After checklists and details are complete with practices and preseason games, the defending NLL champion Buffalo Bandits are ready for the ’23-’24 regular season to begin.
“So far, so good, and we are getting to the final stages of our roster,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares. “I look at what we need to improve on, including different parts of the game, and how we can fill those gaps with a new player or existing players.”
“These are the decisions Steve Dietrich and I must make going into the season.”
The fans and citizens of Banditland are undoubtedly ready.
Last Saturday night, the team was well received by a small but very enthusiastic Bandits crowd clad in the team colors inside the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena.
After a fast-paced, spirited game, the Bandits erased a 10-3 deficit and posted a come-from-behind 12-11 preseason victory over the Georgia Swarm.
There are a couple of weeks to go before the Bandits open their season on December 9 on the road in Albany against the FireWolves.
The National Lacrosse League opens Friday, December 1, and you can follow all the action on ESPN+, ESPN2, and TSN+. Check results on NLL.com.
Then, on December 16, the Bandits will raise their fifth championship banner to the rafters of KeyBank Center in a very exciting and emotional moment. The tough San Diego Seals will provide the opposition for the game.
Plenty of work and evaluating continues as Tavares and Dietrich are close to a 25-man roster, which will include four players on the practice squad.
Injuries, again, play a significant role in the roster process, including filling spots on defense. The offense, on the other hand, is solid and looks great.
“The one good thing, and knock on wood, the offense has been fairly healthy, with those eight, nine, ten guys at every practice, so they will be cohesive at the beginning,” said the Bandits GM and defensive coordinator. “We will try and cobble through the defense as we get healthy.”
While Tavares continues to look at the players’ skill sets and what they offer, he expects some players to step up.
“We definitely have some holes to fill, missing key defensemen in Bryce Sweeting and Adam Bomberry, who had a lot of grit, so we are looking for guys to replace those types of players. We hope guys like La Roue, Sulver, and McKenzie can step up. We have a bunch of young guys, which is nice to have some fresh blood, pushing the veterans a little bit.”
The Bandits are back to square one at the specialty faceoff position, as Max Adler is currently unavailable due to work commitments.
“We’re hoping to do the best we can; we’re in for a battle as of now. It’s a long season, so maybe we can find someone in that position,” noted Tavares.
Dietrich is confident with the existing talent to draw on, no pun intended.
“I still think Chase Fraser and Ian MacKay can do the job if needed. We’re still holding out hope that Max Adler might want to come back. It’s not that he doesn’t want to be here; it’s his life situation. Until that time comes, or until we’ve proven we need to go find somebody, we’ll try and do the job from within,” said Dietrich.
While evaluating the overall roster, what about the players released by other teams. Is there a possibility to acquire a few?
“You know, not really. The released players are no different than what we already have,” Dietrich noted. “I’ve always said, the guys that you bring to camp, unless somebody is a lot better than them, they deserve the benefit of the doubt because they’ve banged and given everything they had for the last month.
“Unless something becomes available that’s a definite upgrade on what we have, we’ll start the season with what we’ve got.”
Based on what I’ve seen over the course of training camp and preseason games, this is an incredibly talented team.
“I’m excited, and the boys are looking to run it back; that’s all the focus: one more championship,” said assistant captain Nick Weiss, entering his ninth season with the Bandits.
“The guys have shown up well; it has been a competitive camp. We have most of the guys back, so guys are fighting for limited spots.”
The Bandit players know what is ahead of them, with the giant target on their backs being the champs, and everyone is prepared. Most of the roster has been through the highs and lows together.
“All offseason, you put in the work, doing what you can to make yourself better, coming in as prepared as you possibly can. Things are starting to jell with the new and returning guys getting on the same page; that’s the most important thing about camp,” said Justin Martin, entering his seventh season with the club.
With training camp ’23 in the books, the Bandits move into their regular weekly practice sessions with a new set of checklists.