News | 12/27/2013 8:00:00 AM | Alex Pagliano
The 2014 NLL season commences on Saturday, as the Buffalo Bandits host the Philadelphia Wings at First Niagara Center at 7:30 p.m. After four weeks of an intense camp, the Bandits appear ready to start the season.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity,” Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. “Being the only team not to make the postseason last season, [the players] want to redeem themselves.”
The Bandits and Wings scrimmaged twice over the duration of camp. On Dec. 7, Shawn Williams scored the game-winning goal with 1:20 remaining in regulation to propel the Bandits to a 12-11 victory. A day later, the Bandits defeated the Wings 16-10.
“We had a look at them for two games,” Cordingley said. “We worked on some things that we saw from them [during the scrimmages] at our last practice. [The Wings] obtained some players new to the league this season, but [the players] looked good during [our] scrimmage. We have our work cut out for us.”
A group of new faces joined the Buffalo dressing room this season. The team made moves to acquire Ryan Benesch, Rory Smith and Andrew Watt in July. They also acquired Joe Resetarits at the 2013 NLL Draft. Outside of acquisitions, Kevin Brownell made the active roster after seven games with the team last year.
The Wings scored a league-worst 170 goals last season. Over the summer, the team made several moves to address the shortcoming.
The Wings promoted assistant coach Blaine Harrison to head coach. Harrison, who enters his first season as an NLL head coach, spent the previous two seasons as the team’s offensive and defensive coordinator.
“[The Bandits] are going to be a test for us,” Harrison said. “They are a different team from last year. Their defense is going to be big, strong and tough. They’re also going to protect the middle [of the floor]. We’re going to have to match that kind of work to have success on offense.”
From a roster standpoint, the Wings acquired forward Ryan Ward from Edmonton. Ward posted 75 points last season (21+54). The team also reached an agreement with forward Tracy Kelusky. Kelusky, a former Bandit, has scored 776 points in 13 NLL seasons (361+415).
Goaltender Don Alton, a fourth-round selection in 2013, made the Wings 20-man roster. The team added Brian Megill, John Ranagan, Michael Poppleton, and Garrett Thul through free agency as well.
Acquired from Minnesota in September, Evan Kirk is expected to start between the pipes for the Wings. The Hobart College graduate went 4-4 last season with a 9.81 GAA. Alton serves as the team’s backup.
Philadelphia’s roster for Saturday, however, excludes key contributors from last season. Paul Rabil, Kyle Hartzell and Brendan Mundorf remain affiliated with the team, but are not listed on the team roster and are not expected to play against the Bandits. The trio combined for 71 points (29+42) last season.
Harrison has prepared for this scenario.
“Everybody has their own personal issue,” he said. “Whether that happens to be a work-related issue or a business-related issue […], [the decisions] all kind of happened all at once, individually.”
The teams will also meet on Jan. 12 in Philadelphia and back in Buffalo on Feb. 15.