Congratulations to the National Lacrosse League on opening their 34th season last week and also to the teams that competed.Now it’s the Bandits turn.
“Step back please, coming through. Sir, stand back, the Bandits are headed this way.”
Don’t forget, the Saturday home games start at 7 PM this season.
Finally, the countdown to the home opener this Saturday against San Diego has officially started. And with training camp in the books, this club definitely needs an opponent.
“We are done beating up on each other and we finished this weekend on a good note,” Bandits general manager and assistant coach Steve Dietrich said. “It would be nice to have Chase [Fraser available]. He’s the one guy we are going to miss, but it gives Dallas [Bridle] and Quinn [Powless] an opportunity to step up. We’ll go with what we’ve got so far but continue to monitor what might become available and go from there. The guys are jacked and we know we are ready to go.”
A Room with a View
Too, there’s no better way to evaluate this team than between the pipes with seven-time Goaltender of the Year, Matt Vinc.
“I like our group. I like our effort. Our focus is on finishing what we started last year,” Vinc said. “I don’t think anybody was satisfied with the result, just being in first place in the East. I think some of our guys have grown as players and realized we weren’t hot at the right time. That Calgary team got on a roll and it was tough.
“I’m looking forward to shoring up a couple of things that we weren’t able to accomplish, and hopefully we can get back to that point. Hopefully, the guys got a lot of reps during the summer, everybody is a year older, and we are able to play the same way, but fine-tune a couple of things going forward. Our coaching staff has done a fine job addressing some of our needs with the X’s and O’s and that’s going to pay off.”
Should I Have a Radar Gun?
For most of the training camp and preseason games, I sat in the stands watching the players and their maneuvers, be it drills or game-type situations. I marveled at their ability to move the ball and shoot at mid-season pace. I write that every season, but I really see it this year. On the floor, Vinc, with his 14 seasons of experience, has noticed a change, too.
“I think our athleticism is one of the things you see right away. Especially in the last preseason game against New England,” he said. “We had a lot of guys getting transition opportunities, witness Ian MacKay with a couple of goals. And we were really pushing the ball well, and our offense was very unselfish. and that is what you want to see.
“Offensively, we want to swing the ball and get a lot of looks. Defensively, we did a great job giving me a lot of alleys and lanes in order to see the ball, giving me an opportunity to make a save.”
Goin’ Faster than a Roller Coaster
The game is so fast as the players continue to hone their skills, shaping the game to where the younger players are making an immediate impact.
“It seems like everybody is a little bit better every single year. Rookies are coming in ready to play, stepping in and being contributors,” Vinc said. “In one sense, it’s exciting because I’ve been a part of the league for a long time and I’ve seen it grow since my rookie year in 2006.
“I am excited to see where it’s going to go. It’s great to see some of the athletes that come in here that we’ve drafted and now a part of our team and contribute right away.”
The Boss on the Factory Floor
Even Dietrich, now spending time on the floor and behind the bench, sees the changes.
“You get to notice how skillful these guys are; how fast the game is; how well they make decisions a lot quicker. It’s a different game down here that up in the press box,” he said. “We lost some important pieces but kept the core of our team together. We were a real tight-knit team last year. All of the new guys that have come in have bonded with them really well.
“The offense has looked good. I think Rusty [Kruger] has done a good job with that group. Josh Byrne looks fantastic. Chris Cloutier looks in better shape than he was last year, and has more confidence going. Guys like that, along with Dhane and Small, are going to have to lead us going forward, until we get the depth on the right side straightened out, and when Chase gets back and we can get going here in full gear.”
Air Byrne is Back
Byrne, entering his third season with the Bandits, has shown some amazing moves during camp and preseason games. Bothered by a knee injury last year that kept him out of nine games, the 6-foot-3, 207-pound lefty will complement the lightning-fast Bandit attack.
“I feel healthy, I’ve been taking care of my body a lot better and the big thing for me is my diet,” Byrne said. “I was really struggling with that brace on, so to be able to get that off and strengthen my legs again, I feel really good – way better, like night and day, it’s amazing.”
Department of Defense
Defensively, the Bandits have 12 players to choose from when assembling their game-night lineup. Steve Priolo, the team’s captain, leads the way and is stoked to have a couple of new players in Brett Noseworthy and Marcus Minichiello join the crew.
All of the trusted veterans return including Kevin Brownell, Matt Gilray, Ian MacKay, Nick Weiss, Mitch de Snoo, Jon Harnett, Justin Martin, Matt Spanger, and Bryce Sweeting.
“Obviously we had a really close team but most of the heart of our team is here. We’ve had some team bonding and we’re going to have fun,” Byrne noted.
San Diego makes its first-ever visit to KeyBank Center Saturday night. Finishing 10-8 on their inaugural season, and giving Calgary and run for their money in the NLL Playoffs, the Seals have returned their offense, which includes the acquisition of forwards Wes Berg, Zack Greer, and Jeremy Noble. Rookie of the Year, Austin Staats, who scored 32 goals last season, is still recovering from knee surgery.
Interesting to see how the Bandits prepare for this new trio of talented forwards.
“That’s what’s tough because you don’t get a lot of video on them as that group yet, so you’re almost going in blind, or what you think you’re going to see, which is the tough thing,” Dietrich said. “Greer is a great lefty, Noble is a great righty, and Berg obviously is a great righty. They have the makings of a tremendous offense. Hopefully, they can start to jell one week after Saturday night.
“They are a good team and well-coached by Patrick Merrill, Billy Greer, Josh Sanderson. Those guys do a great job (last season). Good goaltending, good defense, good offense. They are going to be prepared.”
And Vinc concurs.
“Yes, they’ve made changes, but they have a lot of household names. They brought in Greer, he’s won at every single level. Wes Berg and Jeremy Noble are guys who we are not unfamiliar with,” he said. “I play a lot against them in the summertime. It is tough to prepare for them when you haven’t seen them all play together, so it will be an interesting test for sure.”
Connor Fields, who’s from Amherst and another first-round choice last season, should be in full stride this season. Nifty goal scorer Kyle Buchanan, 28 goals and 67 points, compliments the roster. Veterans Brodie Merrill and Mike Carnegie bring a ton of experience, as does netminder Frank Scigliano.
One thing for sure, Banditland will be ready.
“Yeah, I know the audience is going to be ready to go. We have the best fans in the league in Banditland. We are going against a team that surprised a lot of people last season,” Vinc said. “Knowing their talent level, we are going to have a tough test. They are just as eager to play game one as we are, and hopefully, we come out in the first five minutes and show that we are ready to play.”
Our broadcast coverage on B/R Live this season will start at 6:30 p.m. with the NLL Gameday Live pregame show starting at 7 pm. Randy Mearns will join me in the booth for our 17th season together. Dave Buchanan will have reports between the benches.
You can subscribe to B/R Live by the game, month, or season. Go to BRLive.com to sign up.
Radio coverage, too, will start at 6:30 p.m. with our half-hour pregame show on ESPN 1520 AM and our affiliate in Salamanca, WGWE 105.9 FM. We will have more with Dietrich and Vinc 1-on-1. We’ll catch up with the Merrill and Berg of the Seals, too.