The Buffalo Bandits kick off the 2021-22 NLL season this Saturday night against the Calgary Roughnecks at 7:30 p.m. at KeyBank Center.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the game marks the first time the Bandits have been in action since March 8, 2020.
New Bandits forward Kyle Buchanan said it was tough to be sitting out for so long after the shortened season, but that the team can’t wait to get back out on the field for a real game.
“Being a veteran player in the league, you don’t want to lose years playing professional lacrosse,” Buchanan said. “The guys truly could not be more excited to be back out there together on the KeyBank Center floor for this season.”
Buffalo will have long-time forward Dhane Smith and defenseman Steve Priolo back for another season of Bandits lacrosse. Along with them, some newcomers include Justin Robinson, Jordan Stouros, Brad McCulley and first-round pick Tehoka Nanticoke.
The Bandits also traded for Buffalo native Connor Fields this past offseason. Fields, a 26-year-old from East Amherst will have a homecoming after being selected 10th overall by the San Diego Seals in the 2018 NLL draft.
Fields says he used to come to as many Bandit games as he could when he was younger.
“It’s definitely come full circle,” he said. “It’s been a goal of mine to play here during my career. It will be a dream to get to play in front of the best fans in the league every night.”
The Bandits’ last full season came in 2018-2019 when the team won the East Division with a 14-4 record and made it all the way to the NLL Finals, but came up short to Calgary.
Fourth-year Bandit forward Josh Byrne was asked about the 2019 NLL Finals matchup and the emotions heading into this week’s game.
“You tend to think about the championships that you lose more than the ones you win” he said. “But we’re really just focused on getting to the championship and winning one this year. This is just another game.”
There are currently 11 players on the 2021-22 roster who played during that 2019 Finals run, but the team believes this could be the year they “run it back.”
“The biggest strength of this team is depth. Eight legitimate guys who can play offense. We are 12 deep on defense and of course the best goaltender in the world to back us up,” general manager Steve Dietrich said.
“We can talk about all this depth and talent up front, but if you don’t have a good goaltender, it really doesn’t matter. If you have a great goaltender in this league, you have a chance to win every night.”
The seven-time NLL Goaltender of the Year award winner, Matt Vinc is now entering his 16th season in the NLL and third with Buffalo. After last winning the award in 2019, Vinc followed that up with a 7-4 record and a higher save percentage (.808%) than the previous year during the shortened season.
Buffalo’s last home game was back on February 29, 2020 before the season was canceled. That marks over 640 days since Buffalo fans have cheered the team on in Banditland. Rookies and newcomers alike have been eagerly waiting this day for a long time.
Buchanan, who previously spent time playing with the San Diego Seals and New England Black Wolves, remembers all the games when he would travel to KeyBank Center as an opponent.
“I loved Banditland as an opposing player,” he said. “We got tons of boos from thousands of fans, but those fuel you… Now I’m excited for them to finally be cheering for me.”
Byrne’s experience is something he can’t wait to share with the new rookies on the team this year.
“When I was a rookie and I ran out on the floor for the first time and heard 13,000 strong, I got chills,” he said. “I can’t wait for the rookies to experience that. There is truly nothing like Bandit fans, or Buffalo fans in general. They’re amazing.”
Faceoff is set for 7:30 p.m. The game will stream live on ESPN+. Fans can also listen to the radio call on 1520 AM.