It’s a game week!
The Bandits jump right back into the NLL competition with a game this Saturday night in Georgia against the Swarm.
It’s time to buy in and get going.
And it’s time to go deep into the core and find this team’s identity.
Not the team last year that went 14-4 with the league’s most explosive offense and the stingiest defense backed by the Goaltender of the Year last season. No, none of the above.
Who is this year’s team? Let’s explore and define.
Oh Captain, My Captain
And I begin with the team’s heart and soul, the captain Steve Priolo.
As the longest-tenured draftee of the Bandits (selected 21st overall in the 2009 NLL Draft), Priolo embarks on his 11th season as the most consistent defenseman in the league. Yes, he has been a bridesmaid six times as the runner-up for Defenseman of the Year honors, and, yes, he is one of the fiercest competitors out on the turf, but it’s the burning desire to share his undeniable passion and knowledge of the game with each and every teammate. He wants them to be better.
Priolo absolutely loves this game. He’s a leader with empathy, and, humbled to the bone. But God forbid you cross him up or take advantage of those he serves; you’ll pay a physical price that won’t be forgotten.
Did the team miss Priolo in their 15-10 loss to Halifax? Yes. And he missed them even more. This was the first time in 138 consecutive games (seven regular seasons and playoff games) that the 6-foot-5, 227-pound captain was held from playing because of injury. And it hurt.
“It’s crazy that I haven’t missed a game in 7 seasons. It’s something you don’t think about until somebody says something. It’s hard missing games, and not being out there battling with my teammates. It never feels right,” Priolo said. “Watching a game like our last one against Halifax is hard because I don’t get to be out there with them, going through that adversity. But not playing was best for my health and to be ready for the rest of the year.”
Being outscored 11-2, including a nine-goal run, is painful enough to watch, but from Priolo’s perspective, it was good to take a look at the game from the stands.
“I had a chance to see the whole floor and watch the plays develop, something you don’t get from re-watching the game on video,” he said. “A loss like that is not the end of the world, in fact, it could be the beginning of a great season.
“This is a wake-up call for us because you need to show up every night in this league or your ass will be handed to you on a platter. One thing that surprises me at this level, there are no nights off, no-load management, and no shifts off. Even when the score is out of reach, guys keep grinding. It’s just in our nature. We are not getting paid millions to play; we play because we love it.”
The intelligence of this year’s team focuses on drawing out the positives as to what went right and then come to a conclusion through a constructive debate of what went wrong. From there, they look at the next opponent to figure out what they might do in similar tactics to win the battles – and then, as a group, look for weaknesses in their game. This is an ongoing narrative all week in group chats, practice, and video sessions.
“I really enjoy having a bunch of different looks and options, on offense and defense, and being able to counter anything the opponent throws at us,” Priolo noted.
With the youthful mix of new players and those who have been with the club through the highs and lows, these group efforts have made the team stronger.
“I believe we got better this year. This may surprise you because we lost four key guys for this season,” Priolo said. “Up front, with the return of Chase Fraser and adding Quinn Powless, we are filling those spots that need filling. We added some more young guys in Brent Noseworthy and Marcus Minichiello who keep pushing us to fight and stay in the lineup. There are no guarantees.
“With the young talent and depth on defense, we are setting ourselves up nicely to get better and better.”
This year’s team has the experience to overcome defeat as the memory of last spring remains fresh. Even with the young players aboard, this group is aging nicely with attention to detail and employing a total team effort.
Deep in tradition, the team’s foundation of identity will always carry the chant: “We are the Bandits. The mighty, mighty Bandits.”
The captain will see to that.
Saturday night in Georgia will see the Bandits pitted up against a talented Swarm bunch with the likes of Miles and Lyle Thompson, Shayne Jackson, Randy Staats, and the league-leading netminder, in his 15th season, Mike Poulin.
Too, the roster has been reinvigorated with veterans Joel White and the underrated Jordan Hall. These two combined can create a lot of havoc. Too, Zed Williams, Jason Noble, and Brayan Cole can be a hassle on the floor.
Well-coached by 19-year veteran Ed Comeau, the Swarm and their group of first rounders from over the years are a threat from every inch of the floor. The club stands 2-1 on the season, coming off a 13-11 loss to Colorado back on December 28. This is the only meeting of the season between these two clubs.
This road game might come at the perfect time for the Bandits, who need to be tested in every discipline.
On the Airwaves
Radio coverage of Saturday night’s game will be on ESPN 1520 AM and our affiliate in Salamanca, WGWE 105.9 FM. B/R Live will carry the game with Mark Zinno and Drew Petkoff on the call.
Both pregame shows will start at 6:30 p.m.
On the radio pregame show, I’ll go one-on-one with Bandits head coach John Tavares and up front with Dhane Smith. We’ll also hear from Swarm head coach Ed Comeau and veteran player Jordan Hall.
To connect with B/R Live, you can purchase the game separately, by the month, or the remainder of the season.