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Back In Banditland: Edmonton At Buffalo

After a record-setting 16­-2 season, the Edmonton Rush (0-0) already have their goal set no lower than a championship. The Rush start their 2015 campaign when they travel to First Niagara Center to take on the Buffalo Bandits (0-1) on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. Watch the NLL Face Off Weekend ’15 game on NLL LIVE (U.S.) & TSN.ca (Canada) on live.nll.com as Buffalo looks to rebound from a season-opening 12-8 road loss to the New England Black Wolves at Mohegan Sun Arena on Friday.

Last season saw the Rush become regular season champions, outscoring their opponents 220-­157, an average margin of 3.5 goals per game. Their goals against average of 8.72 is the new league record for fewest goals allowed per game, knocking off the 2001 Toronto Rock. Their 14-game winning steak holds the record for best start to a season and is the third longest winning streak in league history. The only thing the Rush failed to accomplish is winning the title.

“We think we have some unfinished business from last year” said Rush Assistant Coach Jeff McComb. “We didn’t make a lot of changes to our roster obviously with the season we had last year, but at the same time we know we have to be better. We didn’t win it all and that’s the objective in this league, to take home championships.”

With minimal roster turnover, the Rush have the potential to be a better team this year with Cory Small returning from an injury that forced him to miss the entire 2014 season, and Ben McIntosh being added to the mix after being picked first overall in this years draft. In his last season with the Rush, Small finished third in team scoring with 28 goals and 64 points. McIntosh finished his senior year at Drexel University with 48 goals and 17 assists in 18 games. In the WLA he scored 20 goals and 12 assists in 11 regular season games and turned it up in the playoffs scoring 27 goals and 11 assists in just 11 games.

McIntosh will add some size to the left side and will fill the gap created when Curtis Knight suffered a knee injury that will keep him on the side lines for the entire 2015 season. Knight lead the team in goals last year with 35 and was named team MVP. Assistant coaches Jeff McComb and Jimmy Quinlan will lead the Rush after Derek Keenan announced a leave of absence from the team so he can be with his wife Wendy, who has been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. With Keenan gone, the leaders on the team will look to build on what he has already instilled.

The Rush won the last meeting between the two teams 14­-5, a game in which Cory Conway had eight points, 7 of them being assists. The Bandits have not beaten the Rush since 2008 when Mark Steenhuis had eight points in a 13­-8 Buffalo win.

Aaron Bold will start in goal for the Rush after posting a .791 save percentage last season.

Edmonton will be ready and waiting for Buffalo on Saturday when the Bandits get home. In spite of being hyped up for their home opener, Teat expects the team to get home Saturday and rest and prepare for a tough Edmonton opponent.

“First of all, we don’t want to look past New England but it’s always great having a home opener in ‘Banditland,'” Teat said. “Our fans are going to be crazy. It’s going to be one of those games where we really have to prepare and be very smart. Kind of stick with our systems and not get away with ourselves with that Edmonton defensive group. They can hurt you in so many ways.

“You have to prepare yourself to realize you’re going to be playing one of the best teams in the league over the last two years. And they’re only getting better.”

The Bandits will have to be at their best this opening weekend, which is the first of a league-high four two-game weekends for Buffalo this season.

Edmonton has been one of the league’s best teams for the last two seasons and both the Rush and Bandits saw their seasons end in the mini game of the Division Finals last year. Both teams have a bad taste in their mouth from the way their seasons ended in 2014 and will want to use this first weekend to get off on the right foot.

By Mike Wilson (@RushBeat) & Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) for NLL.com.