There is so much going on during a Bandits training camp session. I’m a kid in a candy store when it comes to watching all the action on every inch of the floor. Whether it’s the goalies taking shots from a half-moon circle of players shooting the ball as hard as they can, the two-on-two dashes to the net with crafty moves, or the five-on-five rushes into the offensive zone with precise passing, swirling movement, barricaded with body and stick checks and freestyling shots to the net.
Then of course there’s the teaching of strategy and positional fundamentals. First the lessons are imparted, next it’s time to run the floor. The best ways to set hard picks, running some more. How to create time and space for quality shots on goal, and then – you guessed it – more running.
All of the above in a two-hour session, the first of two scheduled for the day. It wasn’t until the post-practice stretching I noticed the gaggle of players were in superb shape, nary a gasp of breath from their sweat-laden uniforms.
“The team is bonding really well,” said Bandits forward Chase Fraser, “We’re in shape and playing solid as a group and putting little pieces together as we get ready for December 4.” (The date when the team will take on Calgary in their home opener.)
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“Management has done a really good job with drafting and picking up players during the time we’ve been away,” he added, “and they’ve mixed in with the veterans, making us a pretty confident team.”
I’ve long been a big proponent of the importance of confidence, attitude and conviction. Fraser is a perfect example.
“I fit in with every part of what the coaches are looking for. I want to be in there banging bodies, creating space for everybody on either side, moving the ball, getting guys open and putting the ball in the back of the net; I want to be able to do it all for this team.”
Also, I would think team captain Steve Priolo would endorse each member of the team who has the confidence, attitude and conviction.
“Every level has been through the roof and the sticks have been really good and it’s nice to see guys who haven’t lost a step over this time off,” said the big defender entering his twelfth season with the club.
“I think we just need versatility because you never know what’s going to happen week to week. Guys need to be ready to play any position at any time, whether you’re a lefty or righty. Maybe I’ll need to step in net,” he added jokingly.
The National Lacrosse League is loaded with exceptionally talented players. There is constant tweaking by the general managers and coaching staffs to get better with the right mix. Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich is like a chess master when it comes to making moves. Take for example the Kyle Buchanan trade over a year ago, which is showing dividends this camp.
“You look at the guys on offense and how dynamic they are,” said Buchanan, who was brought over from San Diego last August. “Everybody is in great shape, it’s exciting to play some five-on-five and build some chemistry.”
He added, “I know my job. I’m hoping to bring a calming veteran presence, pick up some loose balls for those guys around the net, and I know they will put it in back of the net. The more time we get it, the better we are.”
The pieces of the puzzle are coming together and there is still a half-month left of training camp to continue tweaking this high-performance roster. Five players have been waived and there will always be muscle pulls along with bruises along the way, forcing players to sit out.
“The buy-in is huge here. We all came to camp with [head coach John Tavares] getting us to run 5k’s off the hop, we’ve all come in shape and that’s the main thing. We’re just moving really quick and trying to get to know each other out there to the best of our ability,” said Dhane Smith, now one of the seasoned vets.
“Honestly, this could be the best offense we’ve had since I’ve been around. Everybody has different roles out there, everybody plays differently, we’ve just been able to connect on offense because we are all so good. I think we have a great mix here, and just gluing at the right time will be huge for us.”
Did I mention just how exciting this team looks?
Camp continues at the TRAC in Oakville, Ontario, and the Bandits play a preseason game this Sunday morning against the Saskatchewan Rush.