After splitting their home-and-home with the Toronto Rock last week, the Buffalo Bandits (6-6) return to First Niagara Center to take on the Minnesota Swarm (3-7) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game is available on UniversalSports.com (laptop/desktop) & USN app (mobile/tablet) in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.
The Bandits experienced an emotional Week 11 by facing the Rock twice in 24 hours. After winning at home on Friday 15-12, Buffalo headed north of the border where they fell in overtime to the Rock 11-10.
Buffalo emerged victorious 15-12 when they hosted Minnesota in Week 5. Mark Steenhuis tallied seven points (3+4) while Ryan Benesch (3+2) and Jerome Thompson (4+1) each racked up five points. Buffalo will be hoping for a similar result this weekend to improve on their 6-6 record.
“We’re a .500 club right now. We have teams that are chasing us,” said Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. “They’re going to be bringing their ‘A’ game. It’s an extremely competitive league. We have to be prepared.”
The Bandits skipper also stressed the importance of discipline, and not just in accruing less penalty minutes.
“We talk about discipline, not just with penalties,” said Cordingley. “But being responsible on getting back [to the bench].”
Buffalo is in a place where they control their own playoff destiny. They have a one-game lead on the New England Black Wolves and a two-game lead on the Swarm. Five of the Bandits last six games are against those two teams.
“With the team we have and what we’re capable of, we were hoping to be better than 6-6 after 12 games,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “We get to play Minnesota and New England, who are behind us. That’s key, it gives us a chance to stay in our spot. There are no easy games in this league, though.”
“All of the teams in this league are really good, these are big games for us,” said Bandits ageless wonder John Tavares. “It all depends on who shows up, who’s clicking, who’s peaking. We’ve shown a lot of character on our team, if we stay disciplined we’ll end up on top more times than not.”
Saturday night is Native American Night in Banditland and will include traditional music and dance and a $1,000 scholarship to an applicant of Native American descent.
Sitting at the bottom of the standings in the East Division, Minnesota will aim for a comeback in the second half of the season.
Although the Swarm came away with two losses in their back-to-back weekend last week, they demonstrated the dynamic agility of a team preparing to rally. With an inconsistent roster due to injuries, including assistant captain Callum Crawford, who is out with a lower-body injury, Minnesota hopes to go into this weekend renewed and intact.
“We’ve been a little thin up at the front door with some key injuries, so we’re looking to get some players back in the lineup and give us a little boost out the front door,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “I think we’re playing a little grittier on defense and we’re going to need to bring that Saturday night in Buffalo.”
Crawford, who has the most goals in Swarm franchise history (142), is day-to-day, but the team hopes to have him back in the lineup for Saturday. Minnesota’s first game last weekend was in front of the home crowd, and was a fight to the end. The Swarm ended up with a close loss of 10-9, but a few more minutes of play could have turned the tables.
A stale second quarter in an otherwise evenly-paced game on Sunday at Colorado ended with a losing score of 12-8, but the Swarm are confident that they’ve identified their challenges and are ready to overcome them.
“The season is relatively long so we’re not hanging our heads, by any means,” said Swarm forward Corbyn Tao. “We know what we have to do in front of us in order to make it to the postseason. So, I think as a unit and a team, we know our challenges and what we have to do. These upcoming games are extremely important for us and our confidence as well.”
Minnesota can be confident in the potential of their team going into this weekend. They are in possession of the NLL Rookie of the Month for February, Miles Thompson. Swarm forward Logan Schuss, who has recorded hat tricks in three of his last five games, is the reigning NLL Rookie of the Year from 2014. And, of course, there’s forward Shayne Jackson, who has a team-high 43 points (17+26) on the season. Assistant captain transition Jordan MacIntosh has 105 loose balls on the season, the second highest in the league so far this year.
But, with standings that are starting to solidify in an aggressive East Division, the Swarm will have to start facing each game like it’s a playoff game. Every game holds implications for Minnesota, and this weekend is no exception.
“We look forward to the challenge,” Caines said. “We’re going to treat this like a playoff game for us so we’ve got to definitely bring our A-game against Buffalo.”
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) & Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Bill Wippert.