The Buffalo Bandits (2-1) head north of the border again, this time to visit the Toronto Rock (2-0) for the team’s home opener at Air Canada Centre on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The East Division rivals are very familiar with one another after squaring off four times last season, including once in the playoffs. Watch live on NLLlive.com (U.S.) and TSN.ca (Canada) on “guaranteed win” night at the ACC.
“We’re excited about playing at home for the first time this year, it’s going to be a very emotional evening for our team and our players,” said Rock head coach John Lovell.
After waiting four long weeks to feel home turf, the Rock will honor the late Terry Sanderson, a 15-year league legend who served in the Rock’s management for two stints, the most recent of which starting in 2010. Sanderson tragically passed away in November due to complications after a heart attack.
“It was a difficult game in our first game in Rochester – for our team and Josh [Sanderson] – and I think we rallied around that pretty well,” said Lovell of Sanderson’s passing. “We haven’t put that behind us by any stretch, we’re going to go through that again with Friday night. We all miss him.”
Friday night’s game will also mark the first time Toronto and Buffalo have faced each other since the Bandits’ 15-13 win in the East Division Semifinal in last year’s playoffs. The win for Buffalo halted a franchise-worst eight-game losing streak, putting a little extra salt in the Rock’s wound. Toronto’s postseason exit put an end to a late-season surge that included the rise of starting goaltender Brandon Miller and new leader Rob Hellyer, two players that have proven key in the Rock’s early 2015 success.
“It’s certainly a clean slate,” said Lovell about the rematch. “This is a new season, what happened last year was disappointing to our team, but this a clean slate. It’s an important game, it’s against Buffalo, a team in our division. It’s a home game and it’s really important for us to play well in front of our fans.”
“They’re a younger team and a faster team…I know they added some more guys that can run. I think we got to focus on getting back and cutting off their transition,” said Rock forward Brett Hickey, a welcomed addition to the team’s ’15 squad.
Hickey, with eight points (4+4) to his credit, has been part of a balanced and potent Rock attack. He’s standing with forwards Stephan Leblanc, Kasey Beirnes, Hellyer and Josh Sanderson as players with eight or more points thus far. Toronto offense, which had some question marks at season’s start, is averaging 16.5 goals per game. While Buffalo is coming off a 14-goal winning effort against the Vancouver Stealth, the Rock look to stay sharp heading into a big back-to-back weekend.
“We had a good practice last Tuesday, it was pretty intense workout to keep us sharp,” Hickey said.
After scoring just 17 goals through two games this season, Buffalo posted an impressive 14-13 victory over the Vancouver Stealth in the NLL’s only game in Week 3. The left and right sides of the offensive floor enjoyed solid production as Ryan Benesch (3+4) and Dhane Smith (5+3) both seemed virtually unstoppable.
“Our offense was gelling last week,” said Bandits forward and Buffalo area native Joe Resetarits. “We’ve got a lot of guys on our team that are deadly around the net.”
Resetarits contributed a hat trick of his own to Buffalo’s win last Friday.
Buffalo realizes that winning Week 4’s game will not be an easy task.
“Toronto follows their system to a tee, no matter how the game’s going,” Teat said. “If you’re not prepared for certain individuals and certain systems, you’re going to find yourself behind pretty quickly. Once they get the lead, they can finish you off.”
The Rock also have a few new faces on their team including defenseman Brock Sorensen and transition all-star Brodie Merrill. They could prove to be a handful for the Bandits.
“The key thing is cutting off their transition because they have a lot of guys that can take off,” said Resetarits. “We also will have to work on getting open [against this defense].”
Bandits transition player Alex Kedoh Hill is turning some heads with his impressive play and is leading the league with 12 forced turnovers. Hill has also been great in transition and pushing the ball up the floor.
“He’s gained the trust of all of our coaching staff and all of our players,” Teat said. “From both ends of the floor, he’s helped us tremendously. We have a huge amount of faith in him.”
A win on Friday night would give the Bandits a third win and sole possession of first place in the East Division. Following Friday’s game, Toronto will head into Rochester for a Saturday night rematch at Blue Cross Arena, where the team won in Week 1.
In November, Rock owner Jamie Dawick publicly guaranteed a Toronto win in the team’s home opener against the Bandits. If the Rock lose the game, every fan in attendance that purchased a regular priced single game ticket to the home opener will be eligible for a free ticket to any remaining 2015 Rock regular season home game at Air Canada Centre.
Story by Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) & Justin Millerson (@RockBeatToronto) for NLL.com. Photo by Graig Abel.