The Buffalo Bandits have been playing this season as if they’ve been using a shovel instead of a lacrosse stick at the start of their games.
That’s because they keep digging themselves deep holes.
Consider the amazing fact that the Bandits have fallen behind by an 8-2 score in four of the six games they’ve played this season. That’s a recipe for disaster, and it happened again on Friday night at the KeyBank Center.
Buffalo was down by that particular score with about nine minutes gone in the second period. The Bandits went on to a 14-11 loss to the New England Black Wolves before 13,813. Buffalo dropped to 1-5 on the season, the league’s worst record.
“We talked about slow starts, we’ve talked about how it’s hard to battle back from 9-3,” Bandits coach Troy Cordingley said. “Our offense wasn’t very good tonight - in the first half, particularly. We weren’t shooting very well. Defensively, I thought we were OK, but we were losing our man, and they were getting some uncontested shots.
“But the ones that really kill you are the ones when we make really blatant mistakes - throwing the ball away. In the second quarter, we took a shot and the ball bounced over our head and they went down and scored. Those kill you. It’s hard to score in this league.”
There’s plenty of blame to go around, as none of the departments - offense, defense or goaltending - have played well.
“We have to settle down,” Mark Steenhuis said. “The holes we’ve dug are big, and we’re trying to get six goals at a time instead of just one. And most of their shots seem to have eyes, and they are leaking in.”
This one got away from the Bandits quickly. New England scored four straight goals in exactly four minutes to take a 4-0 lead with less than nine minutes gone in the first period. It certainly gave everyone connected with the Buffalo team a “here we go again” feeling. It forced the Bandits’ fourth in-game goalie change of the season, as Anthony Cosmo replaced Dave DiRuscio.
“We made the move early enough, when we were down, 4-0, to change the momentum,” Cordingley said. “Coz made some unbelievable saves right away, but it was not enough to give us the lift that we needed.”
At the other end, Evan Kirk always seemed to be in the right place at the right time in the Black Wolves’ net. That’s partly a credit to him, and partly a credit to a defense that kept the Bandits away from good shooting position. Throw in some defensive breakdowns at the other end, and it added up to the 9-3 halftime lead.
“We did a lot of things right but sometimes the score isn’t indicative of what happened,” Black Wolves assistant coach Tracey Kelusky said. “I thought we did a good job of controlling the tempo, Kirky made some big saves in timely situations, and I thought we shot the ball pretty well. We were able to manufacture goals in transition, which we haven’t been able to do well all year.”
A six-goal deficit with 30 minutes to go can be overcome occasionally, and the Bandits at least picked up their play a bit. Dhane Smith showed signs for the first time this season that he was regaining the form that lifted him to the Most Valuable Player award last season. Smith finished with three goals and two assists in the game as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain.
“My body held up pretty well, but it was not enough,” Smith said. “We weren’t good enough, and we have to figure it out.”
“The guy cares so much about the team that sometimes he tries to do too much,” Cordingley said about Smith. “He needs to have the maturity to understand that we need to do it together. That’s how you win.”
Ryan Benesch added six points, and Steenhuis had five for Buffalo.
For New England, Kyle Buchanan finished with four goals and three assists to lead the way.
“Kyle does all the little things,” Kelusky said. “The statistics say he went four and three. I look at the repossessions and the loose balls. That’s something you can’t teach. His best moments were in the corners.”
Cordingley was pleased by the effort of two rookies, Tim Edwards (Canisius) and Bryce Brochu.
“If you see Timmy Edwards’ knees, and how chopped up they are with blood dripping down from them, that guy is nothing but heart,” he said. “He did a phenomenal job against the best faceoff man in the league” in ex-Bandit Jay Thorimbert. “Timmy’s not coming out of the lineup.
“Brochu did what we asked him to do - keep moving, move bodies. The one thing we’d like him to do is take more shots.”
The Bandits had hopes that the team’s two-week break would give them time to fix some flaws in their game. They realized that the team had five games in three weekends coming up, and some wins were needed to avoid sinking so deep into the basement that it would take a monumental turnaround to salvage the season.
“It’s very frustrating for the players,” Cordingley said. “We have to find a way to turn the ship around.”
The busy stretch resumes on Sunday afternoon against New England. Then it’s a home game with Toronto next week, followed by two games with Rochester. That’s four more games against divisional opponents, and the Bandits could be looking way up at everyone in the East without some wins in that span.
“It’s do-or-die,” Steenhuis said. “Every game is now a playoff game. There’s really no tomorrow. Whatever you do you have to come to the rink and work hard. If you see that commitment, we can put up wins. We need to have a short memory.”