March 11, 2014

Buffalo's Cosmo Striving for First NLL Crown

by Neil Stevens | | Twitter

Buffalo goaltender Anthony Cosmo is a big reason the Bandits have started as well as they have, at 7-2 and atop the Eastern Conference.

BUFFALO - Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo has this weird routine he follows before play begins in which he faces his net and hits the goal posts with his stick and rapidly moves his stick up and down from the floor to the crossbar as if he's trying to swat an elusive mouse.

''It started off with a few taps on a post then it turned into a certain number of taps and a certain number of stick whips,'' he says of how he's altered the routine over the years. ''I'm Catholic and it started out as a sign of the cross but I moved away from that.

''It's all superstition. Once you get into a groove you stick with whatever the routine happens to be at the time. Everything is staying exactly the same now: five pushes on my stick with my free hand, six taps on the post. It has to be a certain number. Being a goalie, you have to be weird so I guess that's my weird thing.''

Whatever. It seems to be working.

The 36-year-old goalie has a league-best .813 save percentage and is a big reason why the Bandits are 7-2 and first in the NLL East. He was at it again Saturday night making 45 saves in a 12-9 victory over the visiting Minnesota Swarm.

He's playing better than last year when the Bandits fell apart and were the only team to miss the playoffs.

''My focus was everywhere last year,'' he explains.

A new son and family and weekday work commitments _ he's a teacher _ made life hectic.

''This year I've dedicated myself deeper into lacrosse,'' he says. ''I've kept myself in good physical shape and I'm in good mental shape. I'm working with a sports psychologist who has been a huge part of my success. So, I've been ready mentally and physically, and once you get that combination you're pumping on all cylinders and your confidence is growing.''

New head coach Troy Cordingley has been pushing the right buttons. The Bandits transition flow against the Swarm was outstanding, and players are avoiding the chippie penalties they paid so dearly for in the past.

''We didn't make that many lineup changes but the changes we did make and the system we're running now is benefitting us,'' says Cosmo. ''The confidence has spread through the team.

''We went into halftime 6-6 and not one of us in that room felt we were going to lose the game. The mental capacity of our team being able to overcome anything it faces is growing. We've really turned the corner that way. We want to earn a first or second seed for the playoffs. I want to win a championship and all the guys inside that room want a championship as well.''

Cosmo has never won an NLL title. He's been with the Bandits for two years after stints in Toronto, San Jose and Boston.

''The way he's been playing gives the guys so much confidence,'' says GM Steve Dietrich. ''When you come off the season we had last year, defensively especially, to have him playing the way he's playing gives the guys confidence to maybe do a little more than what they have been doing in the past. It gives them the gumption to maybe fight a little harder for that loose ball or take the chance when you know that Coz is back there and he's going to bail you out.''

Cosmo is a brute for punishment in practises, says Cordingley.

''For a starting goalie, he takes the most shots I've ever seen.''

One of the most impactful lineup tweaks has been moving Mark Steenhuis into a more offensive role and shifting Dhane Smith to the back end to lead transition bursts. Smith scored what turned out to be the winning goal when he raced behind the Swarm defense to receive a pass and fired a high bullet past goalie Zach Higgins on a breakaway with 3:48 left Saturday.

''His transition is unbelievable,'' said Cordingley. ''He's so fast and he has such soft hands around the net.''

Steenhuis capped the late rally by firing in his third and fourth goals of the night.

Cosmo did not allow a fourth-quarter Minnesota goal.

''Cosmo is a professional who has high expectations of himself,'' says Cordingley. ''He was disappointed in last season. He did a lot of work in the offseason - conditioning and mentally preparing. It's paying dividends. He's having a phenomenal season.''

So is John Tavares, who scored two goals to pad his record total to 795 goals and 1,696 points since joining the Bandits in their inaugural 1992 season.

''I hurt my chest a bit so I was hesitant to shoot,'' he said of his quiet second half.

Through nine games, he's satisfied with his season to date.

''My running has been strong,'' said the 45-year-old captain. ''I've been feeling good. I don't feel old out there. I feel at least 42.''

Tavares, whose fourth and most recent NLL title with Buffalo was in 2008, and Cosmo go back a long ways as teammates in summer ball and now that they are together in the NLL they would like nothing better than to cap their lacrosse careers by winning a pro championship together. They are giving it their all to do just that.

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