This past weekend, there was a hubbub of activity inside the Toronto Rock Athletic Centre, a beautiful indoor facility with two playing surfaces dedicated to box lacrosse.
Several National Lacrosse League teams, including the Bandits, Toronto Rock, Albany Firewolves, Saskatchewan Rush, and Colorado Mammoth, held training camps around preseason games.
There was also a training camp for NLL referees and officials over three days, taking part in officiating the handful of preseason games at the complex in Oakville, Ontario.
The Bandits went through two sessions on Saturday, November 12. They hosted a preseason game against the Saskatchewan Rush on Sunday, November 1.
The orange and black lost the game to the Rush. Still, the coaching staff got a valuable birds-eye view in watching the game, evaluating players who may fit the mold of feistiness and toughness to enhance the offense and defense.
Protecting the Twine
That also goes for who backs-up eight-time Goaltender of the Year, Matt Vinc: Doug Buchan or Devlin Shanahan.
“Both had breakout summers getting a lot of minutes, showing what they can really do,” said the king between the pipes, Vinc.
Shanahan played with the Nanaimo Timbermen in the Western Lacrosse Association, posting a .823 save percentage and 5-3 record in the playoffs, a .802 save percentage and a 5-1 record in the regular season.
Buchan played with the 2022 Mann Cup Champion Peterborough Century 21 Lakers posting a .834 save percentage and 6-1 record in the playoffs, a .820 save percentage and a 4-1 record in the regular season. Buchan rounded out a trio of netminders, including Mike Poulin and Vinc himself.
“I was on the fence about playing in the summertime, but after the result of last year (with the Bandits), it pushes you to play again,” Vinc said. And what a way to end the summer for both as the Lakers claimed their fourth consecutive Mann Cup.
31 players are listed on the Bandits training camp roster, which includes those injured, recovering from injury, and having ongoing contract negotiations. 23 players split assignments each half Sunday, which included Josh Byrne and Chris Cloutier pulling defensive shifts and fulfilling numbers for the second-half roster.
Shanahan and Buchan split duties in the net this past Sunday, which allowed me to talk with Vinc about what he has seen from between the pipes in practice sessions.
“It’s great to see a bunch of guys we drafted the last couple of years come in and fit really well. I’m interested to see how they will play with the likes of Josh (Byrne), Bucky (Kyle Buchanan), and the seasoned veterans.”
Swiss Family Robinson
One player that certainly stands out is lefty forward Brandon Robinson. At 6’3”, 210-pounds, you can’t help but spot the number 73 training camp jersey. And his play has been strong in the last two preseason games with three goals and several assists, including a nifty serving tray dish to rookie Colin Munro, who stuffed the ball in the back of the Rush net.
“I played with ‘Robbie’ in Rochester before they moved to Halifax, and I know what he brings to the table. He’s a big, strong guy who can get players open and play both ends of the floor. I look forward to seeing how he plays with Josh and Cloutier. If you give those guys time and space, I think we will be pretty successful,” said Vinc.
Another a player who has caught the eye of the netminder, holder of many regular season and playoff records in the NLL, entering his 17th season?
“Maybe Thomas Vaesen. I played against him a little bit this summer, and he’s a player who can get many looks. I have heard a lot about him for two years. He’s playing well.” Vaesen played with Langley, scoring nine goals and 14 assists in nine games this past summer
A first-rounder, 14th overall of the 2021 draft, from Victoria, BC, Vaesen played his college lacrosse at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, scoring 222 goals and 72 assists for 294 points in 68 career games over five seasons. The 6’0, 200-pounder was named the Peach Belt player of the year in 2021 and 2022.
Just for the sake of making his return to the turf after a long rehabilitation from injury, everybody is excited about Nathaniel Kozevnikov, the 6’1 225-pound forward coming into the fold and showing his talents. From Langley, BC, and a member of the Langley Thunder, Kozevnikov was the Bandits second overall pick in 2019.
“He had a great summer working out, recovering from injury, and getting in shape. He looks better than ever. We’ve heard a lot about his ability, and now we look forward to seeing him on the right side,” Vinc said.
Shuffle back to Buffalo
Note: Bandits Open Practice originally scheduled for this Saturday, November 19, is now canceled due to impending inclement weather.
Stay connected to our social platforms for the latest developments with the team. More hubbub to follow.