Week three of the Bandits training camp ended on a positive note with an 11-5 preseason victory over the Saskatchewan Rush inside the Toronto Rock Athletic Ceneter in Oakville, Ontario.
The Bandits roster consisted of a band of veterans, including Dhane Smith, Steve Priolo, Matt Vinc, Josh Byrne, Chris Cloutier, and newcomers Kyle Buchanan and Connor Fields. Also, Nick Weiss, Justin Martin, Bryce Sweeting, and Ethan O’Connor added the depth, which helped the other hopefuls looking for a spot on the roster.
Considering the squad assembled by the Rush, which consisted of only a trio of regulars led by Mark Matthews, who scored three of the five Rush goals, the Bandits needed the fresh opposing faces to run the floor and work on fine-tuning all aspects of their game. And the orange and black looked impressive.
“I was happy overall,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares. “Offensively we got off to a good start but we weren’t shooting the ball very well and then, with time, we started to capitalize on opportunities. Defensively, we looked pretty solid, giving up only five goals, on mostly power plays.”
And what about some of the new faces in camp, which include Tehoka Nanticoke, Kyle Buchanan, Tye Argent, and Connor Fields?
“All of them played very well,” noted Tavares. “Tehoka didn’t get any goals but he hit four posts/crossbars. The ball didn’t go in for him, but that will come in time. I thought Buchanan, very high IQ, got loose balls, got open, set picks, and resets; he is going to add a lot to our team.
“And I think Tye Argent, while he didn’t show much on the score sheet, he worked hard, was great on the loose balls, and he created a lot of energy for us.
“I like how Connor is trying to find where he belongs on the offense. As the game progressed, he found a little niche and got underneath a couple of times, scored some goals, had good shots, and ran back on defense.”
HOW ABOUT THE HOMETOWN KID
Focusing further on Connor Fields, he grew up in East Amherst, played his high school ball at Bishop-Timon St. Jude, had a stellar four-year career at the University of Albany, and even earned a 2020 Rookie of the Year finalist nod with San Diego. For him, coming home to play for the Bandits is a dream come true.
“I grew up a fan and went to all the games that I could. It would be so cool to wear the colors and logo on the jersey,” said Fields who the Bandits traded for with San Diego right before the start of the 2021 NLL Entry Draft. “I was a huge fan, and hopefully I’ll bring it full circle.”
Having earned All-American status during his four years playing at the University of Albany, including American East Rookie of the Year and many other accolades, Fields went on to become the second all-time leading scorer for the Great Danes. He was selected in the first round of the 2018 NLL Entry Draft by San Diego and made an immediate impact on his rookie season by scoring 18 goals and 44 points in only 12 games, which was cut short due to the pandemic. The crafty forward was also a member of the NLL’s All-Rookie Team.
And yet, he brings a sense of humility to the Bandits, saying “I’m still trying out. If I make the team, that will be great.” Fields know he’s joining a talented group of offensive players and reverts to his gifted abilities in an effort to blend in.
“It’s already a great offense, I’m just trying fit in any way I can,” said Fields. “I’m really trying to work on moving my feet, on and off the ball, causing some chaos with the defense. That’s my goal, to use my feet to get myself and others open.”
“I think we’re all trying to get back into game shape again, getting our legs under us but also getting used to playing with each other. I think it will be a lot of competing and a lot of fun out there.”
Rest assured, Connor, I think the Bandits will make room for a player of your talents.
SPEAKING OF GAME SHAPE, THERE’S STILL WORK TO BE DONE
Nagging muscle pulls and strains have played havoc with the Bandits training camp roster. And while every player reported in top physical shape, being away from box lacrosse action of sprinting, pivoting, cutting, and moving in awkward positions has forced a larger than normal group to the sidelines.
“Having almost two years off is probably why they are tweaking quads, calves, and hamstrings. I’ve never had so many guys hurt, ever.” said Tavares. “I think what’s happened is they haven’t run (in the form of) sprinting, planting, and change of direction.”
Bandits head athletic trainer Ryan Rajk echoes Tavares’s thoughts.
“I believe we are seeing muscle strains and muscle damage at a higher rate this year due to these athletes not playing professional indoor lacrosse in over 18 months,” said Rajk. “I can’t guarantee this is happening to other teams in the league but I would be very, very shocked if they were not.”
Thankfully these are not season-ending injuries. Time heals wounds, and with only a couple weeks left until the Bandits opener on December 4, here’s hoping it does so quickly.