The weekend off after the new year was an extremely welcomed week of rest for the Georgia Swarm following a physically grueling loss to the Colorado Mammoth at home to close the 2019 calendar year.
After being in control for three quarters, the Swarm seemed to be worn down the stretch, and their passes a little less crisp, shots a little less accurate, and defensive rotations a little bit slower. The result was their first loss of the season after having cruised through their first two matches.
Their opponent this Saturday night will be playing just their third game of the year. After being dominated over the final three quarters at home against the Halifax Thunderbirds two weeks ago, the Buffalo Bandits come in eager to avoid a 1-2 start to the season.
The Bandits were tied with the Thunderbirds 4-4 after the first period two weeks ago, but the 15-10 final score was hardly indicative of the way the game played out after that first quarter. The Bandits picked up three late goals that made the final margin much closer than the game itself actually was.
The Bandits were however without captain and defensive leader Steve Priolo as well as forward Chase Fraser. As of press time Fraser’s status was not yet updated for Saturday night, but Priolo is expected to play. But both would be a welcome addition to a team who has allowed 25 goals in just two games while scoring only 23 themselves during their 1-1 start.
Priolo in particular is a key component to the Bandits defense, which was among the stingiest in the National Lacrosse League a year ago en route to their 14-4 record. Priolo has been runner-up for defensive player of the year a half dozen times, and is the longest tenured Bandits player, having been taken 21st overall in the 2009 draft. The missed game against Halifax due to injury was the first time in seven seasons the defensive stalwart had missed a contest due to injury. And it’s not something he wants to make a habit of. “It’s hard missing games, and not being out there battling with my teammates. It never feels right”, Priolo said.
The Swarm don’t exactly promise to be the ideal remedy for a team trying to recapture their defensive identity. Despite the loss against the Mammoth two weeks ago in which the offense went into hibernation during the final period, the Swarm have still averaged 12.3 goals per game.
But as much as Lyle Thompson (19 points) and Shayne Jackson (18 points) have led this dynamic offense, it’s the defense that has helped carry the Swarm to their 2-1 start. Mike Poulin leads the league with a 7.38 GAA while placing second in the league stopping .844% of the shots he’s seen.
A major key for the Swarm will be shutting down Buffalo in transition. The Bandits scored three of their first four goals against the Thunderbirds while in transition, and it’s an area of focus for the Swarm defense, which so far this season has been adept at preventing Poulin from facing many free runners on the break.
With Halifax and the New England Black Wolves at 3-0 and leading their respective divisions, both the Bandits and Swarm know they can ill afford to fall two games back in the loss column this early in the season. The intensity should be high from the opening face off on Saturday night.
And while the game may not be as physical as the Swarm’s battle against the Mammoth, it promises to be quicker and played at a higher pace, which should excite the crowd at Infinite Energy Arena.
The Swarm will be participating in Lacrosse Out Cancer Night and wearing special purple jerseys as they entertain the Bandits from Buffalo.
For the Bandits, many Buffalo fans were perhaps hoping to still be pulling on the Bills this weekend, but instead, they will turn their attention towards their lacrosse team in a key early season matchup that both teams need to win to keep pace in their divisions.