Seeking a win to get all that much closer to the postseason, the Buffalo Bandits (7-7) visit the Minnesota Swarm (5-9), who will be looking to stave off elimination from the playoff race, at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. Watch live on UniversalSports.com (desktop/laptop) & USN app (mobile/tablet) in the U.S. and on TSN GO in Canada.
The Bandits are coming off a tough home loss to the New England Black Wolves in Week 14, an effort which Buffalo head coach Troy Cordingley described as “awful.” In a Week 12 win over the Swarm, Cordingley said he didn’t think the team played very well and were fortunate to win.
Now is the time to respond for the Bandits. Buffalo has a two-game lead on both New England and Minnesota for the third and final playoff spot in the East. Three of their four remaining games are against the Swarm and Black Wolves. While the team controls their own destiny, they also have to be careful as a few losses could have them on the outside looking in.
“We can’t get discouraged when we play. We have to stay focused,” said Bandits defensemen Steve Priolo. “Our future is in our own hands. We play the teams that are just below us. It’s simple, if we beat them, we’re in the playoffs. If we don’t, we don’t deserve to be in.”
The Bandits used Tuesday’s practice to try and shake off the recent struggles in their game and bear down for the home-stretch of the season.
“You have to bounce back, and in this league you get to do it quickly,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “The good thing is that we have guys who realize practice is a new week and a new team we have to focus on. It was a practice where we got mentally and physically prepared for Saturday.”
Bandits transition player Andrew Watt stressed the importance of moving on from a poor performance and not dwelling on a loss.
“Last week against New England we didn’t put in a very good performance all around,” Watt said. “We have an opportunity to bounce back. You have to have a short memory. Hopefully we can put together a full 60 minutes this weekend and start our own playoff push.”
Trade deadline acquisition Jamie Batson saw his first action on the Bandits last week. Teat is impressed with what he’s seen in a short time from him.
“There’s a lot of defenses in this league that are similarly, so he picked up our systems pretty quickly,” Teat said. “The other thing about ‘Bats’ is he’s built like a fire hydrant and is as strong as a beast.”
Buffalo’s backup goaltender Davide DiRuscio sustained a lower body injury in pregame warmups last week while Mark Steenhuis was also placed on the short-term injured reserve.
For Minnesota, the team is chasing the last playoff ticket in the East, which is currently in the Bandits’ possession. The two teams have faced each other twice this season at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, and both games ended with a Bandits win. The Swarm are intent on handing Buffalo the same fate as they head to “The Hive” in Minnesota. Although the Swarm are less than enthusiastic about the team’s record this year, they have won two of its last three games and hope to continue the momentum going into Saturday’s game. For the defense, the key is lies in communication.
“The biggest thing defensively for our team is we’re starting to communicate a lot more, we’re starting to get comfortable with each other,” said Swarm transition player Jason Noble. “Welcoming newcomer like Joel White in, he’s seemed to pick up our defense fine. I think over the last year, I’ve noticed just our communication from last season to this season has gotten a lot better.”
Working in Minnesota’s favor is the home crowd advantage for each of their last four games to finish out the season, starting with this weekend. The Swarm crowd, dubbed the “7th Man” offers an extra push of confidence for the late playoff run.
“A lot of us are excited, both offense and defense, that we’re playing at home now and get to play in front of the home crowd,” said Noble. “We love playing there.”
“New England did us a favor and beat Buffalo last weekend to give us a chance here, and now we have to step up,” said Swarm assistant coach Aime Caines. “And the good thing for us is it’s at home and we usually play good at home.”
The last home game was the team’s second-straight win against New England. But when the Swarm headed to Vancouver for the second of two games last weekend, they struggled offensively and were only able to put up two goals. As the playoff run continues to tighten and more teams clinch their playoff spots, the sense of urgency is clear.
“We’ve already had some meetings with players and (Swarm head coach Joe Sullivan) put out calls to all the offensive players to try to really figure out what happened,” Caines said. “To bounce back this weekend is their main focus and we’ve got to work extra hard this week to get back on track. We’re moving in the right direction with two wins in a row and then we lay an egg on Saturday. But a week makes a big difference in preparation and just getting our guys focused and ready for Buffalo, because our first playoff game is this Saturday against Buffalo. We need to win this.”
A new face the Swarm will be looking to for an offensive impact is forward Johnny Powless, who was acquired from Rochester just before the NLL trade deadline. With three NLL Champion’s Cups and a Minto Cup under his belt, Minnesota is expecting a significant influence from Powless on Saturday night.
“He’s fit in really nice with our offense and the way our offense creates and he had a big goal on Friday night against New England,” said Caines. “I know the whole offense struggled on Saturday but hopefully we’ve got a short memory and we bounce back. He’s a big part of it because he’s right in the line up and we’re looking for him to produce.”
Powless is just one piece of a 20-man puzzle that is going to have to fit together on Saturday night, and into the rest of the season, for the playoff hopes of the Swarm to stay alive.
“We’re really trying to work together and have five guys on the floor all communicating, starting with our goalie, and then working all the way with any 10 guys that are running out the defensive end. Making sure we’re on the same page and knowing the game plan going out instead of one guy breaking down and then our whole defensive system breaking down,” said Noble. “I think that’s one of the main things with us. It’s not that we’re not trying hard enough or playing hard enough. It’s just executing and communicating.”
“Our next four games are here and we’ll get into that routine and try to put a run together and get hot right at the end of the season,” said Caines.
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) & Maria Jollie (@SwarmBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Scott Pierson.