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Bandits notebook: A reflection

A fairly quick thought as we head into the finals of the National Lacrosse League playoffs:

The final two rounds of the postseason feature a "best-of-two" format, which has been a little tough to explain to outsiders. Both teams get a home game, and if it's tied after those two games, a 10-minute mini-game is played to decide who advances or who wins the championship. As it approached, no one in the sport seemed to find it satisfactory, although the idea of having a home playoff game went over pretty well.

Sure enough, both division finals went to the mini-game. You know by now how Calgary defeated Edmonton, and Rochester beat Buffalo. Barely.

Now, is this a fair system? Probably not. Two teams are more or less beat after 60 minutes of play, and to start over is a little odd. One bounce can be a little too important in determining the outcome.

I would think a better system would be for the first two rounds to be a best-of-one, with the finals set for best-of-three. It would still fill up five weeks, but would add more fairness. Commissioner George Daniel said on Saturday night that the league would see how the system worked, and determine whether to continue with the "best-of-twos" or tinker a bit.

But here's the one catch in all of this.

Saturday's game in Rochester was at the least one of the most dramatic sporting events I have ever attended. 

The tension in the building during that mini-game was amazing. It started when the Bandits picked up a penalty in the early going, a call that still had some players mumbling well after the game was over even though Buffalo killed it off. When the Bandits took the early lead and were holding on to it, the tension merely went up. And when Rochester scored with a little more than two minutes left in regulation, the game was almost painful to watch until Rochester won about two minutes gone in overtime. And I didn't even have a rooting interest in the teams. 

The obvious comparison would be to a Game Seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I saw the 1997 game between the Sabres and Senators, which I believe in Buffalo's only Game Seven win in history. That was very dramatic too.

The difference is that there is more scoring in indoor lacrosse than there is in hockey. When one team carried the ball over the center line last night, there was a distinct possibility that the attacking team could score. So there was a great deal of relief when it didn't, and the other team and its fans started to worry when the ball came back the other way. In hockey, an offensive rush always has a chance of scoring, but the odds are against it.  

Obviously all sports have their dramatic moments, particulary when everything is on the line. But I was somewhat unprepared for how this particular game in Rochester played out.

Now the league will have a decision to make. Do the stunning theatrics make up for the lack of fairness in the format? That will be a fascinating decision to follow.

-- Budd Bailey

Live from Rochester: Bandits vs. Knighthawks

7:06 p.m. - This ought to be a fun night.

The Buffalo Bandits and Rochester Knighthawks are about 30 minutes from competing in the NLL East final. The Bandits won the first game last week back in Buffalo and thus has an advantage. However, Rochester has the home field for tonight, and that could be important. If Rochester wins the 60-minute game here this evening, the teams will take a break for a couple of minutes and then play a 10-minute game. The winner of that goes on to play Calgary for the title in the next two weeks.

We're all trying to figure out the ins and outs of the mini-game concept. What did we learn last night? Calgary dominated the second half but fell short in the opener. The Roughnecks just kept playing that way in the 10-minute game and wound up winners, 2-1.  I'm still surprised that Edmonton was unable to get good shots from close range, but the Roughnecks had something to do with it.

That has one immediate effect on tonight's game. If Rochester advances, it will have the home field advantage for Games Two and Two-Point-Sixteen (the mini-game). Edmonton had the best record in the regular season. The Bandits had the fourth-best record of the four teams, so they were set to be home first no natter what happened.

By the way, Rochester is trying to become the first team in league history to win three straight titles. The Bandits won two in a row in 1992-93, but have only won two others since then.

7:24 p.m. - One issue that might come up - the Bandits do have some experience up front. Will the Knighthawks try to be a bit more, um, energetic in the game to tire Buffalo out? Would it make a difference in the mini-game? We'll see.

Meanwhile, there has been lots of chatter about John Tavares possibly playing his last game on a given night. There has been nothing official about it, but he's at least pondering it. That could give an emotional boost to the Bandits.

Aaron Wilson, Mitch Jones and Glen Bryan are out for the Bandits. Jamie Batson and Craig Point will set for the Knighthawks. The game is on Just don't forget about your friends back here.

7:29 p.m. - NLL Commissioner George Daniel just stopped by to say hello. My first question - how do you get from Edmonton to Rochester quickly? He said he flew to Hamilton and was driven here. Daniel mentioned what a roller-coaster last night was for the Edmonton fans - win the regulation game, even the series, and then lose the mini-game.

This could be a noisy night. Bandit Nation certainly has made the trip down the Thruway. I wouldn't say it is 50-50 in terms of fans, but Buffalo may produce more decibels per person. (There's a phrase I've never used before.)

7:47 p.m. - Bandits jump out to a 2-1 lead on goals by Dhane Smith and Ryan Benesch. Both teams have had some 30-second violations, as the intensity level seems to have picked up a notch.

7:56 p.m. - Dhane Smith sees his shot dribble across the line to double the Buffalo lead to 3-1. This is one noisy building.

8:06 p.m. - That might be the most intense quarter I've ever seen. The 4-4 score is exactly right. Rochester scored three straight goals to take the lead, and Jamie Rooney answered with 23 seconds left.

8:18 p.m. - Can't let Cody Jamieson get open shots. He converted on two of them, and the Knighthawks have taken a 6-4 lead. Buffalo has a power play right now; it would be a good idea to score on it to change the momentum a bit.

8;25 p.m. - Rochester runs the lead up to 9-4 with five straight goals. Johnny Powless has two of them. Funny how things can turn so quickly. 

8;30 p.m. - No change in the score with 4:32 left in the half.  

8:37 p.m. - Knighthawks take 10-5 lead into locker room at halftime. Those 6-1 periods will kill you.

8:55 p.m. - Back to work.

9:03 p.m. - Knighthawks build lead to 11-5 on Scott Campbell goal. The mini-game is lurking in the foreground now.

9:11 p.m. - John Tavares is on the scoreboard, coming off the bench as a trailer and scoring. That cut the lead to 11-6. Rory Smith is seen frequently smacking the back of Cody Jamieson with his stick. How do these guys get out of bed the next morning?

9:17 p.m. - Knighthawks finish three quarters with the 11-6 lead, and the Rochester fans appreciate it.

9:28 p.m. - Rochester is up  12-6 with 8:55 left.

9:34 p.m. - Knighthawks now have a 13-8 lead with 5:17 left.

9:42 p.m. - And that's the way it ends. A short break, and on to the mini-game.

9:50 P.M. - No score with 5:10 left in mini-game.

9:54 p.m. - Joe Resetarits' goal gives Bandits 1-0 lead. 2:48 left. Terrific drama.

9:58 p.m. - McCready's goal ties it. Bandits ball with 35 seconds to go. What more could you want?

10:01 p.m. - How about sudden-death overtime?

10":06 p.m. - Vitarelli wins it at 1:56 for Rochester. Not much to choose from here, but the Knighthawks came through.

-- Budd Bailey


Post Time: Stopchargingmaria swipes foes to give Pletcher another Black-Eyed Susan

By Gene Kershner

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Stopchargingmaria ($9.60), a 3-year-old daughter of Tale of the Cat, gave trainer Todd Pletcher his fourth career victory in the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico Race Course on Friday afternoon. After heavy rains had pelted Pimlico over the past 24 hours, the track was rated as good as the filly won her second career Grade 2 race for owner Repole Stable.

With Javier Castellano in the irons, the filly who was coming in third off the layoff, was much the best taking care of a field of 11 fillies in the Preakness eve signature race. Pletcher who last won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in 2012 with In Lingerie, added another big stake victory to his impressive resume.

He won the 2007 (Panty Raid) and 2005 (Spun Sugur) editions of the race and was proud of the way his filly responded against a formidable field. It was a terrific performance. We actually got shuffled back a little bit going to the first turn. We were hoping to be a little closer. Javier was able to move
her to the outside and get a good position, and she really picked it up. Once she got to the outside on the far turn, she started to make her move and she was rolling."

Pletcher couldn't understand why she hadn't returned to her 2-year-old form. "This was certainly her best race. To be honest, I’m not really sure why her first two races this year didn’t go as well as last year. It took her a little while after the Fantasy (April 5 at Oaklawn) to get back. After the Fantasy we took her up to Saratoga and the cool weather seemed to invigorate her. Today she acted like she was back to her old self,” said Pletcher.

Castellano was confident when getting into the saddle that his filly could handle the off track. "I had ridden her before at Saratoga on an off track, and she had no problems with it today at all. At the top of the stretch, I was pretty confident," said Castellano.

Stopchargingmaria handled the 1 1/8-mile race in 1:51.79 on the track rated good Vero Amore finished second by a neck and Fortune Pearl completed the trifecta. This was her third graded stakes victory in eight career races.

The good news is the track has been upgraded to fast for the upcoming PImlico Special, which means barring any overnight rain, the track should be fast for tomorrow's Preakness.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace.

Running notebook: Crowded calendar

This usually is the sweet spot of the running calendar, as organizers guess that that the weather will cooperate with the plannning of an outdoor function. Late September is like that as well.

So, as we get ready for Marathon Weekend, here's the schedule - courtesy of

* Buffalo Greek Fest 5K, 146 W. Utica St. in Buffalo, 6:30 p.m. on Friday, 796-3381. This is one of the few races around town that I've never done, as my schedule never works for it. But plenty of others take part every year.

* Run with the Rapids 5K, Old Falls St. in Niagara Falls, 9 a.m. on Saturday, 278-2111.

* 5K Fun Run, Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, 9 a.m. Saturday, 221-0086. This is staged by the Morlock Foundation, and is an untimed race. There's even a discount if you don't want a t-shirt.

* Chris Griswold 5K Race, Como Park in Lancaster, 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, 685-2640. I'm in a slump in this one; I haven't won a garden hose in several years after winning one in two straight years. As you can guess, they do a nice job on door prizes here.

* Unity Run, 5K, 80 Main St. in Lockport, 10 a.m. Saturday, 531-5437.

* SSPP's Charge of the Knights, 5K, 5480 Main St. in Williamsville, 6 p.m. on Saturday, 440-8003. This follows the Moonlight Run course, so be prepared to run uphill and then downhill at the finish.

-- Budd Bailey


Macker to Darien Lake official

What had been worst kept secret in Western New now official: the Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament will be held July 19-20 at Darien Lake.

Officials from Darien Lake, Gus Macker and Buffalo Police Athletic League Executive Director Modie Cox made the announcement Thursday at City Hall. More to come.

Post Time: Black-Eyed Susan kicks off Preakness weekend at Pimlico

By Gene Kershner 

The News is ready to kickoff a great weekend at Old Hilltop which will culminate in the Preakness Stakes late Saturday afternoon. On tap Friday afternoon at Pimlico Race Course is the 1 1/8-mile $500,000 Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan. Friday’s card will also include the G3 Pimlico Special and five other non-graded stakes races. 

The 90th running of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes features 11 fillies trying to step up within the 3-year-old filly division, which saw Untapable stake her claim as the best filly in the land in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks two weeks ago. Heavy rain is forecast for Friday, clearing by Saturday for the Preakness. 

This year’s race will be televised nationally on NBC Sports Network (4 p.m.) in a one-hour telecast as part of NBC’s weekend coverage of the Preakness Stakes. 

Let’s take a look at the field for the Black-Eyed Susan (trainer, jockey, odds in parenthesis): 

1 – Joint Return (Servis, Carmouche, 15-1) – Winner of Calder Oaks non-graded stake against lesser rivals. The daughter of Include has faced graded company only once in her career and was beaten by 12 lenghts. Little dicey in here for her. 

2 – America (Mott, Velazquez, 8-1) – Working well for trainer Bill Mott after a third place finish in the G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks. She sports a bullet work in Saratoga on Monday and looks to be fit and ready to run. Has breeding to go long for celebrity chef owner Bobby Flay. Contender. 

3 – Shanon Nicole (Maker, Smith, 6-1) – Mike Smith takes over from Rosie Napravnik aboard this daughter of Majestic Warrior. Past performance doesn't favor her chances in here even with the Hall of Famer aboard.  Passing in favor of others. 

4 – Stopchargingmaria (Pletcher, Castellano, 7-2) – Comes in third off the layoff on the form cycle and has a win at the distance in the Grade 2 Demoiselle at the Big A in her 2-year-old campaign. Pletcher has won the race three times in the last 10 years, but chooses Castellano over Johnny V, who rode her in here last two efforts since the Demoiselle.  On the fence with this one. 

5 – Euphrosyne (Asmussen, Santana Jr., 4-1) – Asmussen who won the Oaks with Untapable last weekend will look for the sweep with his Harlan's Holiday filly. She comes off two efforts at Oaklawn where she was beaten by Oaks filly Sugar Shock in both efforts. She hasn't missed the board in seven career races. Win threat. 

6 – Arethusa (Harty, Napravnik, 8-1) – Trainer Eoin Harty ships in A.P. Indy filly who will be racing on the east coast for the first time. Won a non-graded stake last November for Godolphin, but has been out-classed against top company during 2014. Taking a stand against. 

7 - La Mejor Fiesta (Ward, Espinoza, 20-1) –Makes second career start on dirt for trainer Wesley Ward. Won a non-graded stake at Remington, but Friday afternoon she won't be seeing Remington-caliber fillies next to her. Toss. 

8 – Sloane Square (Pletcher, Rosario, 5-1) – Lightly raced filly draws top rider Joel Rosario over Johnny V. Do you see a pattern here? She stretches out for the first time after a solid workout last weekend at Saratoga. Breeding suggests she could be a sleeper and serious contender.  

9 – Fortune Pearl (Motion, McCarthy, 12-1) –Mineshaft filly faces graded company for the first time for Graham Motion. Local jockey Trevor McCarthy has the mount and local knowledge, could threaten to crash the exotics underneath. 

10– Vero Amore  (Reid, Jr., Pennington, 15-1) – Another Mineshaft filly who would be a big surprise winner if she pulled off the upset. Has decent speed figures, but this would be a serious class test and she struggled at the distance last Out against graded competition. 

11– Image of Anna  (Violette, Jr., Saez, 20-1) – Ready's Image filly ships in from New York after four career races at the Big A, including back-to-back wins in her last two races. Broke her maiden impressively and backed it up with an allowance win. Big class test. 

Post Time Outlook – 1 –Euphrosyne; 2 –America; 3 - Sloane Square; 4 - Stopchargingmaria

Good luck and let’s cash some tickets.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Chrome set as prohibitive favorite in Preakness

By Gene Kershner 

The post position draw for the 139th running of the Preakness was held this evening at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, which included 10 entries into Saturday's middle jewel of the Triple Crown. The race will be televised nationally on NBC (Ch. 2) on Saturday afternoon during a two-hour telecast starting at 4:30 p.m. ET. Post time for the Preakness is approximately 6:20 p.m. ET. Pre- and post-race programming will be on NBC Sports Network. 

- Heavy morning line favorite and Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome (3-5) drew the No. 3 position. The Maryland Jockey Club's signature race has been won by 70 favorites, none however since 2009 (Rachel Alexandra). 

- Second choice on the morning line is Social Inclusion (5-1), trained by 85-year-old Manny Azpurua, seeking to become the oldest trainer since Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons to win the Preakness. Fitzsimmons won the 1957 Preakness with Bold Ruler, the sire of Secretariat, when he was two months shy of his 83rd birthday. Social Inclusion failed to qualify for the Kentucky Derby when he finished third by a nose in the Wood Memorial, putting him on the outside looking in and having to settle for Baltimore. 

- Bob Baffert, who has won the race five times since 1997, entered Bayern (10-1) and will have Rosie Napranik in the irons. She started her career on the Maryland racing circuit and will look to get Baffert back in the winner's circle for the first time since 2010 (Lookin at Lucky). 

- The Illinois Derby winner Dynamic Impact (12-1) drew the rail for trainer Mark Casse and will have Miguel Mena in the irons. The horse drawing the rail post has only one victory in the past 52 years (Tabasco Cat, 1994). 

- The post that has the most winners since 1909 is Post Position No. 6, which has 15 Preakness winners, was drawn by the connections of Ria Antonia (30-1), the only filly in the field and the longest shot on the board. 

- The Preakness is limited to 14 starters and in 15 of the last 20 years has enjoyed double-digit fields. Three Kentucky Derby horses are in the field as Ride on Curlin (10-1) and General a Rod (15-1) will join Chrome on Saturday afternoon. 

Pablo Del Monte (20-1), who was eligible to draw into the Derby when Hoppertunity scratched earlier during Derby week, passed over the Run for the Roses to run in Baltimore for trainer Wesley Ward, drew post No. 9. 

Here's a look at the posts, jockeys, trainers and morning line odds set by the Maryland Jockey Club:

PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
1 Dynamic Impact Mena Casse 12-1
2 General a Rod Castellano Maker 15-1
3 California Chrome Espinoza Sherman 3-5
4 Ring Weekend Garcia Motion 20-1
5 Bayern Napravnik Baffert 10-1
6 Ria Antonia (f) Borel Amoss 30-1
7 Kid Cruz Pimentel Rice 20-1
8 Social Inclusion Contreras Azpurua 5-1
9 Pablo Del Monte Sanchez Ward 20-1
10 Ride On Curlin Rosario Gowan 10-1


Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and tweets @EquiSpace. 

Macker on the move; 716ers to host 3-on-3 tournament

There will be a press conference at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at City Hall to announce that the Gus Macker, in all likelihood, is moving to Darien Lake this summer.

According to a press release, officials from the Buffalo Police Athletic League, Scott McNeal of Gus Macker Basketball and Darien Lake will be on hand for the presser. Last week, various television stations reported the Macker was moving to Darien Lake although at the time all the parties involved said no contracts had been signed.

With McNeal expected to be in attendance, it could be safe to assume now that the tournament is moving to the country and that somehow PAL will be involved with it even though the tournament is outside the city limits.

However all isn't lost for those in the city who may not be willing to make the trip to Genesee County. The Buffalo 716ers basketball team plans to hold a 3 on 3 basketball tournament June 28-29 at Tapestry Charter School in north Buffalo. The tournament will have adult and youth divisions with the adult division champion earning $1,000 prize, second place $300 and third $100.

Unlike the Macker, though, the 716ers event, called the Street Ball Remix, will take place in the school, not outside. That means the tourney isn't at the mercy of Mother Nature. If it rains, so be it, because there will be a roof over the participants' heads unlike at past Gus Mackers where players some times had to deal with the elements.

More to come

---Miguel Rodriguez

Live from First Niagara Center: Bandits vs. Knighthawks

7:06 p.m. - Don't roll up the carpet yet. There's more lacrosse to be played here.

The Bandits advanced in the first round of the playoffs against Toronto last week. That earned them the chance to play in the East Final against Rochester. The Knighthawks had a bye in the first round. Later tonight, Calgary goes against Edmonton in the West final.

It's best-of-two-and-a-sixth, as I'm fond of saying. Each team has a home game. If both teams have a win at this time next week, they will follow the second game with a 10-minute mini-game. It hasn't been a popular move on the team level (coaches, players, etc.), but people do like the idea of having a home game in the mix.

We will have a small crowd for this one. The Bandits had sold 8,500 tickets as of this morning. It's tough to move tickets on such short notice. It will not be the worst crowd ever. The Bandits drew 6,742 for a Feb. 5, 2000 game.

No word on the lineups yet. The lineup sheet and the media notes had different Buffalo rosters, who we'll have to see who wins that one.

7:28 p.m. - Still no sign of lineups. Meanwhile, you might have seen the documentary (22 min.) on John Tavares done for AT&T. The crew is back this weekend working on a follow-up. Watch for it in about six to eight weeks; I'm sure the Bandits will give it plenty of publicity.

7:30 p.m. - Looks like the same lineup as last week. That would mean Aaron Wilson and Glen Bryan will sit. Joel Matthews and Mitch Jones on practice squad.

7:38 p.m. - Anthems are done. Joe McCready and Mac Allen are the scratches for Rochester. Let's go to work.

7:46 p.m. - Bandits jump out to 2-0 lead, with Mark Steenhuis getting both goals. Can't ask for a much better start from a Buffalo perspective. Bandit fans that did show up actually have been pretty loud.

7:56 p.m. - Rochester has come back with 3 straight goals. Knighthawks have a 3-2 lead with 3:11 left. Jamieson, Dawson and Walters did the scoring.

8:02 p.m. - That's where it ends up after a period. Bandits have been outshot, 15-10.

8:20 p.m. - Bandits fight back to take a 6-4 lead. John Tavares turned back the clock to score two vintage goals in a row. One came on a fast break, the other on the old jump from behind the net stuff shot. Steenhuis has a hat trick.

8:32 p.m. - Halftime - Bandits up, 6-5. Odd first half, with both teams having stretches of blocked shots, missed passes, etc. But there also have been some exciting goals.

8:52 p.m. - Six minutes (exactly) have gone by in the second half, and there's been no change in the scored. Buffalo still up by a 6-5 count. The Bandits have 55 seconds left on a power play. Frankly, not too much has happened in the early going of the half. Lots of bad possessions have taken place.

8:58 p.m. - Dan Dawson got open right in front of the net. The future Hall of Famer cashed in on the opportunity to tie the game at 6. We have 4:52 left in the third quarter.

9:05 p.m. - Cory Vitarelli puts the Knighthawks up again, 7-6. The lead holds up through the end of the third period.

9:14 p.m. - Dhane Smith ties it for Buffalo. 7-7 with 10:28 left. In other words, nothing has been decided.

9:24 p.m. - Buffalo explodes for three straight goals to lead, 10-8 with 4:50 to go.

9:31 p.m. - Bandits up 12-8 with 1:13. Tavares with four goals.

9:36 p.m. - Bandits win, 12-8, a win from NLL final.

--- Budd Bailey


Video: Bucky & Sully on WBBZ, by segment

News Sports Columnists Bucky Gleason and Jerry Sullivan have a live show that airs on WBBZ-TV twice weekly, at 6:30 p.m. Mondays and Fridays.

Find out where to find WBBZ here.

Here are segments from tonight's show:

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.