little different kind of intensity this week,” Bryan said. “Toronto got right in our face and they drew us into penalties… we’ve got to make sure we keep that intensity in check this week and stay out of the box and use it between the whistles. I know that if we do get in the box this week Rochester will take advantage.”
Bandits fans can expect to see veteran forward Aaron Wilson return to the lineup on the right side, as well as the NLL debut of 22-year-old rookie transition player Mitch Wilde.
Once 3-0, the Knighthawks are coming off their second straight loss, having lost to the Edmonton Rush by a score of 8-7 in overtime on the road last week. Rochester struggled for most of the first half, but clawed their way back and tied the game late before falling in sudden death. The struggles on the road the last two weeks early in the game have been evident, and head coach Mike Hasen addressed those road concerns during Wednesday's conference call.
“We just come out a little bit flat,” Hasen said. “We're kind of on our heels a little bit, and it takes us a while to get going. It's a little bit of a focus thing here.”
Defenseman Ian Llord summed up the feeling of the team heading into Saturday night's game with one simple statement: “Nobody wants to lose.” The Knighthawks have to be frustrated at this point in the season, but they also know they have a chance to right the ship against a bitter rival.
Returning to the Blue Cross Arena where the Knighthawks won their first three games of the season could be exactly what the team needs. The team on both ends of the floor looks more comfortable and assertive at home versus on the road, and coach Hasen knows that needs to continue.
“Winning at home is first and foremost what we've got to do,” he said. “We built everything good at home and we've got to keep that going because that's our friendly confines.”
The Knighthawks will look to learn from their first meeting, but they aren't dwelling on it too much as things can change quickly in this league.
“We're looking at a clean slate,” Hasen said. “But at the same time, that's in the back of our head, and we've got to be ready to go for an entire sixty (minutes) to defeat these guys.”
Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.