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Bandits’ Thorimbert grounded on faceoffs

Jay Thorimbert is off to a great start for the Buffalo Bandits, statistically speaking. It just takes a little digging to discover the particulars.

Through four games, Thorimbert has compiled his best-ever numbers in the area of winning faceoffs. The seven-year veteran also is leading the league in collecting loose balls. Those aren’t the glamour statistics in the sport of indoor lacrosse, but they help the Bandits greatly.

“Everybody on the team has a role,” Thorimbert said. “My role is to win faceoffs and get the ball to the ones who are paid to score. It happens to be my role on the team. Guys like Billy Dee Smith and Steve Priolo stop goals, and Ryan Benesch and Mark Steenhuis score them. Absolutely, the other players and coaches notice me. At the end, it’s all about winning.”

“We have full confidence in Jay,” assistant coach Dan Teat said. “At this point, his timing and strength are at their best. ... He can run out of trouble with his speed. When you play without a good faceoff man, you don’t realize how valuable he is. We think he’s the best in the league.”

Thorimbert will try to add to his totals Friday when the Bandits host the Minnesota Swarm at First Niagara Center (7:30 p.m., Radio 930 AM).

Faceoffs are Thorimbert’s most visible job, since he heads to the center of the field at the start of quarters and after each goal. He’s won 68 of 104 faceoffs this season. The 68 wins tie Geoff Snider of Calgary for the league lead. Thorimbert’s winning percentage of 65.4 is the best of his career.

“Things have just gone right,” the 28-year-old said. “We went back to an old rule on faceoffs this season, and maybe I can time it a little bit better. ... But it’s not just me. We have a plan on faceoffs.”

The lineup resembles special teams in football, where responsibilities are different than on normal play.

“We have two sets of four guys - ball teams one and two,” Thorimbert said. “It’s the same eight guys every game. Usually, it’s three ‘D’ and one ‘O.’ ... We’re one of the few teams that uses three guys in the defensive end. That makes it easier.

“It’s my goal to pick it up for myself. If I can’t do that, I’ll try to get the ball back in our zone. We don’t go forward too often.”

The transition player did have the chance to go forward at the start of the second quarter against Toronto last week.

He scored an unassisted goal only six seconds into the period to give the Bandits the lead.

“That was the only time they lined up even with us,” Thorimbert said. “I went forward. He didn’t come to me very quickly. The goalie guessed where I was shooting, and I went to the opposite side. ... You live for those” opportunities.

Thorimbert also finished the game 16 of 27 on faceoffs, and won every one of his draws in the first quarter. He was called for a few violations in the second half. Thorimbert said in some cases he moved too quickly, but in others he’s not even sure what prompted the official’s call.

“I scratched my head at times,” the veteran said. “In most cases it’s for moving my stick. Most times when I go early I’m trying to get away with something. Sometimes it works.”

Meanwhile, Thorimbert has 54 loose balls, some of which come on faceoffs. The total is well ahead of NLL runner-up Bob Snider of Colorado at 38, although Thorimbert has an extra game to his credit.

All of those faceoff wins and collected loose balls mean the Bandits gain possession.

Think of it in football or basketball terms – win the turnover battle, and you have a much better chance of winning the game.

“You can change the outcome of the game around,” Thorimbert said. “Anytime you have the ball, it benefits you and not them. You’re keeping the ball out of their stick. If you score a goal, you don’t want them to go turn around and score. And if they score, you don’t want them to go on a run.”

The 2-2 Bandits go up against a Minnesota team that is 2-1 overall, with both wins coming on the road. Then Buffalo is off to Rochester for a Saturday night game with the Knighthawks. It’s the Bandits’ second set of back-to-back games already this season, which Thorimbert doesn’t find taxing.

“It’s not as bad as it’s made out to be,” he said. “I enjoy them. It’s more lacrosse. I like back-to-back games. ... The travel isn’t that bad. It will be nice to get back in front of our fans, and then jump on the bus and take off to Rochester. Not many guys will tell you they don’t like it.”