So, we may say another season. May say goodbye and find the reason. But love decides how things must be. And love is stronger far than we. (As sung by Ester Satterfield – give a listen to ease your pain.)
Throughout seven-and-a-half long months of tough competition, the Bandits dominated play in the NLL. They put win streaks together of six and seven respectfully, and finished the regular season 14-4.
Even during the long postseason, the club ignited a four-game win streak and the drive for five was looking to be a reality. However, something changed during the sweltering heat and searing sun in Colorado two weeks ago that affected the club’s play: There was a team better than them.
This week, this month, and the rest of the summer of ’22, the team will look for a reason.
How did this team, who averaged a league-high 14 goals per game during the season come up so flat in the postseason? Five players with 30+ goals, seven players with 50+ points, so much gifted talent.
And yet the NLL Cup is being flown to Colorado to relish in the hands of players and fans.
What happened? How did things go so wrong? Where was the legacy game the top players were to have?
I’ve never played the game, so it’s not fair for me to go deep, though I’ve thrust from the armchair-as we all have.
But Randy Mearns, my broadcast partner for the last 18 seasons, does. He’s been there as a player and head coach.
“You’re still kind of stunned. Buffalo had a great run this year, but kudos to Colorado’s Pat Coyle, his coaching staff, and their players. They had grit and played better through the year,” noted Mearns, named MAAC coach of the year this past season with the St. Bonaventure University men’s program.
“They made some trades. They became tighter as a group and continued to build depth; even when their two top players were out, Zed Williams got the opportunity to be the catalyst and such a matchup problem. Colorado stayed focused and stuck to its game plan. They gave themselves a chance, and they were not surprised.”
Bandits head coach John Tavares, with the organization for 30 years, knows. His defense played so strong, shutting Colorado down in the third quarter. Matt Vinc came up with some great saves in the second half, too. But..
“We ran into a hot team, but I’ve got to give credit to our guys too. We played hard all year, and they never quit, playing to the end,” said Tavares.
“We tried to penetrate and get through, and at times we did a good job of it. We had our opportunities, and I did see a lot more heart, more desire, and physicality, but we just didn’t have the ball drop in for us.”
Nick Weiss had a nice drop, but it was called back because his front toe was a feather-inch on crease line. Connor Fields filed plea with what appeared to hit inside twine of the Colorado net in the closing minutes of the third, but not the case.
But honestly, this group of Bandit players has such a deep love for each other in camaraderie, respect, and praise. They are all one. And they lost as one.
Love is stronger far than we.
Foremost, though, is the love for the fans of Banditland. To the core who followed the club at home and on the road. And those who came under duress at the end of the pandemic era. And the ones who came all together, filling 19,060 seats, verifying this beautiful community’s population – and more. Indeed, they are the best fans in sport.
“I just want to start by sending a thank you to Banditland. The atmosphere on Saturday night was nothing short of awe-inspiring,” said Bandits GM Steve Dietrich.
“Although we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal, we can’t let that take away from some of the continued growth this team showed… We are going to keep driving to get better and keep banging on the door and eventually, we will barge right through and bring the cup home.”
God, it was a great season. And to a Bandit player, they will jump right back into the game, be it field or summer box. They will find a way to improve and understand what it takes.
“I was happy for the guys to play in front of a sold-out crowd. It’s unfortunate we couldn’t have pulled through for them and for ourselves. They are literally the best fans in the league,” said Tavares.
The Bandits offseason starts right away with their tendering of the protected roster list on June 23rd for the Las Vegas Desert Dogs expansion draft, which takes place on July 7.
Protected roster options are five forwards, five defensemen, and one goaltender. Or you can go seven forwards, five defensemen, and one goaltender. And there are other options, but I’ll stop at upper case A and lower case a. The Bandits can only lose one player, and the Desert Dogs will select 14 players from around the loop.
League-wise, the search continues for a commissioner and support staff. I understand that it is going quite well with some very impressive candidates.
In addition, the ownership committee continues to move forward on a new collective bargaining agreement with the National Lacrosse League Players Association, the union representing the players.
Before you know it, the 2022-23 NLL season will be upon us, with a schedule to be released by the end of September. I hope the schedule will be limited to bye weeks, and the playoffs are played in a shorter period, ending in late May.
And there is no way to disagree. Love is stronger far than we.
Thank you to all who followed us on the radio and ESPN+. I appreciate the opportunity to do the Bandits play-by-play and work with Randy, Steve Bermel, and Dave Buchanan; nothing but friendship and respect.
Behind the scenes, Tom Matte, chief engineer with Audacy, again did a fantastic job setting up technical requirements for the home and away broadcasts. Such dedication, and yes, deep friendship. Thanks also to radio producers Franklin Heinzman and Lucas Buckley; and producer for the TV broadcast David Tasca.
Scott “Fleets” Fleetwood, who has battled health issues and a lung transplant over the years, has been with us for every home game, providing quick stats and notes. You, you’re good!
To the Sabres/Bandits vice president of media and content, Chrisanne Bellas and her staff, Kevin Carr and Alan Davis, program directors with Audacy, thank you.
Lastly, through thick and thin, Scott Loffler and Dan Ristine are the backbones of it all, thank you.
Oddly, I’m back in Colorado, working for the summer in the mountains at Three Rivers Resort. Still, I will wear my Bandit colors proudly.
Good summer to all!