Blogs | 3/19/2013 5:34:00 PM | John Gurtler
Considering the recent changes to the Bandits roster in the last two weeks, it’s similar to rebuilding a generation six race car in the middle of lap 10 during the Daytona 500. There is still plenty of time to make up some ground and finish strong.
That is certainly the intention of General Manager Steve Dietrich, his coaching staff, and Scott Loffler, the team’s Director of Lacrosse Operations.
With the 14 new faces on the roster since the Bandits opened their season, reality hit me square in the face last Friday afternoon at the airport as the Bandits awaited to board their flight to Denver.
There was a group of players dressed in their slick team apparel suits who were some of those new faces: Derek Suddons, Carter Bender, Hayden Smith, Aaron Wilson, Kevin Brownell, Jamie Rooney, Dhane Smith and Derek Hopcroft.
Because the Bandits have not traveled as a group since the Philadelphia trip back on game one, it just struck me seeing all those new faces grouped together in a causal setting.
And the new faces continue to join the active roster.
Wednesday of last week was trade deadline day in the NLL and rosters had to be frozen at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 15. Some tough moves were made, which included trading veteran defenseman Scott Self and the practice squad assignment of Luke Wiles. The previous week, the Bandits released veteran forward Mat Giles. All three are true team players and great guys off the field, one of the reasons the Bandits are such a close team.
But changes had to be made - and the adjustments continue 11 games into the season.
Saturday night’s game in Denver against the Mammoth certainly showed some of those changes. I thought the Bandits played a good game, despite the pair of five minute major penalties in the second quarter, some continued mistakes and more penalties.
But I saw a group of players trying to wind the system and continue to play through the troubles and flubs – I have a hand full of them each game doing the play-by-play. I saw that character and the attentiveness of the young players attempting to play the system and be better. In all, 12 Bandits contributed on the score sheet Saturday night.
The 11 Mammoth power plays that resulted in six goals - four in the second quarter and three in the third - did not dampen the Bandits pursuit. They had a full head of steam to tie the game with 1:58 left in regulation.
John Tavares told me in Saturday night’s pre-game show interview that he was very excited to see how the younger players play, and was looking forward to help making them play better. Well, five of his six points Saturday night were helpers.
Tavares also had a deduction while watching the game from the press box back on March 9, when he was out with the nagging calf injury.
“It’s a great perspective, as you can see the entire floor,” said Tavares of sitting in the press box, something that he does not want to do on a regular basis. “You can see exactly what’s happening. As an offensive player, I came back down (to the dressing room) and talked to my teammates, telling them they really have to move the ball.
“It seems like when you make one or two passes and then take a shot, usually you’re not successful and you’re not getting the other guys involved. So whenever we did get a good opportunity, it’s because of four or five passes. And that’s what I wanted to remind them.
“In practice, we all move the ball, we look good. And then we get in the games it’s one, two, shoot; one, two, shoot. The game plan is to move that ball a lot more.”
I asked Tavares about his style of shooting and playmaking ability.
“With my shot opportunities, I try not to force them,” said the 22-year vet who had a goal to go along with his five assists on Saturday night. “I try to be more patient; kind of inch a little forward; pass the ball; give me a little more space; move forward - it's more of a patient game. Then when you do have an opportunity, take a good quality shot.
“I have to be more patient, more selective; make the guys around me better. I let them know I am going to pass them the ball. And, if the opportunity presents itself, (I will) bury my opportunities as well.
Tavares echoed what the final words would be before the start of the game last Saturday night in Denver: “Play with heart and intensity. Show more intensity. Show more heart.”
I saw that heart and intensity Saturday night, and a welcomed infusion of offense with Derek Hopcroft in his first game with a hat trick and two assists. And Jamie Rooney, in his second game, had two goals and three assists.
Maybe all the parts and pieces are coming together down on the Bandit bench, their pit row. It’s setting up to be an interesting finish down the stretch with all these new faces.
The Bandits had to stay way outside Denver on this trip, as the city was booked with non-stop action, starting with their St. Patrick’s Day parade (the second largest in the country). The Spring Classic in college lacrosse was underway at Sports Authority Field (where the Broncos play), which included Notre Dame and Denver University and several other top Division I schools. And the Avalanche hosted the Minnesota Wild at the Pepsi Center for a matinee.
It’s amazing how lacrosse has grown in popularity in Denver on all levels, and the Mammoth have certainly helped improved that footprint. The Mammoth and Bandits have the top attendance in the league, averaging over 15,500 per game
Lacrosse was confined to a few of the prep schools in the area. It wasn’t until a group of students from Denver East High School formed a club team back in the early ‘70’s that had a domino effect on the formation of other teams and varsity status. Today, Denver East is a perennial powerhouse in high school varsity lacrosse.
My friend, Joe Aiello, was one of those students. He attended the game Saturday night as the Bandits’ guest.
WGR’s Dave Buchanan will join me as color analyst this Saturday night as the Bandits host Edmonton. Randy Mearns will be coaching his Griffs Saturday night against Virginia. Pre-game starts at 7 p.m. from the First Niagara Center, with the opening faceoff set for 7:35 p.m.