Back-to-back start propels Bandits into 2013 campaign
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 11, 2013 @ 10:15am
The Buffalo Bandits haven’t played any meaningful lacrosse since their 7-6 loss to the Toronto Rock in the NLL East Division Semifinals on May 5, 2012. A great deal has changed since then, however, including moves in the front office and acquisitions to bolster a mediocre attack from last season.
Under new general manager and formerly stellar goalie Steve Dietrich, the Bandits open their 2013 campaign with back-to-back tilts. The Bandits travel to Philadelphia for a game at 7 this evening, then host the Minnesota Swarm at 7:30 tomorrow night at the First Niagara Center. Tickets can be purchased at this link.
You can watch every NLL game this season on YouTube courtesy of The Lacrosse Network, a new platform that’s raising the league’s national exposure. Early results—particularly with audio—have been mixed, but we expect things to improve as the season moves along.
Buffalo’s 7-9 record last season was the first sub-.500 finish for the Bandits since 1999, coincidentally the last time the Buffalo Bills made the playoffs. There was talk mid-way through last season that, if the Bandits’ locker room chemistry and results didn’t improve, then-GM Darris Kilgour was going to make a flurry of roster moves. Instead of mid-season, the roster changeover came this off-season.
As is typical for a team with a proud history and a blank slate for the season, there are plenty of reasons for optimism, yet a few reasons to be concerned. Let’s shuffle through a few of each.
1) Anthony Cosmo: The former Swarm holdout was traded to Buffalo on Feb. 17 of last year, and it took a while for him to get acclimated. Without training camp and dealing with Darris Kilgour’s “ride-the-hot-hand” philosophy between Cosmo and now-retired Mike Thompson, Cosmo was not able to find his groove until late in the season. He sparkled against Toronto in the East Division Semis, however, and has been consistently strong in training camp. He’ll be counted upon heavily with Buffalo’s defense littered with newcomers, and backup Kurtis Wagar is very untested.
2) Dhane Smith: We’re drooling at the opportunity of watching Smith’s athleticism at both ends of the floor, but we’re not naive enough to think there won’t be growing pains. In a league that demands relentless transition players and favors youth, highly-touted rookies like Smith are both coveted and invaluable. He dominated rookie camp and potted a few goals in the preseason contest against Philadelphia, so we anticipate that he’ll come out the back door initially but spend considerable time in the offensive zone.
3) David Brock: A newcomer with a transition skill-set that has the size and aggression to be a lock-defender, Brock (6’3, 215) may pick up assignments against some of the league’s star power forwards like Athan Iannucci (6’4, 215), John Grant Jr. (6’2, 224) and Drew Westervelt (6’5, 240). During training camp, returning Buffalo players raved about Brock’s ability, suggesting that he’ll make an immediate impact on Banditland. In a re-worked defensive corps, Brock’s dependability and consistency will be vital—any offensive production will be icing on the cake.
4) Veteran additions: Fans and media alike have rolled their eyes at former GM Darris Kilgour’s intent to get younger—even though he made moves to confirm that he still prefers experience over youth. Under Dietrich, the Bandits stocked up on youngsters through the draft, yet still added proven veterans in forwards Shawn Williams (37), Aaron Wilson (32), and Mike Hominuck (31) as well as defenders Derek Suddons (34) and Glen Bryan.
5) JT’s swansong: Maybe there’s no bigger reason to galvanize the Bandits than the notion that this is John Tavares’ last season. We weren’t even positive that he’d return this year, but his designation as captain seems to point toward this being the 43-year-old’s final campaign.
1) The defense: Moving Ian Llord, Darryl Gibson and Chris White signaled a major change in the defensive unit, and it’ll take some time for these new pieces to jell. Leadership from the back end will be a question mark, and a lot of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of Scott Self, who’s returning from an off-season injury himself. Hulking defender Billy Dee Smith has been suspended for the season’s first two games due to an incident late last season, and his absence will be felt.
2) Rookies and vets: Browsing through Buffalo’s roster, there aren’t many players in their prime. The Bandits have only four players between the ages of 25 and 29 on their 23-man roster, as there’s a heavy proportion of players in their early 30s and a good chunk in their early 20s.
Is this a big deal? Maybe not, but maybe so. The inexperience of first-year players and the injury prone nature of players in their 30s are both troubling.
3) Egos: I have a hunch that locker room chemistry won’t be the issue this season as much as it was last year, as Kilgour was quick to note that many departures were due to an “entitled” mentality and a lack of hunger. Was he pointing at Brandon Francis and Tom Montour?
There are still a substantial number of egos that must be massaged, however, as Mark Steenhuis, Billy Dee Smith, Luke Wiles and others are stars that, judging by off-season holdouts or rumblings around the team, sometimes need a little coddling.
(All photos courtesy of Dave Marino from last year’s Buffalo vs. Toronto game—full gallery here).