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Started from the bottom: Revamped Mammoth set to visit Bandits

03/11/2014, 11:00am EDT
By Bandits beat writer Alan Rosenhoch & Mammoth beat writer Nick Salen for NLL.com

Buffalo seeks sixth-straight win at home with Colorado headed to town

Buffalo Bandits (7-2) host the Colorado Mammoth (5-7) at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30pm ET. (Photo: Jack Dempsey)

The ‘Banditland’ advantage is back.

The Buffalo Bandits (7-2) will look to make it six-straight victories on their home turf as they take on the recently revamped Colorado Mammoth (5-7) on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET at First Niagara Center. Watch the game live on YouTube via The Lacrosse Network.

Having reached the midway point of the 2014 campaign, the Bandits have already exceeded their total win number from last season. A stark turnaround if there ever was one.

Buffalo’s most recent victory was not a runaway, however, as the Bandits only held a lead for the final 3:48 of last week’s game against Minnesota. Trailing for most of the game, the Bandits came on strong when it counted most, taking the lead on Dhane Smith’s third goal of the game and sealing the victory on a pair of Mark Steenhuis tallies, his third and fourth of the contest.

“The rust was evident early,” said Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich of his team’s early performance coming off a three-week break. “[Minnesota] did some things to us that we weren’t ready for, but I thought Anthony [Cosmo] played well and I thought our defense really bared down and our offense finally got rolling in the second half and we were able to pull one out.

“But you don’t want to play just 20 or 30 minutes of lacrosse every week because you’re not going to win many games if you do.”

After giving up six goals in the first 18 minutes of the game, Buffalo’s defense and goaltending clamped down from there, surrendering just three more the rest of the way, giving the offense an opportunity to seize the victory.

“What we’ve been doing well is we’ve not been hitting the panic button when things aren’t going our way,” said Bandits transition player Jay Thormibert, who is second in the NLL with a 58.8% faceoff win percentage. “Like in the Minnesota game, we went down early, but we didn’t scramble, we stuck to the game plan, kept plugging along and eventually it worked out for us.”

Buffalo’s success at the home rink has carried them to their first place record thus far, but six of their remaining nine games will be away from First Niagara Center, making a victory in Saturday’s match up all the more important.

“We’ve got Rochester nipping at us just a half-game back, so to get another win before we go on this road trip, with not too many home games after that, it’s huge,” Thormibert said. “Wins on the road are tough to come by… getting a win on Saturday will definitely be a big bonus for heading into our road trip.”

Once at the bottom of the standings and now with their first win under a new regime in hand, the Mammoth look to keep rolling on the road in Buffalo.

Colorado picked up their fifth regular season win last Saturday night in Denver against rival Calgary. Down 5-0 to begin the game, the Mammoth battled back to win in overtime to not only lift the fans spirits, but also their own after a shaky week leading up to the game with the departure and installment of coaches.

“Definitely the start we were looking for,” interim coach Chris Gill commented earlier this week. “All the players had such a tough week with the coaching change and a real short week if you look at it with a change of philosophy or game plan.”

The intensity may not have been apparent immediately on the scoreboard, but the Mammoth squad could feel a fresh sense throughout the game. It was the game plan Gill mentioned was all thanks to the players buying into the new system behind the bench.

“Really proud of the way the guys battled throughout that game,” he added. “Could have easily packed their bags up after the first quarter, but it just shows what type of group the management and whole organization have.”

Dillon Ward was a key player in Colorado’s win last weekend, stopping 35 of 44, as well as shutting out the Roughnecks from early in the second quarter into the waning minutes of the fourth.

“The first half of the season didn’t go as well as planned,” Ward said. “Last week against Calgary we knew we needed a big win, we didn’t want to drop another game. We just came out, battled hard, obviously wasn’t the start we were looking for, but the middle portion of the game [we] stuck to the game plan.”

In 12 games he has appeared in thus far, Ward currently is posting a 11.61 GAA. He expected to start against Buffalo in hopes of giving Colorado its fifth-consecutive win against the Bandits.

Gill is no stranger to the Bandits’ home floor, having played there several times in his 14 year career in the NLL.

“It’s one of the loudest rinks around,” he chimed. “When I was playing it was one of my favorite rinks to play in, I love it when crowds are going nuts. As a coaching staff we’re going to embrace that and stick to our game plan.”

Six separate Mammoth players tallied goals in last week’s game, and that spread out offense could be without star forward Adam Jones once again. Jones, who was ruled out of Week 11, will be a game-time decision for the second-consecutive week as he battles back from injury.

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