Today’s enemies can be tomorrow’s friends in the world of indoor lacrosse.
Take Saturday’s important game between the Buffalo Bandits and the Rochester Knighthawks. It’s a renewal of one of the bigger rivalries in the National Lacrosse league, and there’s plenty at stake.
If the Bandits beat the Knighthawks in Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena (8 p.m., Radio 1520 AM) while the Georgia Swarm defeats the New England Black Wolves that same night, Buffalo will wrap up first place – and a valuable first-round bye – in the NLL’s East Division. That result also would kick the Knighthawks right out of the playoff picture.
The teams, then, certainly will play with plenty of emotion this weekend. The odd part about that, according to Bandits defender David Brock, is that some of today’s bitter rivals will be his teammates this summer in Ontario.
“That’s the one thing I don’t like about lacrosse when it’s played year-round,” he said. “I’m sure Rochester wants to decide its own fate and will play hard. But I’ve played with some of those guys for Six Nations in Canada in the summer. They are proven winners.
“As far as the rivalry goes, absolutely we want to win. But most of us also play on different teams, or Team Canada, or whatever. The old cliche is that there are no friends on the floor, but at the end of the day we’re all lacrosse players.”
That sets up scenes for Brock like the one last Saturday night, when a fight broke out in the game with Toronto – another rival. Steve Priolo, Brock’s teammate now, squared off against Brodie Merrill, Brock’s teammate in the summer. Players must live in the moment.
“Brodie and I want to pound each other now,” Brock said. “The rivalry comes out a little more when we play home-and-home games. They were fighting for their playoff lives last week. There was no tomorrow had they not won on Saturday. You can really feel the rivalry then.”
Brock, 29, is one of the reasons the Bandits are in a good position to win the NLL East this year for the first time since 2011, when they had the edge on tiebreakers against Toronto and Rochester. The catch with Brock is that there aren’t many statistics that can show a typical fan that he’s contributing to that defensive performance.
“It really is quite different,” he said. “Stats aren’t kept for us like they are for the offense. They track caused turnovers, but I’ve never taken much stock in that. I’m more concerned with how the defense performs as a whole. We have a five-man unit. If our line gets scored on, it’s not one guy’s fault. It’s all five guys’ fault.
“We won some games giving up as many as 18 goals in a game, and we were disappointed with our defensive performance. Lately, though, we’ve been keeping the goals against down. If you can keep the other team to 10, 11 goals, that’s pretty darn good in this league. That’s what is important.”
Since the 19-18 win over Saskatchewan on Feb. 26, the Bandits have given up an average of 10.6 goals per game. They have won six of seven.
One statistic that Brock can enjoy is that he has set a career-high for goals in an NLL season with seven.
“With such a great fan base here, they do appreciate the goals,” Brock said. “It’s nice to get on the board. … I like to score. In junior I scored quite a bit, and at SUNY-Albany I scored quite a bit as an attackman. It’s not my job. If we win and I do my job, I’m happy. The goals are gravy.”
Many of the Bandits who are on the defensive unit have contributed to the scoresheet. The players have talked all season about having the freedom to take off down the field.
Coach Troy Cordingley “has been encouraging,” Brock said. “We have a physical, big, fast defense. There’s a lot of emphasis on transition at practice. What I like about the group is that we’re not forcing it. We’re smart with it. If there’s no opportunity, we let the other guys do what they do best.”
It’s been a reason the Bandits (11-5) are one win away from tying the team record for victories in a season, set in 2003. If that win comes Saturday night, it could mean that both the Knighthawks and the Rock will be on the outside of the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“I don’t think anyone in the lacrosse world would have predicted that,” Brock said. “They are fantastic teams. It just goes to show you how tough this league is. … Who knew the standings would be what they are?”