5/3/2018 9:43:00 AM / John Gurtler
Gosh darn it, it's so hard to say goodbye for the summer.
This is not what I was expecting from the Bandits this year.
But with a 40-percent roster turnover at the start of the season, the depth chart was very young. And with that comes inconsistency and growing pains.
Perplexing, however is the 6-3 start, including four straight victories, that led into the 2-7 record over the remaining nine games, including four-game and three-game losing streaks. It should play the other way around.
Blame it on the five bye weeks that interlaced the season schedule, causing incredible gaps playing at high caliber. Or blame it on youth, the systems, players, coaches, or whatever you can think of. This team was tough to figure out.
As noted several times before, this is a great bunch of guys who are superbly talented. Indeed, young at heart, they will learn from the experiences of this year.
Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich told me Saturday night at halftime on the radio that he likes this assembly of personnel, and with a few tweaks here and there, the group will be even better next season.
Pending on what happens with the expansion draft, there are many who will play a significant role of improving the team next season. This includes Craig England, Matthew Bennett, Dallas Bridle and Dave DiRuscio - all who finished the season on the injured reserve list.
England, almost an outcast earlier in his NLL career, has become the heart and soul of the Bandits. He bleeds orange and black, and I hope that he can come back.
Year in and year out, you won't get a grittier performance than what Matthew Bennett turns in. It was tough to lose him five games into the season.
After a full year of rehab and playing summer ball, I am interested to see what Dallas Bridle has in his tool box. I know one thing: After watching him in practice and shootarounds, he has an amazingly fast shot.
And the Big Fish, Dave DiRuscio, injured in Game Two, never was able to crack the goaltender rotation as he remained on IR for the rest of the season. He will be playing for somebody next year.
There is a need for goaltenders in the NLL, and the Bandits have four, so things will change. They will change.
I would, however, like to see Alex Buque get another shot. While his play was inconsistent at times, he's young and can only get better. Like the team in front of him, he was brilliant at times.
In all, 29 players are listed on the Bandits’ master roster, which includes active, practice, injured reserve and physically unable to perform.
A couple will go in expansion, some will move to another club, and some will just move on.
You know the core players that will be protected and will be back for next season. But change starts will them and they must work even harder than before, and lead by example.
Winning four in a row was no small feat for this club. Digging out of a seven-goal deficit against Saskatchewan back on January 19 was incredible. It exposed the desire and talent that this team – as a whole – had.
And for three successive games after their overtime win against the Rush, which included a 10-hour bus ride between back-to-back tilts, the Bandits became the most feared club in the NLL.
But suspect goaltending, mental mistakes and individual meandering cost this club dearly in the second half. The true embarrassment was the 16-9 loss to Calgary. And from there, recovery, like what happened on that cold January night in Saskatoon, was not in the Bandits vocabulary.
There were a lot of upsides to the season, which makes it so frustrating that things ended the way they did.
More changes will be wafting in the summer winds. And come November, the Bandits will be stronger, wiser and ready.
One thing is for certain, the club has the most loyal following of fans with any sport. Your support throughout the season, both at home and on the road, was amazing – and it always has been.
There is no better land than Banditland. Let's keep it that way.
Thank you and so long for the summer, everybody!