While most of us were buried under multiple feet of snow, the Bandits wisely decided early last week to move camp back to the comfortable confines of the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre (TRAC) in Oakville, Ontario. The Philadelphia Wings complied and followed the Bandits request to meet there.
Initially, this past weekend was supposed to be a chance to reconnect with the community of Banditland, Saturday in the club’s annual open practice inside KeyBank Center. The Wings were scheduled for practices and a preseason game against the Bandits Sunday morning.
The schedule of events for the third week of training camp was condensed into one day, which included the preseason game Saturday night against the Wings.
Last Preseason Game
The Bandits prevailed 13-9, which included strong performances from the assembled roster, and welcomed the return of Dhane Smith and Ian MacKay. Too, the recently signed Joel Matthews joined the team for the afternoon practice sessions and evening game.
“It was a good night all around. We struggled a little bit in the fourth quarter when Philly went on a bit of a run. Still, the offense regrouped, and we were able to see some things we wanted to see,” said GM and defensive coordinator Steve Dietrich.
“Getting Dhane back in the lineup certainly helped, giving more flow to the offense. You know, when you are talking about when one of the best players in the world [being] added, and you just felt more whole.”
Defensively, the Bandits were backstopped by Matt Vinc, who turned in a solid first half, holding Philadelphia to two goals. In addition, the backliners turned in a cohesive performance from the veterans and rookies.
“Dylan Robinson, the kid we drafted in the first round, keeps getting better every time he goes on the floor. He’s a player, you think long-term, but you almost want to get him in there as soon as possible. We were missing a bunch of guys, but Robinson, Marcus Minichiello, and many of those guys stepped up, played important roles and minutes for us, and played well.”
Calling Mr. Matthews
And the return of Joel Matthews is interesting. He hasn’t played in the NLL since 2017 and was last with the Bandits during his rookie season in 2013-14. The club drafted the 6’3″ 227 pound forward in the fourth round of the 2012 draft.
But there is a story here.
The Bandits signed Matthews again last year, but he was injured while training and was not cleared by the medical staff. Once healthy, he went to play in the Arena Lacrosse League and, according to Dietrich, played well, keeping tabs on him through the ALL season.
In addition, Matthews was busy developing a business, which took some time. Still, he kept his lacrosse acumen parallel to his professional pursuit and now feels established in both.
“He’s a kid I’ve always been enamored with,” said Dietrich. “I think back to the playing days of John Tavares and Jason Crosbie. I thought Jason did such a good job with JT because he was so unselfish, and all he did was go out and set great picks, and he got JT some looks.”
“I’ve always liked that about Joel that he, too, is always unselfish. He never looks for the ball for himself. He always worried about trying to get the other players around him open. He plays with some grit, and he’s got some size and snarl.”
Check the Numbers
The Bandits were without the services of several players for Saturday night’s last preseason game, Including Chris Cloutier, Kyle Buchanan, Justin Martin, and Nathanial Kozevnikov. All for rest and safety purposes.
“He is not ready yet,” speaking about Kozevnikov. “I was getting antsy because I am excited to see him play. We invested pretty good draft capital in getting him, and I have to be a little more patient. He is probably a month away from being serious,” noted Dietrich.
And things do get serious the final week of training camp, which will see the Bandits remain in Oakville for practices. Monday, November 28, 3PM, is the NLL roster cutdown date, where teams must submit a 21-man playing roster and assign four practice players.
“It’s going to be difficult. Some guys are nicked up, and I don’t know if they will be ready to go for the opener, but we’ll be able to see here in the next week how much they’ve all progressed.
I know nobody is long-term, but it’s tough when you don’t know when a guy will be ready to go on December 3 or 16. We’ll be juggling some things and making tough decisions.”
Historically, it is standard fare during a training camp when you have muscle pulls, strains, and bruises. But Dietrich feels if the nagging injuries are short-term, they are getting close to the 21 and four player status by the 27th, save a few players placed on injured reserve.
“Maybe it’s a good thing because guys are making it tough on us. And that’s a credit to all the guys who came to camp in great shape and came ready to battle.”
Dietrich stresses the Bandits won’t be as flashy as they were last year now that Chase Fraser (recovering) and Connor Fields are not with the team. But, they will be able to play in the “muck and crap” and won’t need the perfect conditions to look good. He notes the club will be able to play in the middle of the floor with size and grit.
Have the Bandits had closure on what happened last June?
“The first weekend was a bit of a shell-shock with the returning players, myself, and coaching staff, with the tone, I can’t believe we are back here in the same building where it ended. I think the guys have done an excellent job of resetting themselves, being brought back to the scene of the crime, and having closure. We’ve done that, and the guys reset, and they are ready to go.
December 3, the season opener at home, is right around the corner, and the Bandits seem ready for an audience.
“We are a good team, there’s no doubt about it. There is a lot of skill here. If we can make the playoffs, whoever gets us, it will be a tough out,” Dietrich said.
The club will continue training camp in Oakville. Then making their sojourn back to Buffalo on December 2 to prepare for the NLL season opener the next night at Key Bank Center against the Albany FireWolves.
Hopefully, under clear night skies and a causal snowflake here and there.
Keep close to the Bandits social platforms for the latest news and roster updates. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Banditland, we’ll see you soon!