By Aaron Garland
Niagara Gazette — Coming off their bye week, the Buffalo Bandits will pull double-duty with two key divisional games on back-to-back nights.
Buffalo (4-3) will travel to the Air Canada Centre to take on the Toronto Rock at 7:30 tonight before returning home to play host to the Philadelphia Wings at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Rock currently sit in first place in the National Lacrosse League East Division at 6-2, and defeated the Bandits 14-12 earlier this season. They have also knocked the Bandits out of the playoffs each of the last three seasons.
Buffalo head coach Darris Kilgour noted he welcomes the challenge of playing an opponent his team has had little success against recently.
“The guys that have been on the team the last couple years, I know it’s in their heads,” Kilgour said. “This is a team that’s put us out the last couple years. It’s fun going against a good team, it’s a measuring stick.”
Kilgour sees the key to taking down Toronto as staying out of the box. The Rock possess two of the top five power-play goal scorers in the National Lacrosse League in Garrett Billings and Josh Sanderson.
“It really comes down to execution and who can stay out of the penalty box,” Kilgour said. “Obviously, their power play is unbelievable right now. That’s the big thing for us, we have to stay out of the box and make them play five-on-five for 60 minutes.”
A Bandits’ win over The Rock would create a temporary tie atop the East.
The Wings (4-3) come into Buffalo on Friday when the teams will square off for the third time this year. They've split the series so far.
With Philadelphia sporting good size on the back end, Kilgour said he plans to get a lot of movement on offense to avoid the physical play.
“We have to try and create the angles on offense, we have to try and somehow get around them,” he said. “We have to pick-and-roll a lot. I think they match up pretty well one-on-one against us.”
Horrid defense has plagued the Bandits for much of the year, but some of the kinks were worked out in their last game, a 10-6 win over Rochester. Bandits transition player Mark Steenhuis noted how important it is for the team to now build on that game.
“All the guys are buying in right now; everyone feels comfortable with what they’re doing,” he said. “We had a real nice game two weeks ago in Rochester and we want to carry on momentum into probably the biggest week of our season so far.”
Bandits captain John Tavares is likely to return to the lineup tonight after missing the last three games with an injury.