TOUGH GUY FRANCIS EXCELS IN DUAL ROLEFeatures | 4/21/2011 10:24:11 AM | Michael Jafari
The Buffalo Bandits will finish the regular season as the top team in the East Division. It is the eighth division championship in the franchise’s 20-year history and marks the ninth consecutive season that the team will see playoff action. While the club features several All Star players, it has received significant contributions from everyone on the roster throughout the season.
One of those key players is Brandon Francis, who serves the dual role of faceoff specialist and enforcer for the Bandits. Now in his fourth season with the team, Francis ranks 7th in the National Lacrosse League with 114 faceoff wins in 184 attempts for an outstanding 62 percent success rate. He has also compiled 60 penalty minutes on the season, which ranks 2nd in the League.
“It’s a different team from 2008, but at the same time, we’re just as good if not better,” said Francis. “I love it here. The fans are great, and they’re the best in the world. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
The Bandits forward had an interesting journey before becoming one of the premier heavyweights in the National Lacrosse League. While growing up in Akwesasne, Ontario, Francis played ice hockey throughout his childhood and was introduced to the sport of lacrosse during the summer months.
After years of building up his skill set and developing his reputation as a bruiser, the 6-foot-2, 245-pound Francis earned a spot on Buffalo’s roster in 2008 after signing a try-out deal in 2007. Francis has not looked back since his rookie season, playing in 37 games and accumulating 147 penalty minutes. Francis embraces his role as the team’s enforcer, but he never knows when he will be called upon.
“I just go with it kind of,” said Francis. “I don’t think about it before the game, because I’ll know my time when it comes. I try to get the fans into it at home and protect my guys and do what I have to do.”
One of the more difficult things about Francis’ role is when he has to drop the gloves against his friends. Since lacrosse is a team sport, the enforcer’s role is to protect his teammates regardless of the circumstance. Francis has a lot of friends playing in his division, but when the whistle sounds, it’s business as usual for the Bandits forward.
“Actually I play with a lot of the guys, especially the ones in the East, all year pretty much,” Francis said with a smile. “It’s a job, so we keep it on the floor, and afterwards we’ll meet each other and shake hands, so it’ll be good. We all know it’s a business. That’s the way it is, and we all know our roles.”
While his role has mostly been to provide a physical presence, Francis has added another valuable asset to his game, and that’s his ability to win the draw.
The Bandits entered the 2011 season with the intent of improving on faceoffs. The first step the team took was bringing in faceoff specialist Jay Thorimbert, who came over along with defenseman Scott Self in a trade with the Minnesota Swarm. Despite acquiring an established faceoff specialist, Francis has emerged as the team’s top faceoff guy this season, which gives the team a lot of confidence and an advantage in every game.
“I take a lot of pride in winning faceoffs, because if your team has the ball the other team can’t score, so that gives me the opportunity to help my team win,” said Thorimbert. “I like taking face-offs, but it’s nice to see Brandon do so well this year because I don’t have to take every faceoff like I did in Boston and Minnesota. It’s nice to have another capable guy out there.”
The acquisition of Thorimbert has not only benefitted the team, it also has benefited Francis. Thorimbert has won 84 out of his 170 faceoffs, while Francis has dominated at the dot with 114 wins out of 184 faceoff attempts. The Bandits enforcer is proud of the job he has done for his team, but being the team player he is, Francis attributes his year on the dot to his teammate.
“It’s good to have support and have another guy to help take faceoffs,” Francis said of Thorimbert. “I learn off him and other guys in the league, which led me to where I am today.”
Francis’ faceoff ability has earned him a lineup spot in every game this season. As a result of the increased playing time, Francis (1-3-4) is currently having a career year offensively with four points in 15 games.
The bruiser also had a huge game in Buffalo’s game last Saturday when he scored a goal and added an assist while winning 13 out of 24 faceoffs. Although Francis had a big night, the team fell to the Boston Blazers by a score of 16-9 inside HSBC Arena. Near the end of the game, Francis was assessed 17 minutes in penalties as the result of an altercation he was involved in near the Blazers’ bench. Despite the incident, Francis’ all-around performance certainly opened the eyes of his Head Coach.
“He’s been doing great on faceoffs, and I’ve wanted him to do more pick and roll stuff,” said Kilgour. “He can expand his game tremendously, but he really has to want to be an offensive player. We may lose him for a game or two (as a result of the altercation he was involved in against Boston on Saturday), so we’re going to have to find out what kind of team we are without him.”
Despite the loss, Buffalo will get another crack at the Blazers in the first round of the NLL Playoffs. Buffalo won the season series 2-1, but Boston’s last win could have given the Blazers confidence rolling into the postseason. However, Francis feels the Bandits can advance past the first round if they can just focus on their game plan.
“It’s more of we’re going to bring our game and show them how it’s going to be, and when we see them in the playoffs, they’ll know that we set the tone for the postseason,” a confident Francis said.
When Francis isn’t beating up the opposing team in the faceoff circle or in a scrap, the Bandits enforcer is working every day almost five and a half hours away. Despite the distance, Francis enjoys his job and says the drive to Banditland is worth every mile.
“I live five and half hours away, so it’s a bit of a drive for me. During the week I do construction and odd-jobs like that because my boss is very lenient on letting me come down and play so it works out well,” said Francis. “I work with a lot of lacrosse fans, but seeing [Bandit fans] every weekend makes the drive less of a big deal.”
One of the things Francis gets most excited about is the reaction he gets from the crowd at HSBC Arena. Bandits P.A. announcer Chris Swenson introduces the enforcer as, “Brandon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Francis,” which is a reference to the 1981 movie Stripes, and the fans eat it up.
“The large cheer is something else, they’re the greatest fans in the world, and I just love them,” an excited Francis said. “I don’t even know where (Don’t call me Francis) came from, but I heard it came from a movie, although I have yet to see it.”