The Buffalo Bandits return home to the First Niagara Center this Saturday to face the defending champion and area rival Rochester Knighthawks in a showdown for first place in the Eastern division. The Knighthawks, winners of the last two National Lacrosse League championships, enter the game perfect on the season. Buffalo, with a win, will take the outright lead and hold an important tie breaker over Rochester when it comes time for the playoffs. After making a lot of personnel changes both on the field and behind the boards this offseason, Buffalo has plenty of reasons to think that they can pull out a victory.
For starters, defensemen Steve Priolo almost equaled his career goal total of four in the first quarter of the Bandits game in Colorado. The hat trick brought his season total to five, and is an indication of the much more up-tempo style of play that the Bandits are utilizing under new coach Troy Cordingley. Instead of heading to the bench after making a defensive stop, Priolo and his fellow defensemen are taking part in the fast break transition, and are taking shots when the opportunities are presented. The goaltending has been solid, with Anthony Cosmo shutting out the Mammoth over the last twelve minutes in the Bandits 16-9 win last Saturday, and keeping his record perfect on the year. Behind Cosmo, the current league leader in wins, the Bandits are finding out that they are much improved over last year’s team which finished last in the league.
The improvement over last season has a lot to do with new faces on the team. Key addition Ryan Benesch is living up to the hype so far, recording seven goals in four games and is tied for second on the team in scoring with Mark Steenhuis, who already has half of his goal total from a year ago. Only Dhane Smith has more goals with ten.
Dhane Smith is in his second season, but is one of the faces of a franchise going through a transition period. The more well known Bandits are getting older by the year and will eventually be replaced by the younger talent like Smith who just turned 21 in September. Another young player looking to make an impression on the team is Hamburg native Joe Resetarits, who will be returning home after a two goal outing in Colorado.
Resetarits, 24, grew up a Bandits fan and had been a Johnny Tavares fan since his first trip to the Aud in 1992, the Bandits inaugural season. Two games ago, Resetarits gave Tavares the primary assist on the overtime game winning goal against the Philadelphia Wings. His lacrosse life has come full circle with Resetarits poised to become a breakout star on his childhood team.
With the Bandits playing loose and fast like their namesake, this matchup with Rochester should be as exciting as it is important in the division standing and could be a confidence builder. A win on Saturday not only puts them into first place, but proves that they can match up with the best teams in the league, just one year after finishing dead last and the only team not to make the playoffs.