Love For Banditland
“I just love coming to the rink,” the late Sabres coach John Muckler would tell me multiple times during our tenure together. That statement would follow his patented refrain: “Best day of my life.”
I’ll never forget those words by Muckler, and to this day, I feel the same when entering KeyBank Center.
While I didn’t give it a second thought last Saturday, curving off the exit from the 190 and swinging into the back parking lot, it wasn’t until I hit the backsteps leading up to the building I realized this was my first return in over twenty months!
The aura of the large corridors, the scents, the sounds, the multi-tiered seating bowl, and the glaring lights, it all awaits the December 4 return of the faithful population known as Banditland.
It’s been a long time coming.
While a group of Bandits Season Ticket Members watched the team practice last Saturday morning, nothing will match the excitement of what will take place in under two weeks with the season opener against the Calgary Roughnecks.
It’s exhilarating, and to many, the opening night can’t come soon enough, and I’m sure I speak for the majority of players as well. They are ready for an audience, but there is plenty of work left to accomplish in training camp.
Around the Camp Fire
Week four of camp consisted of playmaking schemes and defensive alignments to this now systematic game. The teaching was intense, and the communication was constant, which included the players commiserating on their tactics.
“I think every week we are getting a little bit better, and obviously the goal to get ready for that home opener December 4, it’s a big one against Calgary,” Josh Byrne, entering his fourth season. “I like the way our team looks right now.”
It’s crazy to think how this happens when the game is played at lightning speed. But it does, and that’s why it takes the best of the best to perform in such a manner.
“It was a good weekend, but things are getting tougher now,” said Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich. “We like everybody we have but we still have to make a couple of roster decisions, which is going to be tough. When the talent level is high, unfortunately, you’re going to have to let some good players go, but it’s a good position to be in.”
Keeping the body in shape
Keeping the physical fitness level above the bar is mainly the players’ responsibility by working out and running regularly, pretty much on their own. Also, working with impact performance coach Kevin Phengthavone, with team agility drills that consist of multiple uses of resistance bands covering the center part of the floor. The exercises are strenuous and take a 50-minute session to complete.
There was time to break the ice with some light-hearted moments and laughs, which is part of developing the camaraderie – the main staple of being a Bandit. It’s family.
“Yeah, we have become a lot closer, especially getting to know a lot of the rookies, and they are starting to feel more comfortable with some of the vets,” said Byrne, who was the leading goal scorer (29) during the shortened season of 2020. “It’s all part of it, growing and trying to get as close as possible.”
“These guys are awesome, from the goalies to our offense, lots of characters, so it keeps it fun out here,” said defenseman Marcus Minichiello.
Back to Reality
One more week remains of the Bandits training camp, which resumes back at the TRAC in Oakville, Ontario. And nagging injuries could throw a wrench in finalizing the roster, which must be down to 21 and four practice players by Sunday, November 28.
“It’s hard knowing who’s going to be ready to go, how long they are going to be (out). Are there four or five iffy guys? Are they going to be able to go? That is my main concern right now,” noted Dietrich.
“I like the team if we were healthy, and I know there is nothing long term (injuries), but that doesn’t help for the first couple of games, so hopefully we can get a judgment by next weekend as to how close these guys are, then we can make our decisions.”
It will all come together, and I have a good feeling. Regardless, I love coming to the rink.