Bandits’ Domination of the NLL Frontier

A lot can happen in the course of nine months. In between the Buffalo Bandits last home game on April 20 2013 (where they were eliminated from the playoffs by Rochester) to the current success they are achieving five games into their current 2014 season, a major feeling of change was definitely in the air.

During the off-season, the Bandits let go of head coach Darris Kilgour and acquired the 2013 NLL Les Bartley Award winner for head coach of the year, Troy Cordingley, from the Toronto Rock. Besides coaching, Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich took charge in creating some incredible postseason trade acquisitions that were able to secure some huge offensive and defensive talent in the form of forwards Ryan Benesch, Joe Resetarits, transition specialist Andrew Watt and veteran defenseman Rory Smith.

The Bandits began the 2014 season with an embarrassing 17-13 home loss to the Philadelphia Wings on December 28. After the 2014 season home opening loss, Buffalo Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley was not happy with his team’s results that evening. “We were taught a lesson. We were outworked and we were outplayed; we were out-everything. We had guys on different pages. You have to be on the same page to win in this league. Quite frankly, we were terrible tonight.”

After their opening matchup against the Wings, Cordingley and the rest of the Bandits players had an early bye week and used that precious time to lead the team to a back to basics kind of approach and helped them to redefine and refocus their game strategy to finally begin to start playing their brand of Bandit ball.

The next Bandits game was a January 10 showdown at home against the Toronto Rock. It was during this game that the Bandits began to learn from their mistakes and miscues against the Wings and start to come together as a team.

While allowing a whopping 68 shots on goal and second, possibly third chances for the Wings to score two weeks ago, the Bandits defense were able to hold the Toronto Rock to only a handful of second chances and reducing their shots on goal allowed to 62. While it wasn’t that large of an improvement, it still was an improvement nonetheless and a solid step into the right direction for the defense.

A week after the game against the Rock, the Bandits were faced with a rematch against the Philadelphia Wings and allowed only 54 shots on goal in that contest. The next game after that against the Colorado Mammoth, the Bandits allowed only 43 shots on goal. The highlight of it all so far defensively for the Bandits occurred yesterday against Rochester when the defense held the Knighthawks scoreless over a quarter for the eighth time in franchise history.

One of the main defensive highlights for the Bandits so far has been the play of off-season acquisition Rory Smith.

Smith on Saturday received high praise from head coach Cordingley.

“Rory Smith is an amazing defender, he’s a strong guy, he’s great (positionally)… He battles; he’s a warrior, and you’re going to win with guys that are willing to do that.”

Another reason for the defensive success for the Bandits has been the unbelievable play of defender Steve Priolo. Priolo this year is having a career highlight of a season and not for just his defensive prowess, but from his newfound offensive gifts as well.

Entering the 2014 season, Priolo had four goals in 51 career games. In only five games so far into this season, Priolo has amassed five goals and he’s definitely turning into a serious two-way threat.

The offensive side of the ball for the Bandits began to gel as well since that second week matchup against the Rock and are currently firing on all cylinders.

When looking back at the Bandits offense for the 2013 season, there were only a handful of offensive conspirators for the Bandits and not enough of a strong offensive team dynamic. The top five offensive specialists for the Bandits during the 2013 season were Shawn Williams (65 points), Aaron Wilson (46), Dhane Smith (44), John Tavares (39) and Mark Steenhuis (39).

What all this means is that pretty much if your name was Dhane Smith or John Tavares and etc., the opposing team would pretty much have you double teamed throughout the entire game and kept to the outside.

This 2014 season though, the entire team is becoming a much bigger offensive threat with all players seemingly coming out of the woodwork to place some serious goal totals past opposing goaltenders.

This time around, the Bandits currently have eight players leading the team this year in points so far through five games. The offensive leaders for this 2014 season are Ryan Benesch (27), Dhane Smith (26), Mark Steenhuis (19), Shawn Williams (18), John Tavares (17), Joe Resetarits (11), Jamie Rooney (10) and Steve Priolo (10).

In order for the offense to be able to get those much needed high percentage shots, the transition game has to be top notch. So far through five games this 2014 season, the transition game has been the Bandits bread and butter. The way the defense quickly gets the ball to mid-court while the players quickly get off the floor and fly off of the bench to immediately aid in the offensive pursuit is outstanding. The fact that head coach Cordingley has enough confidence in the transition game that he is able to get defenders like Priolo involved in the offense says a lot.

For the 2013 season, the Bandits offensively were able to get 171 goals for in 16 games. The 171 goals were the second least overall for the NLL. So far through five games into the 2014 season, the offense has tallied 64 goals. Which as it stands, is the second highest in the NLL compared to the 76 the Colorado Mammoth have, but that is only because they have played two more games than the Bandits. At their current pace of 12.8 goals a game, the Bandits are on pace for 205 goals over 16 games (compared to last season) which is an increase of 34 goals or (+2 goals per game).

With the Bandits defense and offense working in overdrive, what this does is make the job of the goaltender a little bit easier this time around. Finally, Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo is getting the team he deserves to let him shine to full potential. A big, strong, tough defense that is making people pay down the center and keep the high percentage opposing shooters to the outside. Cosmo so far in 2014 is leading the league in wins (4) and saves (213).

This season, Cosmo is receiving praise from head coach Cordingley and even opposing head coaches like the Knighthawks’ Mike Hasen. Saturday night against the Knighthawks, head coach Mike Hasen had to give Cosmo his credit due.

“I think Cosmo was our problem. He played exceptional tonight. I’ve known ‘Coz’ for a while and he was making saves like he did as a young guy. Defensively they were real strong in the middle, clogged it up and gave us some back lanes and bad opportunities. But when we did have an opportunity, ‘Coz’ was there.”

This 2014 season so far for the Buffalo Bandits has been a season of renewed hope. With the team being able to learn from mistakes like the opener against Philadelphia to the current wave of success in a four game, possibly five game, win streak is definitely accredited to the leadership of Cordingley and his players. This recent offseason has truly been a memorable one and so far a huge step in the right direction. So far, the acquisition of Andrew Watt and especially Ryan Benesch may turn out to be one of the most important deals in franchise history.

With mistakes being learned from, defense making opponents pay and shots making their way into the back of the net, the 2013 season is looking more and more like a horrible dream.