This edition of the IL Indoor Roundtable didn’t get run last Friday because of a glitch, but considering that two of the main topics were how well Buffalo and Edmonton are playing, it still seems timely. Both teams continued to lead their divisions, with the Rush retaining their perfect record. Buffalo is doing it with a new coach and a new level of intensity. Edmonton appears to have turned the tables on a few of their recent nemeses. Bob Chavez, Ty Pilson, Marty O’Neill and Stephen Stamp talk Bandits, Rush, lefty forward signings in Minnesota and Philadelphia and more in this episode of the Roundtable.
STAMP: So many topics we could touch on. Let’s start in Buffalo, where the Bandits managed to hold on and take over first place with their win over Rochester last week, then padded their lead with the win over Toronto. After looking so bad in their opener against Philly, Buffalo has been excellent and they’re doing it with a tremendous blend of youth and experience. Dhane Smith has been among the best players in the league and John Tavares and Shawn Williams are playing well. How good can this Bandits team be?
PILSON: As good as the players have been, a ton of credit has to go to Troy Cordingley for this resurgence in Banditland. His greatest attribute as a coach is his ability to come into a new team and change the atmosphere and work ethic and turn things around. He did it in Calgary and Toronto and now Buffalo. The Bandits are playing with poise and confidence. Something they didn’t have last year. That, I think, can be attributed to Cordingley bringing a new (somewhat old given his past experience with the team) culture to the dressing room. To win in the NLL, you need a lot of factors going right for you. On top of Cordingley, the team’s defence and transition game has been light years better than last year and the play of Anthony Cosmo and John Tavares has been incredible. Cosmo has looked like the dominating MVP-calibre version of himself and Tavares has nine goals in the last two games. I’d argue the sky is the limit for Buffalo if both of those guys keep playing like that and the rest of the club continues to buy into Cordinley’s message and systems. And given this start, why wouldn’t they?
ONEILL: I have to agree that Cordingley has gotten some “buy in” from this group. I had thought Saturday night would be a real test for them and it was, but Rochester didn’t bring their A game which resulted in a loss that was flattering to them on the score sheet. The Bandit defense hurried shots all night and which led to great saves by Cosmo and transition chance after transition chance. What I really saw from the Bandits was a total team effort, there are guys scoring but a concentrated effort is taking place on lose balls, rebounds, faceoffs and 5-5 offense. That will get you half the way there and then talent takes care of the rest. The Bandits have the talent and combined the two have helped them regain confidence they were lacking.
CHAVEZ: The Bandits certainly are playing much better and with more zip than they have over the last couple of years. I’m still not thoroughly convinced, though. As well as the Bandits are playing, they are lucky that the Knighthawks ran out of clock on Saturday night because Rochester found some major mojo in the fourth quarter. The Knighthawks figured out how to beat Anthony Cosmo and if they had done that 5 minutes earlier, we’d be talking about a Rochester win. The Knighthawks rallied without Dan Dawson, as well, which says a lot about the depth of leadership for the team. Still, I don’t want to crumb on the Bandits. They’re playing very good lacrosse, they’re in first place and have heart back in their game. They’ll challenge for the East title but they’ve still got some work to do on defence.
STAMP: We’ve seen a couple of lefty forwards acquired this week: Dane Stevens coming to Minnesota in a trade from Edmonton and Philadelphia signing free agent Roger Vyse. What will they bring to their new teams and how much difference can they make? It’s notable that the Wings are already scoring; they’ve got 62 goals in five games for over 12 goals per game, so they’re obviously looking to keep that trend join. Minnesota, on the other hand, has just 30 goals in four games and clearly is looking for someone to help jump start what has been a rather stagnant offence.
ONEILL: The addition of Vyse is an answer to the Kevin Ross injury. This will likely be more about Pat Saunders getting a regular gig and so far he has done well with limited NLL play. Philadelphia is 1-0 with Saunders in for Ross which should get Saunders playing a regular shift. Minnesota, on the other hand, are going to be pulling someone out of their lineup to play Stevens. This move is against the grain of the Minnesota model of promoting within and going to war with the guys selected and brought to camp. Stevens has been around long enough to know what he is needed for, get others open. His size alone dictates he could get Schuss the room he needs to blast some more goals. Ironically, Ross used to do this in Minny and Saunders auditioned there too.
CHAVEZ: Vyse was brought in for Ross, yes, but if impressive rookie Garrett Thul makes the U.S. national team, will that affect his status with the Wings? He’s been a great surprise from the left side. Without Ross, the Wings are woefully short of lefties, especially lefties with any significant experience. Saunders has a few seasons under his belt but even that has been limited, as Marty points out. Outside of that, all the other lefties in Philly don’t have more than 1 or 2 seasons so bringing in Vyse gives the Wings some veteran leadership on that side. Dane Stevens hasn’t played NLL ball for a while but had an impressive summer with Burnaby. He’ll definitely help clear some space for other shooters and can also be counted on to finish when he finds himself in a position to do so.
PILSON: Minny really needs something to help them right now. With their transition game and the forwards they have, scoring goals was the last thing I thought they’d struggle with. But, struggle they have. Logan Schuss hasn’t had the immediate impact many expected and it’s clear they miss Ryan Benesch big time. Will Stevens fill that void? Not sure. But at least the Swarm aren’t standing pat and by adding Stevens they are attempting to mix things up to kickstart their attack.
STAMP: Derek Keenan made a great point in his appearance on Boxla Beat last week, pointing out that two of Mark Matthews goals against Vancouver last week came from his off ball work, showing that he is totally buying in to the team approach rather than always needing the ball in his stick to be effective. Team is the operative word for the Rush and they are making it work all over the floor, from the goalies out. There’s still a long way to go and small issues for Edmonton to address, but is there any question at this point that they have to be considered favourites in the West, if not the entire league?
CHAVEZ: I’m in. I think the Rush are the team to beat. Fans buy tickets to see goals, but I’d buy a ticket just to watch that defense work. It really is a spectacle to behold. But back to front, the Rush are really firing on all cylinders and while I don’t think we can discount Rochester just yet, the Rush to me look like the complete package. They keep the pedal to the floor in blowout wins, and the character emerges in tight games like last Saturday. The only concern I’d have is that they peak too early, but I’d say that about any team looking as good as it does this early in a season.
PILSON: Bob hit it on the head right there. Just ask the 12-4 Roughnecks from a few seasons ago that lost out in the first round of the playoffs. The Knighthawks have shown recently that the team that gets hot last and peaks for the playoffs is the one to hoist the Cup. If I had to pick a favourite right now I’d pick Edmonton. But there is still a lot of lacrosse to be played. A major injury or two to a guy such as Aaron Bold or Matthews would be devastating. But if they stay healthy and keep playing to this level they’ll be extremely hard to beat come the post-season.
ONEILL: One thing the Rush won’t have to deal with that the 12-4 Roughnecks did is a one and done playoff first round. The depth of this team is pretty legit, only time will tell if health is an issue like it has already become for the Stealth and Roughnecks back end. The loss of Kyle Rubisch, Brett Mydske or Chris Corbiel could bring these guys down to earth anyways. As for streaks, I think this Edmonton team really knows what they are capable of and they exude confidence. They have talent and depth. Look for them to hit a rough patch mid – season but honestly I don’t see them losing more than 5 games.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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