Ah, the start of Bandits training camp is like the first day back at school. The approaching glaring smiles were followed by a handshake and a one-pat hug. The opening salutations of “Great to see you” and “How are things” with true friendship and family togetherness intent.
And they stand with such confidence and fever, knowing they are National Lacrosse League champions.
It’s Good to be King
No doubt, camp started this season with an extra skip in the players’ gaits, beginning with the first set of rudimentary skills, which included swinging and shooting the ball on the goalies in endless dashes up and down the turf.
Gosh, it was great to be back with the Bandits players, coaches, and staff in preparation for the 2023-2024 season. I had the best seat in the house, watching the drills, four-on-fours, and five-on-fives from center into the attack zone.
Oh, and the sprints, forwards, and backward up and down the field made me feel maybe I should be out there to shed some pounds after a summer of celebrating. One thing is for sure: every player in camp came fit and ready to go.
I marvel at how well the players jump right in for the first time together since June and start with precision passing and shooting. And the uncanny sense of knowing where everyone is on the turf while a defender is all over you every step of the way.
Preseason Game #1
That combination carried over Sunday morning back on the KeyBank Center turf with their preseason game against the Vegas Desert Dogs, which concluded with the same winning score as June 3, 13 to 4!
Everything looked pretty good, with Chris Cloutier, Chase Fraser, Josh Byrne, and Tehoka Nanticoke scoring beauties. Ian MacKay found the net, as did defenseman Justin Martin with a shorty.
“I was definitely happy with the outcome. I thought the defense looked ahead of schedule. I thought the young guys fit in well. Up front, the offense played well; they did a good job getting back,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares.
And if there’s one way to get noticed in the pack of 30-plus players, it’s to score multiple goals. Christian Watts, the Bandits’ fifth-round choice of 2022, did just that with a hat trick.
The East Aurora, New York native picked up where he left off after setting a league record of 115 points playing with the Rapids of the Upstate Collegiate Box Lacrosse League for two seasons. The 6’4” 195-pounder fit right in.
“I’ve really never seen him play at this level. He has a nice stick, scored some nice goals, and has a good quick stick, too. I think he was a pleasant surprise,” said Tavares.
“It’s nice to see a kid from Buffalo [East Aurora] get three goals in an exhibition game. I liked him in Saturday night’s practice as I was impressed with his stick skills and his shot.”
Between the Pipes
Bandits goaltending coach Anthony Cosmo was busy working with the Bandits’ four goaltenders in camp, including Matt Vinc, Devlin Shanahan, Steve Orleman, and Evan Constantopoulos.
Generally, the former 17-year all-pro Cosmo works one-on-one with Vinc and Shanahan, but this camp, he has his own sessions with the four together, and they all have different styles.
“One thing I think all four can work on is staying the shape of the net,” said Cosmo. “Some of the guys drop their arms early, some keep their arms too high, it’s just a matter of keeping the shape of the net, making sure those top corners are taken away, and then how they move their feet.
“We have Matt Vinc, who is the best goalie in the world, and with his knowledge and my knowledge, we are trying to make them the best they can be with their own technique.”
The National Lacrosse League this week announced the launch of a new and exciting initiative titled NLL UnBOXed, which is a grassroots platform designed to bring the league’s fast-paced game to more young boys and girls in more communities in the US and Canada.
One of the greats of the game and NLL Hall of Fame member, Casey Powell, will be involved starting in 2024 with his NLL UnBOXed at School, a lacrosse physical education program based on his successful SPEED Lacrosse platform, which includes equipment endowment, sticks, balls, and goal nets.
“I myself was introduced to lacrosse in my gym class, and SPEED Lacrosse offers the perfect format to sample the game, play it at its fundamental level, and accelerate the NLL grassroots initiative,” said Powell, a four-time All-American at Syracuse and played 11 seasons in the NLL. Powell was the first American-born player named the NLL’s MVP in 2010 and was the MLL’s MVP in 2014 at age 38.
Sunday, November 12, the Bandits play Rochester in preseason game number two. Again, sorry, it’s closed to the public. That won’t be the case, however, when they open their title-defending season on December 16 at KeyBank Center!