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Season preview: Catch up with the Buffalo Bandits

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

It’s easy to get befuddled by the bustle of the holidays, and that’s a fine excuse for temporarily taking your eyes off the Buffalo Bandits’ upcoming season.

It may be startling, then, that—due to the brand-new 18-game schedule—the National Lacrosse League slate begins two weeks earlier than normal, as the Bandits start just three days after Christmas with a home date against the Philadelphia Wings.

You can browse the entire schedule and purchase tickets at the Bandits’ website.

From a fan’s perspective, when your team is the only one to miss the playoffs and winds up with a 6-10 record, you demand changes—whether they’re administrative or personnel.

Something must be done to return a culture of winning to Buffalo lacrosse, as the local professional sports environment is desperate for a champion.

Buffalo GM Steve Dietrich was active, replacing long-time Bandit Darris Kilgour with Troy Cordingley (pictured, right), who was jettisoned by the Toronto Rock after a disappointing 2013 postseason.

Likewise, 11 players from last year’s active roster were either sent packing or demoted to the practice squad (or protected player lists):

*Jon Harasym retired
*Mike Hominuck retired
*Carter Bender was traded to Colorado, then cut
*Luke Wiles was traded to Philadelphia for picks
*Derek Hopcroft was cut after training camp
*Nick Cotter was released during training camp
*Mike McNamara was cut after camp
*Alex Kedoh Hill was placed on protected player list
*Hayden Smith was assigned to the practice squad
*Jordan Critch was assigned to the practice squad
*Tracey Kelusky was released, then made Philadelphia’s final roster

To fill the vacancies, Dietrich swung deals to immediately improve his roster—most notably by packaging two first round draft picks (2015, 2016) to Minnesota for superstar forward Ryan Benesch and gritty transition player Andrew Watt.

Both acquisitions are expected to assume major roles immediately, and Benesch—barring injury or poor adjustment—should vie for the Bandits’ scoring title, and maybe even the league’s.

The connection between lefty forwards Benesch (pictured left) and assist-wizard Shawn Williams should lead to many a highlight-reel goal in 2014. 

While the deal for Benesch grabbed the headlines, two smaller moves should lend balance to the Bandits’ roster for 2014. Tough defender Rory Smith arrived in the Bender deal with Colorado—he’s one of the NLL’s most physical defenders.

Adding Hamburg High School alum Joe Resetarits—the younger brother of former Bandit Frank Resetarits—may have cost a pretty penny (No. 10 overall in 2014 and a second-rounder in 2015), but the former first-round pick scored a solid 24 points in his rookie season with Calgary and could benefit from playing in front of his hometown crowd.


In search of one more defender, the Bandits pursued Edmonton restricted free agent Ryan Dilks, a 23-year-old defenseman who seems destined to be a perennial all-star. Unfortunately for Dietrich, Edmonton matched the offer and secured Dilks for the next four years. 
 
With the NLL finally reaching a collective bargaining agreement with its players—and this time, finally a seven-year deal with a $400,000 salary cap—Buffalo was still able to retain its stars: NLL all-time scoring leader John Tavares returned for another season with Mark Steenhuis, Shawn Williams, Billy Dee Smith and Aaron Wilson.

An aging roster [see the 20-man final roster here] is still a concern—the team’s average age of 29.7 year old is on the older side of a league trending younger (take Minnesota’s 24.7 average age as an extreme comparison)—but there’s a good mix of offensive firepower, NLL experience and—maybe—just enough youth to keep the Bandits from wilting down the stretch of the longer season.

Five reasons why you should attend a Bandits game (or two) this year:

1) Two words: Dhane Smith (pictured in header)
2) Appreciate face-off specialist Jay Thorimbert—most underrated player on the team
3) The Joe Resetarits-returns-home storyline is cute
4) Rory Smith and Billy Dee knocking opponents out
5) Troy Cordingley’s inevitable bench tirades (you may have to ‘earmuff’ it sometimes)
Bonus 6) So you can record Swennie’s voice as your ringtone

Additional notes:

**The NLL reduced the number of playoff teams from eight to six (top three in each division), meaning that three clubs will miss the postseason instead of just one like the last few years. The winner of each division receives a first-round bye.

**While the Divisional Semifinals will remain a single-elimination playoff, the Division Finals and Championship will include a home-and-home series (the higher seed hosts the second game). If both teams split, then a 10-minute tiebreaker game will be held immediately following the second clash. (Do I think this is silly? Yes, but it’s better than single elimination, I suppose).

**Active rosters were lowered from 23 players to 20, but there’s one additional spot on the practice squad. The NLL’s already condensed pool of talent has been condensed even further, which means there’s better competition but fewer jobs

**The Washington Stealth have moved to Vancouver but will still keep the Stealth nickname. They just cut Athan Iannucci, the current NLL single-season leader in goals scored (though knee injuries have derailed his career).

**Minnesota has been moved from the West Division to the East, joining the Bandits, Knighthawks, Rock and Wings. Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton and Vancouver make up the West.

Other relevant updates:

**Buffalo cut its top pick, No. 14 overall choice Nick Diachenko, yet kept No. 15 overall, transition player Mitch Wilde (practice squad), and fifth-round goalie Eric Penny (injured reserve). Sixth rounders Kevin Pym and Dylan Goddard were long-shots to make the squad from the get-go
**Rochester released long-time Bandit Mike Accursi
**Toronto released ex-Bandit Roger Vyse

**Canisius College alum Simon Giourmetakis was released by Edmonton
**Fellow former Griffins Dan Coates and Adam Jones inked five-year deals with Colorado
**Philadelphia released former Bandits’ fighter Brandon Francis
**Recent Bandits now on Rochester’s 20-man roster: Ian Llord, Mikey Thompson and Scott Self

(Internal photo of former Swarm player Benesch is courtesy of Alex Carroll Photographer from the team’s Facebook page. Bandits photos are courtesy of Buffalo.com photographers).

TAGGED: buffalo bandits, downtown, lacrosse, national lacrosse league, ryan benesch, troy cordingley

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