Like many of you, I’ve been waiting eagerly for Bandits PA legend Chris Swenson’s famous command:
Those two words will come to life in a few short days as the club opens its thirty-first season Saturday night at home against the Albany FireWolves.
And you know what? Swenson has been there for every one of them starting on that January night in 1992, when the energetic crowd filled the Aud, waiting for their newly formed Bandits.
Each year “Swenny” comes up with something different to stoke the crowd. Many of them are priceless. Not to put words in his mouth, but here are three for this season’s mantra: Just Do It!
Stomp out the Fire
Training camp is now officially over as the Bandits prepare for the 2022-23 regular season campaign with 21 players who have earned consideration on the game selection list, which includes 17 runners and two goaltenders.
It’s been a tough camp with back-to-back practices and three preseason games. But as noted last week, the group is ready for any audience.
“We are hungrier, and we knew we needed to change a few things. Those changes started with our players and went to the top of the organization,” said Dhane Smith, the NLL’s MVP last season.
“We know we need to be a little bit grittier and play a bit harder, and that will start game one. We all need to change our game, look in the mirror, and get going.”
The club released this season’s roster on Monday, which has a mixture of returning veterans like Smith (now entering his tenth season). Too, younger players who have plied their time, and new faces like Brandon Robinson, who joins his two brothers, Justin and Dylan. Carter McKenzie joins the club and recently acquired left-hand defenseman Kellen LeClair.
Bandits GM and defensive coordinator Steve Dietrich swung a deal at the roster deadline date for the 6’3 212-pounder, who returned to the game after injury and a heart condition.
“He got cleared late last year with Calgary and played. And then played this past summer with Six Nations, and then in camp with Calgary,” said Dietrich.
“The Calgary Roughnecks have a great organization. He passed two physicals in the last eight months, so I’m confident he is healthy and ready to go.”
Tavares was head coach of the Chiefs last summer and endorsed the LeClair move.
“Kellen has good size, very aggressive with a left-handed check, and he looked really good this summer. He’s young and brings a lot of energy, and he will be a great addition to the team. Incredible story,” noted Tavares.
Dietrich had been looking at Kellen for a long time, and when he came back to play, talks resumed with Calgary.
“I had multiple conversations with Calgary throughout the summer on a variety of things, and his name was always included in the mix. As I had mentioned, we were trying to get some size on the left-defensive side.
“JT speaks highly of Kellen about his character, what he’s like in the dressing room, on the bench, and out on the turf. We think Kellen is a player that can jump right in and play a regular high-level role for us,” Dietrich said.
And the high-level roles will be most important on offense with the new diversity, with what happened in the finals last season.
“We definitely struggled last year getting to the middle of the floor. At the end of the day, we need to play our game. Now that we have both pieces, we can play both inside and out, working together and finding that groove,” said Smith.
A competitive training camp helped with double practices and three preseason games.
“I think the tenacity of the new guys and the drive they brought. It pushed our veteran players to get past last year and set us up to have a good start. We have some good size, and we will play in various ways. We can’t outscore our mistakes,” Dietrich said.
The loss of Connor Fields and not having the services of Chase Fraser for a while (64 goals combined) will force the Bandits to stay focused and not take anything for granted.
“It’s important to get off to a good start. We did a really good job of that last year. It’s even more important this year to get off to a good start in those three December games; they are crucial for us.
“Sure, we’ll take them one game at a time, and you know every team will be gunning for us. We have to work for everything we’ve got and understand our loyal fans are anticipating great games,” Tavares said.
It ain’t gonna be a picnic out there in December with three games scattered over five weeks, especially with the ebb and flow: On one week, off another week.
It’s tough to keep the rhythm and intensity going. The Bandits coaching staff felt it was essential to have an excellent camp to prepare for the breaks between games. But it’s great the Bandits get to open the season this Saturday night at home – and set the record straight.
“Unfortunately, you want to get back out there with last season ending like that. We’ve moved on, and what better way to start your season in Buffalo. I’m excited to get things going and happy we are back in Banditland,” said Smith
Albany, All Aboard
The Albany FireWolves come to Buffalo with a new offensive lineup, a solid defensive core, and excellent goaltending.
Six of their top offensive players have moved on to other teams, including Joe Resetarits (47+64=111), who went to Philadelphia. The FireWolves have lost 78 percent of their scoring from last year.
But, again, not to be taken lightly, the FireWolves will be represented up front with Kieran McArdle (14+38=52 with NY), returnee Charlie Kitchen (14+8=22), and a host of young fast, talented players.
“I’ve watched all of their preseason games. Glenn Clark is a great coach and will have them ready to play. They gave us fits last year,” noted Dietrich.
Most of all, the FireWolves defensive corps returns with 13-year vet Brett Manney at the helm. Faceoff expert Joe Nardella finished the regular season with a 67 percent efficiency. Veteran defenders John LaFontaine, Adrian Sorichetti, Colton Watkinson, and Jackson Nishimura played all 18 games. They made contributions on both sides of the turf.
Goaltender Doug Jamieson, the 2020 goaltender of the year, finished the regular season campaign with a 9-8 record and a .787 save percentage.
“They will be very well coached and have some good systems. Although they might not have the name players they had in the past, they are going to have the young guys looking to prove themselves coupled with their strong defense and goaltending,” said Dietrich.
And now it comes down to the start of the Bandits season campaign this Saturday night, 7:30 PM, inside KeyBank Center.
“Every year, the league is getting better. As you get older, you realize it’s very hard to make it to the finals. We need to come together as a group, as every team is heading for us. But we are looking forward to that challenge,” Smith said.
Let’s just do it.
Brought to you in living color and on the radio dial
Television coverage of Bandits lacrosse will return to ESPN+ & TSN.ca. Radio, home & away, will be on 1520 AM The Bet. Game coverage starts at 7:30 p.m. EST.
Randy Mearns joins me in the booth for our 19th season together. Dave Buchanan starts his 10th season on the broadcasts and will be between the benches for interviews, notes, and updates.
The Bandits radio pregame show will start at 7 p.m.. Coach Tavares and new Bandit Kellen LeClair will join us. We will check in with FireWolves coach Glen Clark and defenseman Brett Manney.