Blogs | 1/8/2013 3:03:24 PM | John Gurtler
The final episode of the 2012 Bandits was reflective of how the season went: starting out very positive, but ending in a disheartening manner. It seems all along the Bandits were flirting with disaster last season, as the team relentlessly looked for its identity and answers.
Reflective of those few seconds remaining last May, when the game-tying goal was disallowed for a ‘foot in the crease,’ the mighty Buffalo Bandits had all but unraveled and not an answer was to be found.
But hark a tightly wound web of MarkMesh! The Bandits have a new pocket of enthusiasm.
As the leaves on the trees came to full bloom in Buffalo, you could sense change was in store for the orange and black. Carson, the confident grouch butler on the television smash hit series Downton Abbey, couldn’t have said it any better: “If there is a problem, let’s find a way to fix it – now!”
And the Bandits brass did just that with the hiring of former Bandits netminder and NLL Hall of Famer Steve Dietrich as the club’s new general manager.
Loaded with an abundance of passion for the Bandits and knowledge of the indoor game, Dietrich has assembled a rather eclectic roster of players who posses an incredible knack for the game with amazing talent. There seems to be a focus and dedication amongst the players to challenge the odds and succeed during the 16-game regular season.
It’s all come about with a strong draft of talented young players, a review of 45 players during a November free agent camp, and the most competitive training camp ever during the month of December in the confines of the First Niagara Center.
Every moment of each weekend day during December was detailed down to the minute. Yes, it was nice having the Bandits home venue all to themselves, as the Sabres coaching staff sat in their offices calling for meatloaf and wondering what the Bandits were doing in there.
Entering my 10th season doing the Bandits radio play-by-play, I continue to learn the nuances of this complex game and admire the dedication each player has. And their talent is extraordinary.
But most importantly I have been tutored by the best bench boss in the business, Darris Kilgour. Nobody has more fiery emotion for the will to win than this man has. Talk about leaving it out on the floor, which is why his Bandits number 43 is in the rafters of First Niagara. That emotion was evident during camp as the standards to be a Bandit were lifted a few notches.
There is something about this 2013 roster that is intriguing. How will they compete against a younger, faster, stronger, bigger team – a template of what the NLL is changing to? The critics have stated their pre-season case.
This weekend will be a good test for the Bandits in their two-game set: first with the very athletic run-and-gun Philadelphia led by newly acquired Paul Rabil; followed by and the young and restless Minnesota at home on Saturday. The Philadelphia roster reads like a who’s who with All-Americans from Division I lacrosse. Minnesota comes to Buffalo Saturday with a cast of proven indoor players and six of their 2012 draft picks.
Eleven players are gone from the Bandits’ roster from a year ago, including former captain Chris White. But now add in the likes of Brock, Suddons, Bryan, Wilson and Williams, along with the youthful Dhane Smith, Kurtis Wagner, Hyden Smith, Kevin Brownell – and a host of others. There are 17 new faces currently with the Bandits, if you include the practice squad, injured reserve and PUP lists.
Certainly performance can replace a roster spot very quickly, especially in the early part of the season.
Goaltending appeared solid in training camp with Anthony Cosmo picking up where he left off from late in the season. Newly arrived Kurtis Wagar comes from Philly to serve as back-up.
The Bandits’ defense is anchored with Billy Dee Smith and Scott Self with newcomers Derek Suddons and Glen Bryan, while Steve Priolo and Mike McNamara round out the early roster.
Scoring will get a much-needed boost with NLL Iron Man Shawn Williams’ playmaking, as he averaged 77 points in his last five seasons and led Edmonton. David Brock comes from Philadelphia to enhance the Bandits transition game. John Tavares starts his 22nd campaign, having topped the Bandits in scoring in 17 of those seasons. Dhane Smith, the Bandits’ first-round pick this season, will compliment the youth movement to the net. Luke Wiles, Mark Steenhuis, Chad Culp and Tracey Kelusky will continue to compliment the attack.
There are new uniform styles and colors this season, which have already been a big hit at the team’s store. Bandits will trade home and road colors this year, going white on the road and black design at home.
Look for the referees to be watchful of the high sticking calls and dangerous hits to the head. Player ejections and a match penalty will be accessed, which includes unlimited goals scored during the five-minute call. In addition, the NLL has a standard policy on concussions, as every team will employ the same return-to-play protocol.
All of the games will be on YouTube this season with viewer interaction access. Radio coverage of all the Bandits games will be on WWKB 1520 AM. The 30-minute pre-game show will include interviews with head coach Kilgour and player profiles.
Friday night’s radio coverage from Philadelphia starts at 6:30 p.m. Color analyst Randy Mearns joins me for Saturday’s home opener starting at 7 p.m. with the pre-game show.
The 22nd Buffalo Bandits season is upon us. Viewer and listener discretion is encouraged.