Read nothing into the loss as head coach John Tavares and his coaching staff continue to shuffle the roster in real time. Buffalo has three preseason games scheduled.
“I am trying to pick a team and trying to give the young guys an opportunity where I think they can fit,” Tavares said. “At the same time, I am also trying to prepare for our first game. There is not a lot of time we can get together and do all of this, so it’s a tough juggling act.”
The 21-man roster and four practice player slots must be decided and submitted to the league office Monday, November 25 at 3 p.m. The first game of the season is scheduled for December 7 at home against San Diego. (TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW.)
Some Twists and Turns
Following a tough practice last Thursday night on the turf of the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena, the team regrouped at the same venue Saturday night for the preseason tilt against the Swarm.
Tavares took advantage of the game format, which included NLL referees, to deal a roster from the 28-man deck with a sampling of high-powered offensive players, new defensive alignment pairings, and shuffling goalies.
“From the more experienced guys, I liked what Josh Byrne brought to the table, both offensively and defensively. I thought Chris Cloutier was taking the ball to the net. I think he is in better shape and it really shows. I thought Vinc played well, too,” Tavares said.
Dhane Smith and Josh Byrne were outstanding in the first half of the game. Their speed and moves brought the tempo of the Bandits attack up a notch and everybody followed. Byrne scored two goals and Smith added one, which gave the Bandits a 5-4 lead after the first quarter. Cloutier played the entire game up front and looked solid, scoring three goals.
“I felt pretty good out there and we are starting to catch our stride with a lot of new faces, trying to work guys in,” Cloutier said. “For the most part we are starting to click on some of our set plays.
“It really helped to have Smith and Byrne on offense in the first half. They really know how to control the offense, moving the ball around, helping guys get to where they need to be.”
Up in the Perch
I was afforded the opportunity to sit next to Tavares and assistant general manager Troy Cordingley up in the ILA press box, as GM and assistant coach Steve Dietrich and offensive coordinator Rusty Kruger ran the bench.
It was interesting to hear the constant evaluations of the Bandit personnel by Tavares and Cordingley. It was an on-going narrative of game-type situations, their reactions, frustrations, and the attentiveness to the fast-moving pace of the contest. I did everything I could do to listen and keep the score at the same time.
Well, Why Not
The second half of the preseason game against Georgia was even more interesting. Tavares and staff were sampling an out-of-the-ordinary lineup featuring offensive players on defense and vice versa, which included rookie Brett Noseworthy playing forward.
“I was looking more at the new guys. I thought Noseworthy did a really good job, creating second and third opportunities on offense,” Tavares said. “I thought Emeka Okaema was quiet on defense, meaning he didn’t make many mistakes.”
Noseworthy, the Bandits first-round draft choice this past September played quite well at both ends, and his physical presence at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, was indeed noticeable. The defenseman/transition player is no stranger to goal scoring. The former captain of the Michigan Wolverines left the program as their all-time leading goal scorer with 102 goals in 45 games.
“He’s great. He’s a big body and he knows how to bang,” Cloutier said. “He’s got a good IQ and he’s just getting his feet wet. I think he’s going to turn out to be a great player”
A Running Start
Byrne and Smith played defense in the second half, primarily to establish a transition scheme. The two were also paired on the penalty-killing unit.
“As you saw, the second half of Saturday’s game had a lot of different people, including new players playing, and like I said, Josh and Dhane playing on defense,” Tavares said. “It was just a little bit of an experiment, more to see if we can have a transition game.
“I think the easiest way to score in lacrosse is the transition. They are two of my best athletes, so I figured to see if we can create more opportunities from the defensive end.”
Here are some tidbits from Saturday’s preseason game against Georgia. Goaltender Matt Vinc played the entire first half. Rookie goaltender Joel Watson played the third quarter and sophomore Devlin Shanahan played the fourth.
Goal scorers in the game included Cloutier with three, Josh Byrne, Quinn Powless, Dallas Bridle with two, Ian MacKay, Smith, Kevin Brownell, and Cam Milligan, each with one.
With the new alignment, the Bandits will play Georgia only once this season – on Jan. 11 down in Atlanta.
Back and Forth
Bandits camp continued this week with a practice session Wednesday inside the TRAC in Oakville, Ontario. The team moves to Rochester this weekend for a practice and a preseason game Saturday afternoon against New England. The game is closed to the public.