“Number 16… Rich Kilgour…Number 16”
There was another winner on the floor last Saturday night, as former Bandits captain and coach Rich Kilgour was recognized during halftime for his induction into the Western New York chapter of the USA Lacrosse Hall of Fame.
What a marvelous selection for the years he played, mentored, and coached from the early 1980s to the present day. There is nobody better.
Twelve were inducted in an afternoon ceremony at Pearl Street, including Gene Tundo, who also received the Bandits John Faller Memorial Award, which recognizes coaches and administrators who positively impact youth lacrosse.
Already in the National Lacrosse League Hall of Fame, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, and with his number 16 jersey hanging in the rafters of KeyBank Center, this honor was special to Rich.
His longtime best lacrosse friend, Randy Mearns, informed him of his selection. And that meant so much to him.
Resting after work with the next Kilgour generation snuggled on Grandpa’s chest, Rich received a call from Mearns, who is on the HOF committee, to inform him of his selection.
“You’re in,” said Mearns to Kilgour, an original Bandit who played 200 games, earned four championship rings, and coached the team until 2019.
Growing up on the Tuscarora Reservation, Rich Kilgour was incredibly talented at lacrosse and known throughout the community for his tenacious play.
With strong lacrosse bloodlines, which included his brother Darris, Kilgour started playing against Mearns at age five.
“He was one of St. Catherines’s better players, and I was probably one of the better players on the Niagara on the Lake team. He was a lefty, and I’m a righty, so we saw a lot of each other, and I loved competing against him,” said Kilgour.
As time passed and the two matured into top players, fate would have it, they became teammates.
“We got to play with each other in junior, and we played a lot of summertime lacrosse together for years. And a couple of seasons on the Bandits, too!” Kilgour said.
“Randy is truly one of my great friends in lacrosse, and it was extra special to have him call me with the induction news.”
Of the 300-plus players who have worn the Bandit uniform, no one is more passionate about the game and the Bandits. Rich Kilgour bleeds orange and black and will forever.
Every time you see him, there’s a smile and a hearty hello hug. Even when he was playing with the Bandits, there was that incredible enthusiasm, and regardless of who you were, he treated everybody with the utmost respect.
After a long 18-hour travel delay from Colorado, I remember Kilgour hop-stepping with a slap on my shoulders and a sincere “Let’s go Gurts. It’s great to be home.”
Once a Bandit, always a Bandit.
“I still love being a Bandit. I love the Fans. It was great to go out there and give everybody a wave again and get the love back from the fans.”
As a charter member of the Bandits Alumni Group, which started this season, Kilgour reflects on the current level of play in the NLL.
“Today’s game is great. These guys are such athletes, keeping themselves in shape year-round. When I was coaching, I could see the change from player to coach. It is incredible how much time the guys dedicate to the sport.”
Kilgour hopes the NLL can go full-time down the road, which would elevate the game to new heights. But he also wants to add a little old school.
“Five guys on a shift: Forecheck, backcheck, paycheck,” laughed Kilgour. I would like to see more up-and-down, which adds to high-scoring games. The combination of both, with Dhane and Byrne playing defense, works because they are great athletes.”
And the Bandits today?
“I love’em. They are talented, and Chugger (Steve Dietrich) does a great job keeping new talent.
“I thought maybe they had a little bit of a championship hangover. You can’t help it. You play a lot of games, you’re tired, and you come back as champion. It’s hard to win anytime, and back-to-back is even more challenging.
“But they are settling in now, finding their groove, and with all that talent, I think they will be right there again.”
Back to Last Saturday Night: The Way
While dredging the most overused phrase in sports, “good teams find a way to win,” the Bandits are just that, and they did it again by holding off a 6-3 Knighthawks fourth-quarter surge to win 15-14.
“That’s two games in a row we fell apart at the end of the game, but we held on and have two victories,” said Bandits head coach John Tavares.
It was a thoroughly entertaining game for the 17,135 Banditland fans and those listening and watching, with the 29 goals spread evenly throughout the four quarters.
The Great Dhane
The highlight of the evening, and there were many of them, came at the 6:49 mark of quarter two when Dhane Smith assisted on Cloutier’s second goal to give the two-time league MVP his one thousandth career point.
In his 11th season, Smith became only the 14th player in NLL history to achieve that mark. And remember, the Great Dhane mainly played defense in his rookie year.
“Dhane is a great player. Personally, I was not too fond of milestones; they were something you wanted to get out of the way. I am happy for him to get his one thousandth and not think about it and move on,” noted Tavares.
Frame by Frame
The Bandits were back to scoring goals almost equally last Saturday night, 4-4-4-3, instead of 1-7-1-7 like the previous week.
“I would like to see more consistency in all quarters, but lacrosse is a game of runs, so that is expected,” said Tavares.
With an inkling of opportunity, Toronto and Rochester sowed their harvest one goal at a time. But…
“Two games where we shot ourselves in the foot,” said Josh Byrne after his 3+4=7 night. “But when you have guys like Bucky (Kyle Buchanan, BRob (Brandon Robinson), Fraze (Chase Fraser), and the rest running through guys, it makes it tough for defenses.
“It allows us to be creative, which is a cool thing for our group. We have so many different weapons – we are so talented – and we play really unselfishly.”
Fifteen Bandits players contributed to the scoring, including three hat tricks by Byrne, Cloutier, and Buchanan. The club shot a season-high 21 percent from the floor and is now averaging 13 goals a game.
Rookie Christian Watts played in his first NLL game, and I thought he played well. The all-time goal and assist leader of the Upstate Collegiate Box League earned his first NLL point with an assist on Chase Fraser’s first goal for the Bandits.
“It’s Cool to see him grow, develop, and learn,” said Byrne. A lot of things we do and teach in the college box league are direct things we do with the Bandits. I think that set him up to be successful.
“He’s a golden retriever, happy to be there, always working hard, and with a smile on his face. That’s contagious.”
Away from the seat
It’s a good week to step away from the games and watch the Super Bowl. That’s my spin on the horrendous bye weeks teams must go through.