The Buffalo Bandits (5-2) host the Philadelphia Wings (3-5) at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Bill Wippert)
The Buffalo Bandits (5-2), coming off just their second loss of the season, return home to take on the Philadelphia Wings (3-5) at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network with the league's oldest rivalry going strong at 23 years and counting.
The Wings are coming off a two-loss weekend that saw them get blown out 20-10 on the road in Toronto, followed by a close 8-6 home loss to the NLL’s only remaining undefeated team the Edmonton Rush.
Buffalo had been riding a five-game winning streak before falling to Rochester 9-6 last week, a game that saw the Bandits shut out in the first half for the first time in the franchise’s 23-year history.
“It was not the result we were looking for,” said Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich. “Offensively we struggled. The 5-0 score at halftime I think was flattering for both sides. I think if our offense would have showed up in the first half it might have been a different outcome.”
Even in the loss, Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo continued his very strong play, making 40 saves on 49 shots for an .816 save percentage.
The strong play Buffalo has been getting from its starting goaltender has a positive effect on the entire team, from the defense, to transition and all the way up to the forwards.
Dietrich, an NLL Hall of Famer from his playing career as a goaltender, knows a thing or two about how top notch goalkeeping can ripple through the entire roster.
“It lets the guys play with a little more confidence and a little more swagger,” he said. “It allows you to take that little extra gamble on offense or allows you to send two guys in for a loose ball on defense.
“The ripple effect breeds confidence and the way Anthony is playing, everybody knows that if they make a mistake it’s not going to be an automatic goal, that we have a guy back there that is going to bail us out of a lot of jams.”
The mentality the Bandits are taking this season is a clear departure from that which led them to a highly disappointing 2013 campaign.
“We’ve really got back to the basics,” said young second-year Bandits transition player Kevin Brownell. “Last year wasn’t really what we expected out of the group that we had, so this year we’re really just trying to get back to hard work. Through the first six games it was really working for us, but last weekend we came out flat.”
Saturday’s game is the third and final meeting between these two storied franchises. Having split the first two, there is added importance on getting a win this week as it will determine the head-to-head tie breaker for playoff seeding.
After entering last weekend with a 3-3 record, the Wings look to forget the back-to-back losses in Week 7.
“Up until last weekend we actually felt pretty good about ourselves, we were 3-3 and could’ve very easily been 5-1,” Wings head coach Blane Harrison said. “You know we really thought we were playing well and were turning a corner in terms of building some consistency into our game both, on the backhand and on the front hand.”
However, Harrison noted that “a little stress” is creeping up into his team’s roster with banged up players and the lack of Jordan Hall, that clearly affected the play of the Wings offense last weekend.
But although it’s time to move on and look forward to the Bandits, the Wings are still feeling effects of their 20-10 loss to the Toronto Rock last weekend.
“Going into Toronto we certainly felt that we embarrassed ourselves,” Harrison said. “The fact of the matter is, we weren’t very good and when you’re not very good and you’re not ready to compete in this league, you really shouldn’t be surprised by the outcome that happened in Toronto.”
But there is hope for the Wings despite their second loss of the weekend to the undefeated Edmonton Rush, as their performance was a definite improvement from the night before.
“We really tried to turn it around very quickly,” Harrison said. “The nice thing about that is there is a silver lining as you get right back on the horse right away and prove yourself that you weren’t as bad as you were on the night before.”
Harrison admitted to being happy that his team bounced back a bit and thought they played “fairly well and very strong in the second half” against Edmonton.
“Hopefully we can build off that,” Harrison said “You know we’re going to need to build off of that because— and I have upmost respect for the Buffalo squad right now— last game aside, they’re playing very well. We always seem to get into epic battles, it’s going to be a big game for both because it’s going to be a tiebreaker game, so hopefully we can be ready to compete up there on Saturday night.”
Despite a lackluster offensive performance during last weekend’s games, Wings forward Kevin Crowley is beginning to impress up top for Philly.
“I think early on I’m pretty disappointed with my play not putting the ball in the goal, but these last couple of games, I’ve kind of found a way to score the ball,” Crowley said. “The additions we’ve played on the offense have been great—you know I love playing on the right side— and we’re a team that needs to be unselfish and move the ball, and when we get away with that, we run into games like we did in Toronto. It really is the team concepts that are important to the Wings being successful this year and obviously Jordan Hall coming and having a great start to the season is huge for us. We really missed him this past week and so we look forward to having him in the lineup and giving Buffalo a good run this weekend.”
Also to lookout for is the new addition to the Wings lineup, recently re-signed goalie Brandon Miller, who Harrison is currently working on acclimating back into the league.
“We’ve been pretty happy with the way Kirk’s been playing,” Harrison said. “I think he’s gotten better and better every game. Certainly Brandon gives us an opportunity to start thinking a little bit more strategically as we move forward. We’ll start to map that out but right now because I think Kirk has been here the whole time since training camp, he certainly has the ball. We just want to make sure that we give Brandon the opportunity to get back up to NLL speed and I’m not sure that he can do that by sitting as long as he has and jumping in, so we’ll be patient with him. He’s a professional so it won’t take him long.”