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Coming Off Bye Weeks, Bandits and Thunderbirds are Focused for Game of the Week on TSN

Halifax Thunderbirds defender Graeme Hossack’s unfamiliar footwear has caused some turned heads so far this season.

No, he’s not wearing funky high-tops, like retro Air Jordans or Chuck Taylors. Nor is he wearing trainers or even indoor lacrosse-specific turf sneakers.

So let’s set the record straight before Hossack and the Thunderbirds host the Buffalo Bandits at Scotiabank Centre in Friday’s NLL Game of the Week on TSN (6:30 pm ET/ESPN+).

Hossack is wearing minimalist “barefoot” shoes, which closely approximate natural barefoot walking conditions, lack the cushioning, motion control and stability devices of modern shoes, and can improve running economy by strengthening foot and leg muscles.

Strangely enough, Hossack wears socks in his barefoot shoes. Black ankle socks to be exact. “Yes, I wear socks with them,” he chuckles.

But facing the league-leading Bandits is no laughing matter for Hossack and the Thunderbirds, who are still searching for consistency this season. Both 8-2 Buffalo and 5-5 Halifax are coming off bye weeks and need to keep their pace for playoff positioning.

The Thunderbirds’ last game was a 13-12 victory over New York on Feb. 19, while the Bandits are on a four-game win streak. The teams will meet up again next Friday in Banditland.

“The bye week has given us the opportunity to do more film on Buffalo, which will help since we play them the next two weeks,” says Hossack. “We’ve been able to gain some more confidence from our last win, and so this should help us build some more momentum moving into the second half of the season.

“I think to get on a roll [if] we can focus on playing a complete game. Grinding it out and battling every single shift for each other will help build trust and confidence in ourselves and each other.”

For the Bandits, the bye week has given an extra week or recovery for their roster.

“I think the bye week came at a perfect time for us,” says Buffalo transition player Ian MacKay. “Usually you don’t love bye weeks because it gets you out of your routine and rhythm, but with all the injuries we’ve sustained this season it gives a little extra time for guys to rest and recover headed into a big and important stretch of games.”

Since the Bandits’ last game, a 13-12 win versus Philadelphia on Feb. 18, the team has activated left-handed forward Josh Byrne from the injury list, and righty Chase Fraser, re-signed to a one-year contract, to the active roster-evaluation list. Lefty forward Chris Cloutier is still out.

Lefty MacKay has seen more offensive shifts due to the injuries and has already set a career-best with 14 goals and is on pace for a career-high in points.

“The success I’ve had so far this year is coming from opportunity and my teammates’ trust and confidence,” MacKay says. “The coaching staff has put trust in me to play out the front door. The more I’ve been playing offence, the more confident I get with the plays and formations and spacing, and JT [head coach John Tavares] and the rest of the offence have really encouraged me to just go out and play and believe in myself.

“Obviously I’d rather our team have no injuries and have me playing transition. I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunity until I’m back on the D door.”

For Hossack and Halifax, they will need to figure out a way to slow down Buffalo’s offence, which is led by Dhane Smith’s league-best 58 assists and 82 points in just 10 games played. In their only matchup this season, the Bandits beat the visiting Thunderbirds 18-13 at KeyBank Center on Dec. 30.

“The key to stopping a talented team such as Buffalo will be playing team defence, trusting our defensive system and communicating well,” says Hossack, who has two goals, four assists, 63 loose balls and 10 blocked shots this season. “Ultimately it will come down to working harder than them and limiting high-quality chances.

“We also get to play at home in front of our awesome Halifax fans this week, which will give us some extra energy and momentum as well.”

Hossack also has a team-high 22 caused turnovers and is on pace for a career-best in that category. He had 34 CTO in 2018.

“Last year I think I could have been better, so I am just using that as motivation to play hard every game,” Hossack says. “Our defensive system allows us to work together and play a little more aggressively, which gives the opportunity to push out and add more pressure to the other team’s offence.”

MacKay agrees Friday will be another tough test in the meat-grinder that is the NLL East in 2022-23.

“We have a pretty different team from the last time we’ve played them,” says MacKay, who is fifth on the Bandits in scoring with 26 points and third in loose balls with 71. “That said, it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup for us. The game plan doesn’t change. The ultimate goal is to win the game, and we’ll need to put together a 60-minute effort with everyone pulling in the same direction.”

NLL