The second half of the Bandits’ season starts Saturday night at home against Halifax. The team is one game back on the Thunderbirds in the North Division standings and down 1-0 in the regular-season series.
The game, as the two teams will attest, is more than standings, numbers, and individual performances. This contest, albeit fierce, is about the celebration of Tucker Williams’s life who, six years ago at the age of 8, lost his life to cancer.
Select players' Tucker Out Lymphoma Night shorts are up for auction!
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) February 25, 2020
Every player, coach, manager, and executive in the NLL was affected by Tucker’s valiant battle. His many heartfelt banners of “Braver Than Brave” and “Live More, Laugh More, Love More” resonated throughout the league during his fight of Burkitt Lymphoma. When Tucker lost that battle in December 2014, the entire lacrosse community was saddened but we’re committed to a crusade of awareness of pediatric cancer and celebration of Tucker’s life.
And here we prepare for the seventh Tucker Out Lymphoma Night, as established by Bandits senior director of lacrosse operations Scott Loffler and the Bandits. Since the first Tucker Out Lymphoma Night, a portion of proceeds from ticket sales, uniform auctions, Bald for Bucks, and lacrosse ball surprises, the celebrations have raised over $120,000.
— Matt Vinc (@Vno48) February 27, 2020
As originally designed by Tucker and his brother Dyson (who is now playing lacrosse at Duke, and designed this year’s issue), the two team’s uniforms will display their bold colors, but will carry the same nomadic crest of Tucker’s animated lacrosse player.
Common throughout each uniform is the lime green pinstripe and ribbon that signals the awareness and fight for pediatric cancer. And yes, these uniforms will be available for auction.
I didn’t know Tucker Williams that well. Oh, I high-fived him several times in the arena hallway back when his father Shawn was a Bandit. He was always scurrying around with a stick and ball, playing all sorts of games with other kids from the team.
The hoots and hollers.
It was always non-stop. Just like his dad, Tucker just loved to play lacrosse.
That fun and frivolity have since gone, only mere echoes of children running up and down the narrow hallway outside the Bandits dressing room. But it seems like only yesterday those antics were the main staple of morning shootarounds. Because of Tucker’s valiant fight, his undeniable spirit remains deep with everyone.
“Because family and friends are more important.” – Tucker Williams, November 2013.
🔸Lacrosse ball surprise
🔸Special ticket offer
— Buffalo Bandits (@NLLBandits) February 24, 2020
For a complete rundown of Tucker Out Lymphoma Night and tickets, click here.
The Bandits remaining nine
Look for that swagger. Get the mojo back. Next guy up attitude. Play with urgency. Find a way through it.
Flipping through the box of cliches, I am trying to find a fitting phrase for the Bandits as they enter a very critical stage of their schedule. Saturday’s game against the Thunderbirds is the start of a home and home encounter, and the tale of the tape for regular-season series.
And it doesn’t get any easier, including three games in a seven-night stretch (March 8 at Halifax, March 13 at Toronto and March 14 at home against New England).
Standing 6-3, tied with Toronto for second place in the North, fourth overall, and on a two-game losing streak, the Bandits are coming off a bye week, which has provided some much-needed mend time for the bumps and bruises.
“With all the injuries we have had and to some of our most crucial players, it has given some players a chance to play bigger roles and have done a great job,” Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich said. “Sitting at 6-3 isn’t ideal but we still control our own destiny and as we continue to hopefully get healthy, things will get better.”
I think all of those cliches mentioned above fit this team at the moment. I’ve said it several times over the years, but this club has the talent to dominate and remember the “unfinished business” theme that was prevalent at the start of this season.
Every team has injuries, and Toronto for example, with Tom Schreiber, Adam Jones, and Latrell Harris out of the line-up for an extended period of time, have rallied and found a way to win games. Even in their 9-8 loss last week to Halifax, I thought they were the better team. The challenge at hand, the Bandits need to follow suit.
And every team is getting better and better as the season progresses.
“I’m not really concerned about what other teams do, I just want us to get healthy and be able to put out our best lineup each week,” Dietrich said. “It is extremely difficult to play without your key guys. The tough part is when you start to lose multiple players that play the same position.
“Playing without both Nick (Weiss) and Steve (Priolo) and then Chase (Fraser) and Dhane (Smith) is difficult because with the limited roster sizes it is difficult to keep that many extra players around to fill the holes.”
It’s only fitting that the Bandits start the second half of the season against the best team currently in the NLL. And to rally as a team with the community of Banditland to celebrate the life of Tucker Williams.
Birds of Prey
What an impressive season so far for Mike Accursi’s Halifax Thunderbirds. Sitting on top of the loop with a 7-2 record, the Thunderbirds fly away from their nest for only the fourth road game of the season. And the team is clicking on all cylinders with former Bandit Ryan Benesch leading the team in scoring with 42 points, and goaltender Warren Hill playing out of his mind with a 7-1 record and .813 save percentage.
Defenseman Graeme Hossack, with his powerful physical presence and command of the floor, is fourth in defense/transition scoring (7+8). Backliner and faceoff expert Jake Whithers leads the league in draw wins with a 77 percent success rate, and capturing 109 loosies, second to Wings Trevor Baptiste. And then there is rookie Clarke Peterson, confidently finding his way around the floor with 12 goals and 15 assists, good for third in the rookie scoring race.
How to Catch the Broadcast
The North Division battle between the Bandits and Thunderbirds is the NLL Game of the Week, which is free on B/R Live, Twitter and Facebook. NLL Game Day coverage will begin at 7 p.m. Steve Bermel joins me in the booth, while Dave Buchanan reports between the benches.
The radio broadcast will be available on ESPN 1520 and our affiliate in Salamanca, WGWE 105.9 FM. The radio pregame show will start at 6:30 p.m. and feature Buchanan, Bermel, Bandits head coach John Tavares and forward Chris Cloutier.