5/4/2017 11:08:00 AM / John Gurtler
Where do we go from here?
Nowhere but up. And it’ll take a positive approach to the off-season when it comes to replacing personnel in areas of need.
“Youth, whatsoever thou art, thou art but a scurvy fellow.” -Sir Toby Belch, Twelfth Night
The business end of the professional game of lacrosse can be scurvy at times with change of veteran players in a moment’s notice, in the favor of youth with budding talent.
Under the umbrella of the Bandits youth movement is Justin Martin, the rookie defender selected in the second round (13th overall) of the 2016 NLL Draft. Considering he came right out of junior and college, I thought he played well in the 15 games he saw action in this season.
"Obviously it’s been a tough season, not the one that we wanted," Martin said. "We weren't able to play with consistency. The effort was there, the talent is there. We just have to find a way to put it all together next season."
And Martin will get better as he heads west to British Columbia for the summer to play with the Langley Thunder, which is a team run by Bandits western scout, Rob Buchan.
Martin takes with him his tutorial he received all season long from Bandits captain Billy Dee Smith, which included being paired with the veteran of 15 Bandit seasons. He learned under fire, but felt confident because Smith always knew what the opposition was doing.
I like his confidence.
"I am tough to play against and guys don't like coming down there. I try to make it hard on them; staying in their face, using my quickness and try and get under their skin,” Martin said.
And Martin knows what he has to work on in preparation for next fall, as issued by Bandits defensive coordinator Richie Kilgour.
"He told me not to sit back and be aggressive. It's better to play tough and don't be afraid to make mistakes," Martin said.
I use Martin as an example of the young quality personnel the Bandits have on hand, knowing they will improve and collaborate with the rest of the roster, and be called upon to help others fill the shoes.
The Bandits have a good core of younger players, and more will be added.
"Yes, the youth is our future. We've made lot of changes the four years I have been here," noted Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley. "Getting to the finals last year may have blinded us somewhat, but we felt we had a team that could get back there and win it.
"Obviously that didn't go the way we planned. So we have to look at improving the team in all areas and move on."
Not sure there will be a massive change with the Bandits roster, but there will be some, what with the Bandits holding the first-overall pick in the 2017 NLL Draft and several top-round picks as well.
The game is changing, becoming more systematic, and detailed with specific game plans that require athleticism and commitment.
It seems to me there will be a new brand of Banditball, but retaining the toughness and meanness, reminding other teams it's no fun playing against them.
Gosh, I hope the league allows the hitting, pushing and shoving along with a few palm sandwiches, and the occasional yard sale of equipment to let them go toe-to-toe. It's a part of the game.
Where did it go wrong?
The Colorado game on December 30 exposed the flat start out of the gate. Then falling behind again to Georgia in January and the mounting of one-goal losses, starting with New England at the end of January.
The real stinger of the season came March 4, when the Bandits lost in overtime to Rochester after leading with 12 seconds remaining in regulation. Later in March, another one-goal loss to the K-Hawks and then… The Brad Self trade on March 29.
The team was not the same and did not regain composure or confidence.
"The consistency part – oh, there were signs of the way we were last year, but the lackluster effort, undisciplined play, things that lead to falling behind six, seven goals – it’s been a frustrating year," Cordingley said.
"There should be no finger pointing. It's everybody in that room. From the coaching staff to management, to players to everybody that involved, we have underachieved."
How do you untangle all this?
"It's going to be a very busy summer. We can't dwell about this. We have to correct things and get better. It's a lot of work behind the scenes,” he said.
It's a long way to November but one rule still stands.
"Be a good teammate and playing hard for the Bandit logo and fans."
Congratulations to Mark Steenhuis for earning his 1,000th NLL point, a milestone only achieved by eight other players: John Tavares, John Grant, Jr., Colin Doyle, Josh Sanderson, Dan Dawson, Gary Gait, Shawn Williams and Shawn Evans.
Steenhuis closed out his 2017 campaign with 24 goals, 43 assists for 67 points marking the 10th time he has scored 60 or more points in his 16-year NLL career. He had six 5-point-plus games this season. Steenhuis still holds the NLL record for most points in a game (17), set back on February 14, 2009.
Defenseman Steve Priolo took the NLL defender scoring crown with seven goals and 15 assists for 22 points. Six of those points came while shorthanded (2+4). Priolo led the club with 131 ground balls and 29 caused turnovers. The eighth-year Bandit is sure to be a finalist for the NLL's Defensive Player of the Year.
Ryan Benesch finished the season with 14 goals and eight assists in his last four games. Benesch had five hat tricks on the season and recorded his eighth 60 point-plus season.
Mitch Jones doubled his point output from last season finishing with 31 goals and 38 assists for 69 points. Jones had five games where he recorded at least 5 points, including an 8-point night (2+6) on March 17 in Vancouver. He also scored a goal or more in 17 straight games
Mitch de Snoo finished the season strong on a four-game point streak, including earning four assists in the last game of the season. de Snoo also was assessed, for good or bad, a league-high 22 minor penalties.
Wondering why sometimes... The Bandits were the most penalized team in the NLL with 133 minors and 343 total minutes. The team did score 12 shorthanded goals though.
With that noted, Buffalo had the best power play in the league, going 45-on-73 attempts for 61.6 percent.
The Bandits had the third-most explosive offense in the league, netting 226 goals for almost a 13-goal average.
Anthony Malcom finished the season with seven goals and seven assists in his last four games and, had a league high five short-handed goals. The second-year Bandit missed eight games to injuries.
Rookie Tim Edwards improved his face off winning percentage from 42 percent to 53 percent, including winning 62 percent against Georgia.
Congratulations to Craig England, the Bandits Breakout Player of the Year, as voted on by the fans. In 12 games played this season, England scored 17 goals and seven assists for 24 points. England had six 2-goal games and earned the highest shooting percentage in the NLL at 41.5 percent.
Goaltender Anthony Cosmo recorded seven 40-plus save games and finished the season 5-6.
And in only 14 games played, Dhane Smith still scored 30 goals and 51 assists for 81 points, 12th overall in NLL regular season scoring. Last year’s MVP recorded a league season-high nine assists February 25 against Toronto.
Six Bandit players dressed in all 18 games, including Kevin Brownell, Mark Steenhuis, Mitch de Snoo, Pat Saunders, Steve Priolo and Mitch Jones.
And thank you fans for putting Buffalo No. 1 in attendance, again, with an average of 15,148 fans per game, for a total of 136,340 fans who entered in through the turn styles for the nine regular season games. That’s 2,051 better than second place Saskatchewan.
Finally, congratulations to Brian Kuna as the Bandits 2017 Fan of the Year. Brian has been to every home game and I think just as many road games over the many seasons he has been a fan. He has always been there for the team, and is indeed one of its best supporters - and he’s a heck of a nice guy.
Enjoy the 2017 Champion’s Cup Playoffs and have a good summer.
Thank you for your amazing support of the Bandits.