Jay Thorimbert received a crash course on the rivalry between his Buffalo Bandits and the Rochester Knighthawks two weeks ago.
Buffalo was playing in Rochester in a key East Division game. The Bandits had challenged a Rochester goal, and Thorimbert was sitting on the bench waiting for the referee's decision on a video review. Also waiting for the decision were the many Bandit fans who had driven down the Thruway for the game.
"I wasn't looking at the referee's box, and then I heard the fans go nuts. I thought the decision had gone their [the Knighthawks'] way," he said. "It took me a second to realize it was our fans yelling because we had won the challenge.
"There was nothing like that in Minnesota last year."
It's always fun when the Bandits and Knighthawks get together, no matter what the circumstances. The two teams will conclude the regular season tonight in HSBC Arena (7:30 p.m., nll.com, Radio 1520 AM).
Thorimbert almost made his debut in the Buffalo-Rochester rivalry a few years ago. He was a second-round draft choice of the Bandits in 2006.
"I had the chance to coach Jay in Junior B [for the Niagara Thunderhawks]," Bandits coach Darris Kilgour said. "We picked him up as an early draft choice, and he was on our practice squad. Then we lost him in the expansion draft."
Thorimbert landed in Boston, where he was the Blazers' top faceoff man in 2009. From there it was on to Minnesota in a trade for a second-round pick. It was quite a hike to go from Whitby, Ont., to the Twin Cities for "home" games.
"Every game in Minnesota was like an away game," Thorimbert said.
The 6-footer was one of the league leaders in faceoffs and loose balls in 2010. But he wasn't done traveling.
"They [the Swarm] told me I was getting traded. I said, 'Really?' Then they told me I was going to Buffalo, and I said, 'Perfect.'
"It's been nice to finally get to play in Buffalo. I love that I'm back here. I'd like to stay here for a long time."
It's never easy to change teams and coaches in pro sports, but Thorimbert had the advantage of knowing what Kilgour expected out of his players. That's made the adjustment easier.
"I prefer playing his way to other styles," he said. "You have decisions to make. But, you are going forward and pressing on any decision you do make. I like playing this system. I remember it from when I had to do it in junior, and I welcome playing that style."
Kilgour added, "He's really matured as a player. He's helped us on faceoffs. He's made some physical improvements. He's a coachable kid with a great attitude. It's great to have him back where he wants to be."
The Bandits (10-5) and Knighthawks (9-6) have nothing at stake in tonight's game, since they are locked into the first and third playoff seedings in the East, respectively. However, Buffalo would like to wash out the taste of last week's game, a 16-9 loss to Boston.
"The game was disappointing," Thorimbert said. "I watched most of it because I took a hit, landed funny, and had an upper-body injury. But it was disappointing to see. We would have clinched home-field throughout the playoffs with a win there and a win against Rochester."
The three-year veteran was heartened to learn shortly after the game that Toronto had lost in Edmonton, handing the division title to the Bandits. If nothing else, the loss was a reminder to Thorimbert and the rest of the Bandits that anyone can beat anyone in the NLL this year. It should be a wide-open postseason, starting for the Bandits a week from tonight against the Blazers.
"In this league, it's a case of whomever shows up will win. When we show up we dominated teams. Last week, we didn't show up and we got blown out. We have to show up and play 60 minutes," Thorimbert said."
Brandon Francis was suspended Friday by the league for four games because of an altercation last week against Boston. The game will be shown on tape delay on Versus at 4 p.m. Sunday. That broadcast means the game will not be shown on TWC 13 tonight.