11/22/2017 2:36:00 PM / John Gurtler
Inside the historic Iroquois Lacrosse Arena on Six Nations Reservation, Week 2 of Bandits training camp was loaded with fast-paced practices, two preseason games, an NLL media training session, meetings, meals, and – for some – a very quick sleep.
Thirty-seven players continued to display their lacrosse talents out on the turf, which included rudimentary drills and real-live game action against NLL opponents. Some players have impressive credentials and some players are going on their heart and brawn.
With this Bandit training camp, you have to earn a spot on the roster. It doesn't matter if you were an MVP or an invite, every player is trying to get the coaching staff and management to do a double-take from a nifty move, playing in the dirty areas, scoring a goal, and, most importantly, displaying confidence of the team systems.
Unfortunately six players, including former Bandit, Mike McNamara, received another type of look, and it's the kind every player fears: Seeing and hearing the voice of GM Steve Dietrich informing them they are released from the team.
The five other players waived from the Bandits on Monday were Conner Laird, Braden Wallace, Tyler Albrecht, Charles Scanlan and Brodie Tutton. Justin Pychel, Alex Bohl, Bryce Brochu were released from the active roster on Tuesday.
There are more tough decisions to be made, as rosters must be submitted to the league by Friday.
This has been the most competitive training camp the club has ever experienced. The depth chart continues to move back and forth as Dietrich and Troy Cordingley’s coaching staff continue to banter about who should play where.
One of the new faces in camp is 12-year NLL standout forward Callum Crawford, who comes to Buffalo after he was acquired from Colorado for Ryan Benesch. After starting his NLL career playing with four different clubs, Crawford found a home with Minnesota and spent six successful seasons with the Swarm.
His playmaking and scoring prowess put him with the NLL elite despite the Swarm's struggles back then. Signing with Colorado two seasons ago, Crawford meshed in perfectly with the Mammoth's offense attack, recording career-high numbers, which included 115 points in 2016 and 98 last season.
Not only is Crawford a fierce competitor, he possesses a very special set of lacrosse skills, and, he is joining a team that was his favorite growing up.
"This is an organization I grew up watching," Crawford said. "The culture and history with this team is pretty amazing.
“Any past players you talk to – and I have been blessed to talk with some past guys that have been involved with this team, either as players, coaches or scouts – and the things they say about being a Bandit is pretty special and to never take it for granted."
Crawford knows this team is under the gun, and the loyal fans are restless.
"I want to help this team win a championship,” he said. “I think we have some pretty impressive tools here and I'm excited to help this offense and help the team get there."
Even as a new face, Crawford is blending in very quickly. After practice Saturday, I noticed that Crawford was spending a lot of time talking with Dhane Smith, discussing plays and working on chemistry.
Goaltender Alex Buque was also included in the Crawford/Benesch transaction, and while he was surprised he was traded, he, too, is coming to his favorite team.
"As soon as I started watching games, the Bandits were my team to watch, and now it’s exciting to play for them," Buque, who spent three seasons with Colorado, earning All-Rookie honors in 2015, said.
Buque is also coming off a very impressive summer of backstopping the New Westminster Salmonbellies of the WLA to the Mann Cup, posting an 8-4 playoff record and an .844 save percentage.
Combine his regular season record of 9-5 with NWS, Buque earned a .848 save percentage and was a major reason for the Salmonbellies’ successful run this past summer.
"I have always been looking for the opportunity to play. It didn't matter who it was or how I'd get there," said Buque, who was backup to Dillon Ward last season in Colorado. "I am just always looking for the opportunity and lucky enough to have the Bandits come after me.
"I try to bring some excitement and do my job in stopping the ball. And I do whatever it takes to save it."
Just like getting the snow blower to start for the first time, such was the case for the Bandits first preseason game this past Saturday night against a pretty feisty group of New England Black Wolves.
While they did not have their big offensive guns in the lineup, the Bandits countered with theirs, including Dhane Smith, Mitch Jones, Pat Saunders and Craig England.
In addition, the Bandits completed the forwards’ list with new comers Jordan Durston (Vancouver), Chase Fraser (2nd round, 2017) and Josh Byrne, the first-overall pick in this year’s draft. After a little wobble and weaving, the group found their groove, erasing a large first quarter deficit to win 12-10.
There were some great plays and sloppy plays, but that is what preseason is all about; working the kinks out and finding chemistry.
"The chemistry is unmatched, as I have never been a part of something like this. There is a great group of guys in there,” Byrne, who was fresh off the floor from his first NLL preseason action Saturday night, said while pointing to the dressing room. “They have taken me in with open arms; it’s really phenomenal. I feel like I've been around these guys for five years."
Byrne had some good goals on Saturday and Sunday, some wicked shots and he played well off ball, setting picks and scraping for the loose balls.
Having earned MVP honors and just about every award in high school and college, Byrne was named Rookie of the Year in the Major Lacrosse League.
He led his team, Chesapeake, in scoring with 39 goals and seven assists in just nine games. The 6-foot-3 forward also played with Burnaby of the WLA, scoring four goals and 12 assists in four games.
Yet he remains modest.
"We have a lot of talent here, so it kind of opens me up a little bit more, and I am not just to key guy they have to cover," noted Byrne. "It kind of helps me more to get open, but I have to bury a lot more shots. All I have to do right now is get better."
And he will. I can't think of a better mentor than assistant coach John Tavares.
The Bandits lost to Rochester Sunday 12-8 to wrap up the weekend of camp. Dhane Smith looked great, racking up a bag full of goals and assists.
Another practice is scheduled this week. Then the team will move training camp back to Buffalo on Saturday which starts off with the annual Open Practice set to go at 10am on the KeyBank Center turf.
This would be a great time to check out seats for season tickets, as each will be marked with an "available" tag. Have a seat and see what you think.