Braver than Brave
The echoes of 10 years past still abound in the hallway leading to the Bandits dressing room.
I still hear constant euphoria of yells and joyous screams from children playing whatever game they could in the confined corridor while their dads prepared for a Bandits game.
Sons and daughters of Bandits players and coaches always had free reign from one double door to another.
And included in the middle of a game was Tucker Williams, son of the ever-popular Shawn Williams, who played two stints with the Bandits scoring 99 goals and 132 assists for 231 points. Shawn is now the head coach and general manager of the Vegas Desert Dogs.
As we know now, but little did we know then, cancer would take Tucker’s life a few years later at the age of eight. Diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, Tucker battled as hard as he could to recover, no matter the treatment or surgery.
Crowned by an attending nurse as “braver than brave,” Tucker never thought the battle would soon be too big. But on December 17, 2014, it was.
For eight seasons, the Bandits have celebrated Tucker’s life with the annual Tucker Out Lymphoma game to raise money and awareness of pediatric cancer. To date, over $175,000 has been raised.
Saturday will be the ninth Tucker Out Lymphoma Night as the Bandits host the New York Riptide. Both teams will wear unique uniforms supported by the nomadic logo inspired by Tucker and the words Braver than Brave inscribed.
The traditional auction will be staged with game jerseys and shorts, and goal balls from both teams will be available. In addition, signed balls, special posters, T-shirts, and jerseys will be sold, with proceeds going toward pediatric cancer care.
There will be a post-game meet-and-greet party at the Aloft Hotel, 500 Pearl Street, on the main floor, where more Bandits-signed items will be raffled off.
“While we wish we never had to host this game, it’s our most favorite one of the year. Being able to remember Tucker and what he stood for is the ultimate honor and something we take great pride in,” said Scott Loffler, Bandits senior director of lacrosse operations.
“And now it’s amplified with Las Vegas hosting one as well. Hopefully, this continues to grow league-wide in years to come.”
Nights like this make the National Lacrosse League such a close-knit group.
Live more. Love more. Laugh more. – Tucker Williams
The Big Three
Three regular season games remain for the Bandits; for all intents and purposes, they are playoff games. It’s about the mental and physical rebound for the club and the endurance it will take come the first weekend of May.
“At the beginning of every year, you set some team goals and try and achieve them. Obviously, the first goal is to make the playoffs which we have achieved.
“Second is to host a first-round playoff game followed by finishing first so that as long as you play in the playoffs, everything goes through Banditland,” said Steve Dietrich, Bandits GM, and defensive coordinator.
“We need to treat these last three games as playoff games. Hopefully, we are healthy, and the lineup can get some consistency so that we may get on a roll heading into the playoffs.”
After the April 1 game loss to Toronto, the Bandits have gone through some good practice sessions, setting a positive workman-like attitude towards the game this Saturday night against New York.
“It was a tough night all around. I don’t want to downplay the result and the mistakes that were made, but I am more interested to see how we respond against NY,” said Dietrich.
Even as the Bandits prepare for game 15 of the season, the club has never had a fully healthy lineup to draw from. The combinations assembled over the season have worked in large part to the talent and the character.
Thinking forward to a healthy roster, the Bandits can mix and match their lineup weekly, depending on the opposing team. Unfortunately, Brandon Robinson will be out for the remainder of the season due to a lower-body injury.
Several roster changes were made this week, and Chase Fraser has been elevated from injured reserve to the active roster.
Defenseman Kellen LeClair was released. He was offered a practice player position but declined. LeClair signed with San Diego as a free agent (before the Saturday deadline for street-free agents).
Defenseman Carter McKenzie was released from the active roster, signing him as a practice player but maintaining a practice player tag on the active roster, meaning he can go up and down as needed.
Nathanial Kozevnikov was signed to a protected practice player contract and placed on the active roster, maintaining the practice player tag.
Because of the protected player status (each team gets one per year), he cannot become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The league rosters are frozen Saturday, including signing street free agents, with only practice players moving up and down.
“We are hoping Tehoka (Nanticoke) and Justin Robinson will all be ready to go against New York. Dylan Robinson will hopefully be able to return in the playoffs,” Dietrich said.
With Brandon Robinson out for the season, what about the middle of the floor in front of the opponent’s net?
“I think Brad (McCulley) has done a good job at banging and crashing, and Kyle (Buchanan) does an outstanding job at moving and picking.
“We believe all guys need to start driving the middle to create confusion and open up better lanes for passing and shooting.
“The best offense is one that has constant movement and isn’t predictable,” said Dietrich.
Three to get ready. Five to go.
Warning: Strong Riptide
New York comes to town also after a bye week with a 4-11 record. They lost to Georgia 12-7 on April 1.
Jeff Teat, son of former Bandit and now scout Dan Teat, brings his NLL leading scoring mark of 49 goals and 66 assists for 115 points to the floor of Key Bank Center.
Former Canisius standout, Connor Kearnan, is having another strong season with New York scoring 25 goals and 38 assists for 63 points, good for second on team scoring.
Reilly O’Connor is third with a 17+39=56 mark. Long-time NLL veteran Tyler Digby (13+19=32) follows, and the highly underrated Larson Sundown (16+14=30) remains a solid threat to the Buffalo defense.
Saturday’s game will mark the return of former Bandit Kevin Brownell, who signed with New York as a free agent this past summer. Brownell was a pillar on defense for the Bandits for nine seasons and is doing the same for the Riptide (7+5=12, 68 LBs, 12 caused turnovers, and 12 blocked shots).
In Living Color and on Your Device
Saturday’s Tucker Out Lymphoma Night game against New York will be available on ESPN+ and TSN+. Coverage will begin at 7:30 p.m. Radio coverage will be carried by 1520 AM The Bet and audacy.com.
The pregame radio show will start at 6:30 p.m. We will be joined by former Bandits player, now Riptide assistant coach Jason Crosbie and player Kevin Brownell. Bandits head coach John Tavares will join us, as will player Ethan O’Connor.
Steve Bermel, covering for Randy Mearns, will join me in the booth for the broadcast. Dave Buchanan will provide updates and insights from between the benches.