I’ve typed this before, but I’ll order it again: “I love the smell of fresh turf in the morning. It smells like victory.” OK, it’s not the actual way it was said by actor Robert Duvall in the movie “Apocalypse Now” – but close enough.
The turf on the playing surface inside KeyBank Center, cooled by the ice sheet underneath, was in perfect order Saturday, marking day one of the Bandits training camp.
The 2022-23 National Lacrosse season opens for Buffalo at home on Saturday, December 3, vs. the Albany Firewolves.
And just like every grandma knows, the only way to clean the carpet is to beat it well – be it via broom head or stomp of the feet.
Bandits head coach John Tavares wasted little time in session one to make sure every player vying for a roster spot stomped down on every inch of the 200 by 85-foot turf with sprints, pivots, and curls for the two-hour session.
The players had little time to let the sweat beads drip off their uniforms because they were on the go from start to finish. Just the way coach Tavares wanted.
“I’m trying to get the guys in shape first and foremost. I want to see who can get up and down the floor. I want to see (their lacrosse) IQ, and I want to see their decision-making,” said Tavares, who just signed a three-year extension as the Bandits bench boss.
“And if they have grit, that’s a bonus. Then we will pick the best possible team to win a championship.”
Join the Posse
Roster spots are open on offense and defense, with the loss of Connor Fields, Kevin Brownell, and Chase Fraser (recovering from offseason surgery and will not be ready for the start of the season). In addition, some hungry young guys are bucking for a spot.
“We are looking for more grit, guys willing to get through the dirty areas, scoring more garbage goals. We can score a lot of pretty goals, but it seems when defenses get tighter, and the referees put their whistles in their pockets, it seems you have to find ways to score goals,” said Tavares.
The greatest player of all time in box lacrosse is looking forward to seeing the new talent trying out for the team, filling the slots that need improvement.
“Will they be able to do it? Time will tell. When I reflect on last year’s team, I always think about how to improve it.”
General manager and defensive coordinator Steve Dietrich has filled the depth chart with previous draft choices and free agent signings, which fuels this year’s competition. Even the Bandits captain, Steve Priolo, knows nobody is safe.
“If anybody is going to make a splash out there, they have three weeks to do it. We do have openings, and nobody’s job is ever safe. I do know the players that have been with this team have been working really hard to stay in shape, get that grittiness that we need,” noted the Bandits defenseman, who has been the runner-up for a handful of seasons as defensive player of the year.
“I know many of our draft picks and guys we have brought in fit those roles too, so they will be coming in hungry to fill those spots.”
It’s good the Bandits have three preseason games to watch the players in game-type situations. As Tavares noted, some guys look great in practice, but he wants to look at the guys who perform well in the games.
Note: The Bandits lost 14-10 to Rochester in preseason game one this past Sunday. Matt Vinc, Bryce Sweeting, Nathaniel Kozevnikov, Steve Priolo, Frank Brown, and Doug Buchan did not dress. Dhane Smith and Ian MacKay remained unsigned, but negotiations are ongoing.
Devlin Shanahan went the distance in goal, making some good saves along the way. Chris Cloutier, Kyle Buchanan, and new-comer Brandon Robinson netted two goals each. Josh Byrne scored an “Air Byrne” beauty. Tehoka Nanticoke played strong in his first half duties.
“I am happy I can watch everybody play in a game situation. Hopefully, that helps me make a good decision on who I keep. I want gamers.”
Oh, That Smell
Not to unfold the newspaper wrapped in fish, a.k.a. last June’s championship loss to Colorado, Priolo noted a critical point.
“It didn’t seem there was closure at the end. It looks like we left off in a weird spot with everybody going into their summer and didn’t get a chance to get together.
“I think that is very important coming into camp. We need a get-together (and talk). We’re almost leaving off like it was yesterday, the championship, and we are just picking up from there. We will remember it more this time and take it through the season with us.”
Notes for Week Two
The Bandits camp moves to the Toronto Rock Athletic Center in Oakville, Ontario, this weekend. Two sessions are planned for Saturday, capped off with a Sunday morning preseason scrimmage against the Saskatchewan Rush. The face-off is set for 10 AM and is open to the public.