The NLL is facing unprecedented times due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. While we have a break in the action, Bandits.com chatted with transition player Matt Gilray to talk about how his time at Bucknell University helped him grow as a player, what it’s like playing in the “most electric” place in the NLL and more.
Bandits.com: When did you start playing lacrosse?
Matt Gilray: I started playing lacrosse when I was three years old. My older brother was playing so I was just following along with him.
Bandits.com: What was the first team you played on?
Gilray: I played in Whitby when I first started then moved over to Clarington later on in minor.
Bandits.com: Did any of your childhood teammates go on to play professional lacrosse?
Gilray: I’ve had a couple good friends that I played with growing up that ended up playing pro lacrosse: Austin Shanks on Halifax and Dan Michel on Rochester.
Bandits.com: Did you play any other sports growing up?
Gilray: I played hockey up until my senior year in high school. During my junior year I hurt my shoulder and needed surgery, so I decided that it was time to hang up the skates to avoid risking injury going into my senior year.
Bandits.com: If you weren’t playing professional lacrosse, what other sport would you want to play pro?
Gilray: If I could go pro in any sport, I would have to pick golf. I golf a lot still, but I’m not very good at it. If I were a professional, I would be able to hit the shots I currently think I can in my head and it would be a lot less frustrating of a game.
Bandits.com: Did you attend any NLL games growing up?
Gilray: Growing up, I only ever went to Toronto games, with the Rock being so close to home, but we don’t like to talk about that now.
Bandits.com: Why did you decide to attend Bucknell University?
Gilray: I loved Bucknell when I visited. The coaches were awesome and were very interested in me. The team was ranked in the Top 20 every year at the time and were the top team that had offered me a spot. I didn’t find out until after I committed there that it was a good academic school, so I had to get the grades up.
Bandits.com: How did your time at Bucknell prepare you for the NLL?
Gilray: Learning how to deal with the highs and lows of lacrosse and how to set my mind on a goal and go after it. Playing at Bucknell made me a tougher player.
We considered ourselves to be a blue collar program. We practiced outside everyday — even in freezing temperatures — and we tried to bring all our energy to every lacrosse event and be as competitive as possible every time we touched the field.
Bandits.com: What was your reaction when you were drafted by the Bandits?
Gilray: I was extremely excited to be drafted by the Bandits. I knew a bunch of guys that were on the team from playing with them in the summer and they had nothing but the best of things to say about Buffalo. From the training staff and coaches to the fans, Buffalo is second to none and knowing that going in made me really excited.
Bandits.com: How would you describe yourself as a player?
Gilray: I think that I am defensive player first. I have always pushed transition and have worked hard to improve that part of my game this past season, but I take a lot of pride in being a good defender.
Bandits.com: What is it like playing for John Tavares?
Gilray: Not many players are lucky enough to be able to be coached by the best to ever do it. JT is a class act all the way around.
The guy really cares about his players. He knows how to relate to his players and get the best out of them. His IQ for the game can’t be questioned, but how he treats and cares for his players sets him apart from the crowd.
Bandits.com: How would you describe the culture with the Bandits and in Buffalo?
Gilray: We are a very close-knit team all the way around. Each guy would go to war for the guy beside him and I think that shows. We are also a fun group who get along well off the floor as well.
Bandits.com: What kind of teammate are you?
Gilray: I like to think I’m easy to get along with, but you may want to fact check that. [Laughs] I’m a very easygoing guy and like to joke around a lot.
Bandits.com: What are the challenges of being away from the team right now?
Gilray: Just not being able to play and hit the floor with the boys. Getting together with the team and playing is the best part of every week during the season.
Bandits.com: What are you most looking forward to when it comes to reuniting with the team?
Gilray: Being able to compete for a championship for the best fans in the league.
Bandits.com: How would you describe Bandits fans?
Gilray: Bandits fans are the best in the league, no doubt. No other place in the NLL has the support that we do.
Bandits.com: What’s your favorite memory from Banditland?
Gilray: Winning the conference finals last season.
Bandits.com: How would you describe the atmosphere in Banditland?
Gilray: There’s a reason that other teams hate playing in Buffalo and everyone who plays in Buffalo loves it: Banditland is most electric place in the NLL.
Bandits.com: What is the best part of being a Bandit?
Gilray: Getting to live and play in Buffalo. Being able to go out on meet the fans daily has been great. I’ve loved every minute of being a Bandit and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Bandits.com: What are you binging right now?
Gilray: I think I’ve watched almost everything there is to watch on Netflix, but I’m currently watching “Vikings” and the MJ doc (“The Last Dance”) along with everyone else.
Bandits.com: What’s your go-to quarantine snack?
Gilray: There’s nothing better than making some nachos as a late-night snack.
Bandits.com: Have you been cooking a lot?
Gilray: I’m at my parents’ house right now so I’ve been enjoying some of their cooking and I’m not complaining.
Bandits.com: Have you picked up any new hobbies in quarantine?
Gilray: I’ve been working a lot with my dog Keeva and training her as best as I can.