With a little over half of the 2014 season now over, the Buffalo Bandits (8-2) are still the team to beat in the Eastern Division. Riding high on a three-game win streak, the Bandits continue to pour on the offensive pressure in the fourth quarter to close out games against their opponents. Heading into their Week 13 showdown against the undefeated West Division-leading Edmonton Rush (10-0) Friday night at the Rexall Place in Edmonton, Buffalo will look to hand the Rush their first loss of the season and keep the Knighthawks at bay from the Eastern Division lead.
Friday’s meeting against the Rush will be the first time that these two teams have played each other this season. The last time these two teams faced each other was during the 2013 NLL season where the Rush defeated the Bandits with a 14-7 victory on the road March 23 2013 at First Niagara Center.
In that last matchup, the Rush held a five-goal (9-4) lead at halftime and continued pouring on the pressure throughout the rest of the second half en route to the victory. Bandits starting goaltender Anthony Cosmo allowed seven goals on 31 shots with a GAA of 15.38 and a .774 save percentage. He was pulled in the beginning of the second quarter and was replaced by backup Kurtis Wagar who fared just as bad. Wagar allowed seven goals as well on 32 shots with a GAA of 12.84 and a .781 save percentage.
A couple possible answers to why the Bandits came up short in last year’s matchup with the Rush could be due to the Bandits’ defensive inability to cover the Rush’s offensive cutters and the outstanding defensive pressure of the Rush effectively keeping the Bandits offense on the outside looking in, in terms of high percentage shots.
During the 2013 offseason, the Bandits management addressed all past issues with their roster and with the hiring of new head coach Troy Cordingley and his philosophy that effective defense is the key to winning championships. To help elevate the 2013 team to Cordingley’s specifications, the Bandits acquired defensive specialist Rory Smith from the Colorado Mammoth and inserted him into a lineup already hungry, incredibly strong and durable for their defensive wall in front of goaltender Anthony Cosmo.
Due to the changes in the defensive roster, the Bandits defense has instilled a great deal of confidence in Cosmo and that confidence has placed him second in the league in wins with eight, third in goals against average with 9.96 and second in saves with 428.
Unfortunately for the Bandits, the belief that defense wins championships also holds true for Edmonton as well. The Rush’s defensive personnel from last year that allowed a second-best 170 goals in 2013 are back and this year are looking to double their efforts in a major push towards championship glory.
Over the course of 10 games this season, the Rush’s defense so far has allowed a league-best 80 goals. What stands out even more is the fact that the second-best team in goals allowed is the Bandits and they have allowed 101 goals. This is a 21-goal difference between first and second and shows the level of dedication the Rush have placed towards their defense.
This year, the defense leadership for the Rush is anchored by defenseman Kyle Rubish, defenseman Jeff Cornwall and goaltender Aaron Bold. Rubish currently leads the league in forced turnovers with 29 while Cornwall is fourth with 17.
The star player this year for the Rush has been the outstanding play of veteran Rush goaltender Aaron Bold. In 10 games this season, Bold leads the league in wins with 9, the goals against average leader with 8.19 and eighth in the league in saves with 321. Now, being eighth in saves isn’t bad at all for the fact that his defense is helping to keep shot totals down by keeping opponents to the outside and forcing them to make mistakes and turn over the ball.
I believe this will whole heartedly be a low scoring defensive battle and the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will be the winner. The fact that half of Edmonton’s victories so far this season have been one-goal affairs definitely puts into the perspective that the Rush do have the capability of being defeated. It will take a quick start and 60 minutes of flawless play to give the advantage to the Bandits on Friday.
Leading the offense for the Bandits on Friday will be Ryan Benesch with 45 points (15 G, 30 A), Mark Steenhuis with 43 points (23 G, 20 A) and Dhane Smith with 40 points (13 G, 27 A).
Leading the offense for the Rush on Friday will be 2013 NLL Rookie of the Year Mark Matthews with 44 points (19 G, 25 A), Curtis Knight with 36 points (19 G, 17 A) and Cory Conway with 35 points (12 G, 23 A).