11/13/2017 4:09:00 PM / John Gurtler
"Last year was embarrassing."
That was the first sentence delivered by Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich, Saturday, in front of the entire training camp roster of 37 players and team personnel Saturday morning.
His message was short and to the point as a collective hush waffed across the field of Key Bank Center. Everybody was all ears.
And rightfully so. In preparing for their 27th season, the Bandits are the longest-standing and most successful franchise in the National Lacrosse League.
Finishing dead last, after a true kick at the can in 2016, has befuddled the dedicated fan base, which has led the league in attendance season after season.
There are four championship banners hanging from the rafters. And the fans want a fifth - now.
"We are looking for 24 players to win a championship and we will settle for nothing less," said Dietrich, who enters his sixth season as the team's GM.
And then he said, "Have a good camp."
Following Dietrich's message and several staff introductions, the players, which included veterans Dhane Smith, Steve Priolo and Mark Steenhuis, headed to their respective stations to begin a long morning of medical evaluations, physical testing and one-on-one meetings with the coaching staff.
"I expect a lot of effort out of these guys," said Priolo, a three-time Defenseman of the Year nominee, who is entering his ninth season with the Bandits. "We have a ton of new faces and definitely a younger team. Although we say this every training camp, all of the positions are open this year. It's the player who has the heart and soul that is going to get a spot on this team."
Priolo is now settled back home after a summer of living in a van with fiancée Jacqueline while playing lacrosse in a league on Vancouver Island. Priolo noted, "It was one of the greatest experiences of my life."
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound defender also played summer ball for Victoria of the Western Lacrosse League.
"It was a different environment but it was great and the fans of the Shamrocks are the best," he said.
While playing 14 games last season, Smith still averaged six points per outing, but was hampered by nagging injuries most of the time.
"I am feeling good," said Smith. “I went through a lot of injuries last year, but I have my body right this year. [Bandits head athletic trainer] Jim Starkey has been helping me out tremendously and if I get my body back to 2016 season, I will be OK."
The afternoon on-field session was a structured two-hour workout, in five and ten minute intervals, which included passing, shooting and running. In addition, there was an emphasis on footwork, and fierce one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three battles. The emphasis was focus, focus, focus.
"The new faces [22 in all] look real good on paper," Bandits head coach Troy Cordingley said. "It's a matter of meshing and them performing and playing like a team.
"When you have talented players on offense, everyone wants the ball and we have to figure out a way to make it a team ball. Five guys are going to do the work and one is going to be rewarded.
"We are starting right off by showing the players our systems and we are going to find guys that are smart enough that can play that system, and are willing to play the system. But most importantly, it’s how hungry you are. We want guys to play in all dirty areas. Guys that will battle for loose balls. Two seasons ago, we did that and we were a goal or two away from winning the whole thing.”
Sunday morning’s intra-squad game, Orange vs. White, with four full quarters and NLL officials, started off with Smith scoring the camp’s first goal.
"I am trying to change my game as much as possible," said Smith, who split some time with the Six Nations Chiefs and the Rochester Rattlers this past summer. "I am trying to play without the ball to complete my game to the fullest. I worked hard over the summer and coach [John] Tavares really helped me."
Chase Fraser, a 2017 second round draft choice, scored three goals. Nick Weiss had two and defenseman Mitch DeSnoo hit the "snooze button" twice as well.
Josh Byrne, the first overall selection in the 2017 draft by the Bandits, looked impressive, making several nifty moves, and playing tough off the ball as well.
"We are excited to have him," Cordingley said. "Lefties are hard to come by. He can score and his lacrosse IQ is through the roof."
Three goalies are battling for the starting job now that Anothony Cosmo retired. Last year's back-up Dave Diruscio, and Gowah Abrams (free agent) and Alex Buque (trade from Colorado) all got playing time Sunday and turned in strong performances Sunday.
"These are three guys who can play and challenge each other during camp," Cordingley said. "We are looking for a guy who can stop the ball, period."
At the end of the day, Smith was just as succinct as Dietrich was the day before, summing things up, "We have a very new team and young might be a good change for us."
Training camp moves to the Iroquois Lacrosse Arena located on the Six Nations reservation (3201 Second Line, Hagersville, Ont. NOA, Canada), on Saturday and Sunday:
• Saturday, Nov. 18 – Scrimmage vs. New England, 7 p.m., Iroquois Lacrosse Arena
• Sunday, Nov. 19 – Scrimmage vs. Rochester, 11 a.m., Iroquois Lacrosse Arena
Both games are open to the public with no admission charge.
Following a practice on Tuesday, Nov. 21 and roster cut down deadline on Nov. 24, the team will stage their annual Open Practice on Saturday, Nov. 25, starting at 10 a.m. inside KeyBank Center.
Hope to see you there!