The Buffalo Bandits picked up right where they left off last season.
That wasn’t the desired result for a team that suffered through one of the most discouraging seasons in team history, finishing as the only team in the National Lacrosse League to miss the playoffs.
The Bandits displayed some familiar habits in losing to the Philadelphia Wings, 17-13, before 13,564 in the First Niagara Center.
For starters, they lost at home – their seventh straight defeat in the not-so-friendly confines after losing their last six there earlier in 2013. They gave up runs of goals that helped turn the game in the wrong direction. The Bandits never led in the game. Their goaltending had some bad moments, although admittedly the goalies didn’t get much help from the defense in front of them.
The biggest difference was that the team had a new coach watching. Still, Troy Cordingley was just as unhappy as his predecessor, Darris Kilgour, would have been under the circumstances – even if his language after the game wasn’t quite as colorful.
“They taught us a lesson,” Cordingley said. “We were outworked, outplayed, outwilled. Talk is cheap, but talk doesn’t win games.
“We were terrible. We’re lucky it’s only Dec. 28.”
There was plenty of blame to go around for this one. On offense, the Bandits had a variety of problems completing their passes, which often led to turnovers.
“We were a little off,” Shawn Williams said. “Part of that was our defense, but part of it was us.”
Dhane Smith had three goals, while Williams, Ryan Benesch, Mark Steenhuis and newcomer Kevin Brownell had two each. But Wings goaltender Evan Kirk was generally solid when he had to be, making some good saves when they were needed to prevent the Bandits from going on some runs.
“That’s the Evan I know,” said Benesch, playing in his first game as a Bandit. “I played with him in Minnesota, and I played with him over the summer in Kitchener. When he’s playing well, they’re a tough team to beat.”
At the other end, goalie Anthony Cosmo was pulled from the game in favor of Kurtis Wagar late in the third quarter, something that happened frequently last season. Cordingley wasn’t willing to give his goalies much of the blame for allowing 17 goals.
“I saw Cosmo getting bombarded shot after shot after shot, because we weren’t willing to battle for loose balls after rebounds,” he said. “Coz let in one or two soft ones. But it’s easy to point the finger at him, and our defense wasn’t making players pay the price. We weren’t boxing out. They were just as bad as the offense.
“To be quite frank, we were terrible today.”
The Wings had a couple of key runs in the game. At one point in the second quarter, Jordan Hall scored four straight goals to turn a 5-4 lead into a 9-4 edge.
“Jordan was the first overall pick by New York many years ago, and I’ve always enjoyed his game,” said Wings coach Blane Harrison, who won his first game behind the Philadelphia bench. “He can play transition or forward, but we needed his stick up front.”
The scoring was spread around more when Philadelphia put the game away for good. With eight minutes to go in the third period, the Wings led, 10-8. About 11 minutes later, the score was 16-9, Philadelphia.
Hall had plenty of help during that stretch and in the rest of the game. Tracey Kelusky, playing against the Bandits after spending the past three years in Buffalo, erupted for two goals and four assists for six points. The veteran only had 10 points for the Bandits all of last season.
For a Wings team that wasn’t highly regarded entering the season, it was a good start.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but after the first game this is not a bad place to me,” Harrison said.
The Bandits have an extra week to get ready for their next game, which will take place on Jan. 10 against Toronto. The new coach left little doubt that he expects to see some improvement in his team by then.
“We’re going to be busy,” Cordingley said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got to get guys on the same page here. If not, we’ll have some guys watching from the crowd.”