By Matthew Cullen/NLL.com Correspondent | Photo Credit: Graig Abel
The Toronto Rock (2-1) and the Buffalo Bandits (1-3) look to respond following a pair of one-goal losses last week as the two East-Division rivals clash for the first time this season at the Air Canada Centre on Friday, Feb. 3 in Toronto.
The Rock aim to close out a three-game home stand on a winning note after falling 9-8 last week to the Rochester Knighthawks. The Bandits, on the other hand, allowed the winning goal with 53 seconds remaining, dropping a 13-12 contest with the previously-winless New England Black Wolves.
For both head coaches, the message is clear.
“We need to regroup,” Toronto’s Matt Sawyer told NLL.com. “We need to be much better. We are a product of doing the little things right and the little things right all of the time.”
But for Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley, he is more focused on stopping a worrying trend.
“There are a lot of concerns right now, to be quite frank.” he told NLL.com on Wednesday. “We don’t have the jam that we had last year. We haven’t found that yet. We are making a lot of mistakes from a lack of effort.
“Last year, we were really good. But last year means squat right now.”
Indeed, the Bandits rolled to a 13-5 regular-season record last season en route to winning the East Division. Buffalo then marched all the way to the finals, only to fall to the Saskatchewan Rush in two close games.
It hasn’t been the same so far this season.
One of the key reasons for Buffalo’s sluggish start is the absence of 2016 NLL MVP Dhane Smith. The 24-year-old hasn’t played since injuring himself on the first shift of Buffalo’s second game of the season against Georgia. A Kitchener, Ont., native, Smith set a single-season NLL record last season in points (137) and goals (72) in 18 games.
Coach Cordingley called his star “questionable” with a lower-body injury for Friday’s game against the Rock.
However, Smith’s absence hasn’t slowed the productivity of teammate and fellow Kitchener native Ryan Benesch, who leads the East Division with 26 points in four games (11 goals, 15 assists).
On paper, the offense hasn’t been as big of an issue for Buffalo as the defense and goaltending. Coming into Friday, Buffalo is second in the East Division in goals scored (55) but last in goals against (58). Despite the defensive woes, coach Cordingley insists that getting back to winning ways starts with a team effort.
“It’s by committee…offensively, you do it by committee,” Cordingley stressed. “There are five guys there. They need to work and be unselfish with the ball…defensively, we have a system [that works] by committee. Everyone needs to know their roles.”
‘A great rivalry’
Despite the loss against the Knighthawks last Saturday, the Rock can take away some positives after outshooting their opponent 57-32, out-hustling Rochester to 48 more loose balls and dominating the faceoff circle, winning 17-of-21 draws
But Rock forward Brett Hickey says his team has to move on.
“We have to regroup and forget about [last Saturday’s] game,” he told NLL.com. We know it wasn’t our best effort.”
Coach Sawyer expects his players to be even more motivated for Friday’s contest against the rival Bandits.
“It’s a great rivalry,” Sawyer said of the first of four meetings between the two teams. “You shouldn’t need much to get up for that game. We need to get back to work [but]…I don’t think that there will be any issue for [our] guys getting up for this one.”
Over the last three years, the Bandits and Rock have split their 12 regular-season games, 6-6.
It’s a 7:30 p.m. ET start on Friday as the Rock celebrate Country Night with KX Country and the Boots and Hearts Music Festival. On top of entertaining lacrosse, fans will be treated to a Boots and Hearts halftime show and have a chance to win a trip for two to Nashville. Check out www.torontorock.com for tickets and more details.