The Buffalo Bandits (7-6) take on the New England Black Wolves (3-8), fresh off Friday’s road loss to the Minnesota Swarm, at First Niagara Center on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET. The game can be seen on UniversalSports.com (desktop/laptop) & Universal Sports Network app (mobile/tablet) in the U.S. and TSN GO in Canada.
The matchup will be the mark just the second time these two teams have met this season. Their first meeting was the NLL season-opening game in Week 1 that saw New England emerge victorious at home, 12-8. Mark Steenhuis (2+1), Ryan Benesch (1+2) and Dhane Smith (2-1) each potted three points in the loss.
Buffalo will square off with New England in three of its last five games, but this New England team got quite a facelift on the trade deadline. The Black Wolves acquired prolific scorer Garrett Billings and veteran leader Andrew Suitor on Tuesday.
The Bandits realize that the team has had some personnel changes, but they also know the Wolves’ coaching staff will be running similar systems and that the game will boil down to how well they play.
“It’s going to be an emotional game for some of the new guys there. We have to prepare ourselves for that,” said Bandits assistant coach Dan Teat. “We can’t change a whole lot about what we do, we just have to go do our job.”
Buffalo’s 12-8 win over Minnesota in Week 12 helped to solidify the team’s playoff position, but they realize nothing is guaranteed.
“We like that we hold our fate in our hands, we’re not in a bad spot,” said Bandits forward Mark Steenhuis. “We just want to make sure we’re hitting our peak at the right time as we head for the playoffs.”
Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo doesn’t watch standings too much. He just wants the team to keep racking up wins.
“We can only control what we do, the standings will take care of themselves,” Cosmo said. “As long as we’re playing hard and improving, we’ll make the playoffs and being going in on a high.”
The Bandits will continue to focus on transition against New England on Saturday. Buffalo has been successful in generating goals in transition and have set a goal to get off the floor as quickly as possible to stifle the opposition’s movement up the floor.
“[New England’s] transition game burned us pretty badly in two quarters, it got us into trouble,” added Teat. “We really need to focus on not letting them transition from their defense to offense.”
The Black Wolves will head to Buffalo after visiting Minnesota on Friday night, both important in the team’s attempt to get back in the East Division race.
“Buffalo is certainly ahead of us and they have the spot that we want,” said Black Wolves head coach Blane Harrison. “They’re a very solid team. We got an upper hand on them early, early, early in the year, and I’m assuming they are going to want payback a little bit.”
In its home opener, the Black Wolves defeated the Bandits and dominated throughout the game. A near-capacity crowd cheered on the NLL’s newest team, and every aspect of the pack’s lineup worked well together. However, a lot has changed since that first weekend and since Buffalo is not the first game of the Black Wolves’ doubleheader weekend and that may take a toll on the pack.
“First things first, Friday night in Minnesota is a big on to focus in on,” Harrison said. “That’s one of the reasons why we wanted someone like Andrew Suitor to come in; who understands the need to quickly retool and refocus on another divisional opponent. It’s a big thing for us in many different ways. When you go against Minnesota and they win two and we win two, the next tiebreaker is a divisional opponent. That’s a big key to the whole mix as well.”
The race for a playoff spot is heating up, and the East Division standings could go up in flames by the end of the season. There are a lot of potential wins and losses that could affect the standings moving forward, especially for the Bandits and the Black Wolves. Saturday night’s matchup is one of three between the two teams before the season ends. With doubleheader weekends becoming a constant in the weeks ahead, the pack is focusing on playing well and keeping the lineup fresh, and a quiet trade between the two teams earlier this week could really help the Black Wolves stay fresh for its second game of the weekend.
“It’s heavy for us, but I think it’s heavy for a lot of teams,” noted Harrison. “I don’t think it’s any headwind that is unique to just us, but you certainly have to look at your lineup and make sure everyone is fresh for all these games coming up.”
“One of the little known things that we haven’t really talked about is the trade with Buffalo to get Drew Petkoff into the lineup. Tough kid, young kid, left-handed shot on the defense for us, so hopefully we’ll work him into some transition. Bringing guys like that in and really starting to fill out our roster the way we want to helps us in the stretch. We’ll get guys in and out of the lineup as much as we can to keep it fresh for this last stretch,” added Harrison.
“I think it’s all about preparing yourself,” added Black Wolves transition player Andrew Suitor. “This is what we love to do and this is what we do. If you can’t go in and play one game then turn around and play another, then clearly you’re not preparing yourself. On the emotional side of things, you just have to let things take its course and just go out and play the game you love and hopefully come out of the weekend with four points.”
On Friday, the Black Wolves dropped 12-8 decision to the Swarm before heading to Buffalo. Brett Bucktooth (3+2) led New England on offense with his hat trick. Pat Saunders (2+4), Kyle Buchanan (1+1) and Kevin Buchanan (1+1) each contributed out the front. Garrett Billings (1+3), who joined the Black Wolves by way of trade just before the deadline on Tuesday, scored his first goal with his new team in the third quarter.
“We had a different game plan tonight with them and Garrett’s coming off not playing 2014, so he’s a little rusty. He’ll get the rust off and I think he did a great job of doing that,” Milligan said. “Andrew (Suitor) brings a lot of energy and I think he did that tonight. So, we’ve just got to find out how to play with the new guys in the lineup and work those kinks out.”
Buffalo will be hosting a basket raffle on Saturday night to help support Michelle Fines, partner of Edmonton Rush goaltender Aaron Bold, who is battling bone cancer. Tickets will be sold on the 100-level concourse.
By Steve Bermel (@BanditsBeat) & Alyssa McLaughlin (@BlackWolvesBeat) for NLL.com. Photo by Khoi Ton.