The evening of June 3, 2023, was a perfect ending to years of frustrating Bandits championship losses at the hands of the opponent.
It was a glorious night for the Bandits, in front of their loyal fans in sellout fashion, to produce the most dominating victory in franchise history, claiming the National Lacrosse League championship.
It was an excellent beginning of what could be the start of a dynasty.
Sprinkled with non-stop celebrating that lasted all summer, surrounded by a plethora of other lacrosse played on the field and in the box.
Cheers to the winners, most notably the John Tavares-coached Six Nations Chiefs to claim the richest of historical titles, the Mann Cup.
Too, the announcement of lacrosse as an Olympic sport in 2028.
But hail to the Bandits, the coaching staff, management, and supporting personnel for the organization’s fifth championship title.
And to the game of box lacrosse, the purest game played from all the disciplines that start with a stick and ball.
A good sales manager would step forward a day after a big win and say: “This is great, and congratulations, but what have you done for me today?”
That is the mindset for Saturday, November 4, with the start of the Bandits training camp. It’s a whole new beginning with a clean slate.
Most of the usual suspects are back (although I’m still looking for Keyser Soze), intact, and healthy. They are eager to start again to pursue the big prize with confidence and a great attitude.
And where does the GM and coaching staff target to be even better?
“Tough question, but I think the big thing for me is that I want the younger guys to keep improving so they come in a challenge for a roster spot or more minutes in games. As our group gets older, we will need younger guys to come in,” said Steve Dietrich, Bandits GM and defensive coordinator.
After a day of physicals, team meetings, and media duties, the Bandits will hit the playing surface inside KeyBank Center for an evening practice.
Sunday morning, the club will play its first preseason game against the Las Vegas Desert Dogs (closed to the general public).
But no worries, the traditional Bandits Open Practice will be on Saturday, November 11, at 10 a.m.
The offensive roster reads intact from last season, but there might be a few eyebrow-raisers.
“Yes, with the return of Brandon Robinson, we will have all 8 guys from last year’s offense healthy to start the year.
“Two names to watch in camp are Christian Watts, a big, talented righty, and Brian Wiles, a shifty left-hander. Both have played box lacrosse in the past, and we are excited to see how they will do,” noted Dietrich.
Watts finished his college career at Siena with 31 goals and 81 assists in 56 games. A MAAC all-second team member of ’23, the 6’4” 200-pounder played summer ball for the Rapids of the UCBLL and tallied 40 goals and 23 assists, finishing his two-year stint with a league-record 115 points.
Wiles finished his college career with Canisus and UMass Lowell and was a member of the US World Junior Lacrosse Championship team in 2018 and 2019.
Eight-time goaltender of the year Matt Vinc inked a two-year deal with the club. He’ll have plenty of backup and provide mentorship as well.
“We are just trying to build depth at a position that is vital to success in this league. We think Evan Constantopoulos (6’6’230 pounds, Bandits first pick in the ’23 Draft in the second round) is a good prospect and will need time to develop.
“Devlin Shanahan (fourth season) and Steve Orleman (trade from Riptide, third season) are both quality starting goalies and provide us tremendous options behind Matt,” said Dietrich.
Defensively, the Bandits are solid as well with younger players challenging. Dietrich is excited to see how the first-rounder of the ’22 Draft, Cam Wyers (6’5, 220 pounds), transforms his All-American honors from Loyola into the box game.
“Very excited to see Cam. Dylan Robinson has another full summer of junior lacrosse, and we are excited to see how he has progressed. Sam La Roue played a lot of defense in games that he was called up to play in the WLA, so that is exciting.
“We like the depth we have on our back end and a lot of young guys pushing. Carter McKenzie, Frank Brown, and Dalton Sulver are three guys that are going to push on the right side along with Sam.”
Tough decisions on November 27 when rosters need to be submitted?
“You are always hoping to make tough decisions. We do have a good number of last year’s team returning, but we do have young guys looking to make a push. It will be interesting to see who of the young guys can come in and take a job.” Dietrich said.
The Bandits open their 2023-24 regular season campaign against the Firewolves in Albany on December 9.
The 2023 NLL Champion Bandits open the home portion of their schedule with their banner-raising ceremony on December 16 against San Deigo.
Refresh yourself for celebrating.
As noted earlier by the NLL and Bandits, the league will drop the east and west divisions, playing as a 15-team league.
Each team will play each other at least once. Buffalo will play Colorado, Albany, Rochester, and Toronto twice (home and away).
Several rule changes are in place for the 2023-24 season. A handful of note:
- There will be four-on-four play when coincidental minor penalties are called
- No time-outs in overtime
- No review by officials when there is a five-or-more goal differential under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter
- The 30-second shot clock will not be reset if the ball is touched by a defending runner whose team does not have the ball and goes out of bounds.
- Players must wear a chest/heart protection pad