Blogs | 12/27/2013 1:41:53 PM | John Gurtler

It is the most wonderful time of the year!

Boardwalk Empire, Homeland and Breaking Bad each completed good runs for the season, and for the latter, forever. The Bills have been fun to watch and the Sabres are coming around. The holidays have been a real treat. But now it’s time for Buffalo Bandits lacrosse.

It all starts 7:30 p.m. Saturday night at First Niagara Center against the Philadelphia Wings.

It’s been 244 days since that dark night in April and a lot of things have changed. The most often-asked question I’ve been getting is, “How do you think they will do?”

From the start of training camp, new head coach Troy Cordingley was very upfront with the 38 players vying for a chance to proudly wear the orange and black. There was not one player, save for 23-year veteran John Tavares, whose name was etched on the roster. All of them were informed they had to perform well in camp and earn it.

A new era was beginning and that included a total redesign in coordinating the approach to Bandits lacrosse. From practice sessions to video breakdown to teaching and team bonding, everything was followed perfectly on the agenda.

It’s all a good change, and the players have embraced it. You could see it out on the practice turf and scrimmages. You can sense a good chemistry developing amongst them.

One of the comments pieced together from Cordingley came from the dressing room before the first official practice of training camp. It was basic but very powerful: “Take a look at the players next to you. They are your teammates. Treat them like that.”

At 211 degrees, water will become very hot. I will get back to that note in a moment.

The 16 returning players from last season earned a spot on this year’s roster. Goaltending was particularly impressive during camp, with four men vying for two spots. Anthony Cosmo played well in the scrimmages, as did Kurtis Wagar. And it seems like the veteran Cosmo, entering his 14th NLL season, is poised to take the starting reins with a focus on consistency.

With the way the game is played today, the goaltending position is incredibly tough. But the Bandits have a good tandem in Cosmo and Wagar. Cosmo has not had a losing record for seven seasons.

But again, post-practice comments by coach Cordingley was that everybody has to keep working hard and earn a spot on this roster, displaying the teamwork needed in order to achieve success. His voice and demeanor was more than just a cliché comment. He meant it.

The game roster has been changed to 16 runners and two goaltenders, down from 18 and two. That means a lot of action for all of the players: defense, transition and forwards.

Defensively, you couldn’t ask for more of a tougher group of players who methodically have gelled into a good force. Having Rory Smith (from Colorado) join Billy Dee Smith, along with Glen Bryan, Steve Priolo and Derek Suddons, makes this group tops in the league.

Second-year pro and all-rookie Dhane Smith leads the transition position with incredible speed and his nifty moves. Newcomer Andrew Watt (from Minnesota) joins Kevin Brownell and David Brock. Jay Thorimbert rounds out the group, with his exceptional and league-leading faceoff abilities.

I think the Bandits have an eclectic mix of talented forwards who know how to move the ball from pocket-to-pocket and score. Mark Steenhuis comes back to forward for his 12th season with the Bandits. He is so strong in front of the net and posses a wicked shot. Newcomer Ryan Benesch (acquired from Minnesota) will add a nice scoring touch, having broken the 30-goal plateau in three straight seasons.

Aaron Wilson and Shawn Williams bring stability with their strong playmaking and scoring ability, not to mention the value they bring in knowledge and teamwork.

And John Tavares, the all-time leading scorer in the NLL, enters his 23rd season with the Bandits. We all know what he can do and I’ve said this a thousand times before: He makes players want to play better. 

How are the Bandits going to do this year? With the amount of parity in this league, it’s a tough question to answer. Every team this year had a small training camp roster, better practices, good pre-season games and a focus of building a strong bond with teammates.

I think the game of indoor lacrosse has changed for the better. Granted that is from my perspective, but I have noticed the skill set, athleticism and the qualities of play improve dramatically in the last five years. That also goes for the coaching. Whether it’s the on-field teaching, or more rudimentary work like video breakdown and one-on-one sessions, it all goes to maximizing the players’ potential.

Water boils at 212 degrees, offering a whole new horizon of opportunities. Think about it. One degree makes a difference. Watch Saturday night to see that difference when the Bandits play the Wings. 

Yes, all good words for what I see with the 2014 Buffalo Bandits. And why not, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Radio coverage of Bandits lacrosse returns to 1520 on the AM dial, but it’s now called ESPN 1520. Randy Mearns joins me for our 11th season together. Our pre-game show begins at 7 p.m. with the game scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Below is a time-line of the off-season events of note that took place with the Bandits and NLL:

April 27 - End regular season with loss and first time out of the playoffs twenty-odd some years. 6-10 record.

May - Evaluation period with one-on-ones, looking for answers and direction, status of each player.

June 10 – Bandits decide not to renew contract of Darris Kilgour and coaching staff.

June 13 – Mark Steenhuis is named to All-Green Team by the Green Sports Alliance.

June 27 – Washington Stealth relocate to Vancouver, Canada; home games will be played at the Langley (B.C.) Events Centre.

July 3 – Bandits name Troy Cordingley as head coach. In four seasons with Toronto, he led the Rock to a pair of championships and division titles, and received two Coach of the Year awards. Cordingley played seven years with the Bandits, and was an assistant coach for six years.

July 15 – Bandits acquire Ryan Benesch and transition player Andrew Watt from Minnesota for first-round pick in 2015 & 2016 and third round in 2017.

July 17 – Bandits announce coaching staff: Dan Teat, Richie Kilgour, Rusty Kruger, Steve Toll, Dave Pym and Rob Buchan.

July 30 – Bandits acquire Rory Smith from Colorado, in exchange for Carter Bender (who did not make the Colorado Mammoth).

September 3 – NLL announces 2013-2014 schedule, which includes 18-game schedule, nine home and nine away, for each team. Buffalo opens at home on Dec. 28 vs. Philadelphia.

September 16 – The Bandits make five selections in the NLL Draft, including two picks in the second round: Nick Diachenko (University of Delaware) and Mitch Wilde (Robert Morris University). Buffalo also acquired Joe Resetarits (Calgary) and Mitch Jones (Vancouver) in separate trades.

September 25 – John Harasym announced his retirement after spending the better part of five seasons with the Bandits. The feisty player appeared in a total of 135 NLL games including Philadelphia, Toronto, Chicago, Minnesota, Rochester and Columbus.

September 25 – The American Indoor Lacrosse Association announced that Buffalo will host a regional qualifying event November 30 and December 1.

October 22 – NLL and Professional Lacrosse Players Association reached an agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement that runs through 2020. Included are: modifications to free agency, which include lowering the age of unrestricted free agents from 32 to 30; reduction of franchise player designation per team from two to one; and the ability for veteran players (34+) to reject Franchise Designation.

Other highlights in the new CBA:
-Two additional regular season games, increasing from 16 to 18
-Expanded playoff format with two-game series in the Divisional and Championship Finals, from the previous single-game elimination format. If the series is 1-1 after two games, the teams will immediately play an additional 10-minute period to decide a series winner.
-Reduction of roster from 23 to 20 players with four practice players; game roster goes to 16 runners and two goaltenders.
-Eastern Division is realigned, with Minnesota joining Buffalo, Philadelphia, Toronto and Rochester.

October 30 – Bandits sign Aaron Wilson, Shawn Williams, Chad Culp, Anthony Cosmo and David Brock.

November 4 – Bandits sign five players, including draft picks Kevin Brownell and Hayden Smith.

November 15 – Bandits sign nine players, including all-time leading scorer John Tavares for his 23rd season.

November 25 – Bandits sign nine players lead by Dhane Smith and newcomers Ryan Benesch, Rory Smith and Joe Resetatits. Steve Priolo and Jay Thorimbert also ink.

December 7 – Bandits agree to terms with Billy Dee Smith, and defeat Philadelphia in their first of two preseason games.

December 8 – Training camp continues at First Niagara Center as the Bandits defeat Philadelphia in their second preseason game.

December 13 – Mike Hominuck announces retirement. Playing three seasons with the Bandits, the reliable transition player appeared in 102 NLL games also with Portland, Minnesota, Edmonton, Toronto and Philadelphia.

December 14 – Bandits lose preseason game number three to Edmonton.

December 16 – Bandits announce 20-man roster for the upcoming season. Sixteen players return and four join the club, including Ryan Benesch, Rory Smith, Joe Resetarits and Andrew Watt. A total of 10 players are gone from last year’s opening night roster. The roster includes eight forwards, five transition players, five defensemen and two goaltenders. Four players move to the practice squad, which include Jordon Critch and Hayden Smith.

December 21 – Bandits go through spirited practice, deliver season tickets in the afternoon and participate in team function off-site.

December 22 – Bandits host first-ever Christmas party for player families and team personnel. In addition to 85-foot food buffet, there was open skating on the First Niagara Center rink.

December 26 – Bandits prepare for the season opener with their first official practice of the regular season.

December 28 – Bandits set open regular season play on home turf of First Niagara Center against the Philadelphia Wings. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

VS.  Calgary Roughnecks
 January 09, 2016 - 07:30 PM 1 2 3 4 F
 Calgary Roughnecks 0 0 0 0 0
 Buffalo Bandits 0 0 0 0 0