Features | 3/31/2010 8:18:18 PM | NLL.com
By Jonathan McGrath for NLL.com
At the beginning of the 2010 season, Buffalo Bandits Director of Lacrosse Operations Scott Loffler stated "the Bandits' coaching staff and management expects nothing but a championship every year."
This season, then, did not begin like the Buffalo Bandits had hoped. The team started 1-5 and their star player and NLL all-time leading scorer, John Tavares, was on the bench with a lower body injury.
After this slow start, it looked like it would be a season in which the team wouldn't even be making the playoffs, let alone winning a championship... and then Tavares stepped back onto the field.
Since Tavares' return, Buffalo is 5-1 and currently sits in a three-way tie for third place in the East Division with a 6-6 record.
In his first game back against Philadelphia on Feb. 13, Tavares scored two goals and had four assists in a crucial 13-11 victory.
"I got some points, but I still don't feel like I played that well," Tavares told Jackie Lewandowski of Banidits.com after the game. "I want to get more wins, and that means getting the ball moving more and scoring more."
Apparently his team was listening, as they won four of the next five games and continued to put points on the board. In his time back, Tavares has scored 14 goals and 15 assists. To no one's surprise, the Bandits' front office has an extremely large amount of trust and confidence in Tavares.
"As soon as JT steps on the floor, you immediately become a better team. He settles us down and has a calming presence on our team. He may not have the legs he used to have five or 10 years ago, but his knowledge of the game makes up for that." said Loffler.
Tavares' 29 points is second only to teammate Mark Steenhuis (27g, 39a), who has also stepped his game up since the return of JT.
"I think Mark has realized he doesn't have to do it all on his own anymore, especially with (Tavares) back. He is becoming a major contributor on this team in terms of setting up guys. Without Mark dishing the ball as much as he has, we don't win 3-4 of the games we have. In the past Mark was a scorer, now he's setting guys up and getting them great opportunities to score. His unselfishness is making us a dangerous team at the right time," added Loffler.
Steenhuis, who is currently fourth in the NLL in scoring with his 66 points, gave his most impressive showing this year at a time when his team needed it most. In one of the most critical games of the season for the Bandits, Steenhuis stepped up to the plate and registered six goals and four assists, helping Buffalo to a 12-10 win over the East Division leading Orlando Titans.
In addition, Bandits head coach Darris Kilgour earned his 93rd win in the victory over Orlando, which tied him with Les Bartley for the NLL's all-time regular season leader in coaching wins. The coach was selfless when asked about the accomplishment after the game.
"It doesn't matter one bit to me, I'm here to win championships, I'm here to win games, and I'm here to be part of the team. I'm never going to separate myself. It is a players' league," said Kilgour.
Buffalo has continued to ride the shoulders of Tavares and Steenhuis during their current four-game winning streak, during which the two have combined for 20 of the team's 46 goals and assisted on 24 more. Tavares had seven goals and four assists against the Toronto Rock and Boston Blazers on March 12 and 13, scoring both of his team's game-winning, overtime goals. During the streak, six of his eight goals have come in the second half or overtime.
In the first and second weeks of March, Steenhuis and Tavares were consecutively named Offensive Player of the Week. Additionally, Tavares was named the Overall Player of the Week after his overtime heroics against Toronto and Boston.
The first two games of the season for Buffalo resulted in losses to the Rochester Knighthawks on Jan. 9 and 16. Most recently, the Bandits extracted revenge by defeating Rochester by a commanding 14-7 margin on March 27. Their latest victory represents the drastic improvement Buffalo has made since the return of both Tavares, and more importantly, the team's confidence and momentum.
Through a recent statement, it is clear that Loffler has remained fairly consistent with his championship expectations for the Bandits.
"I think our chances are good to make the playoffs, especially with JT back in the lineup. Every team in the East is pretty close in the standings. At this point everyone has a chance and every game is just as big as the next. "
The Bandits next contest is against the Colorado Mammoth on Saturday, April 3 at 7:30 p.m. EST. In the midst of their four-game winning streak, Buffalo will be playing with a mammoth-sized amount of confidence and will look for Tavares and Steenhuis to keep leading the charge.