Blogs | 1/12/2011 9:39:40 AM | John Gurtler
Welcome to the 2011 season, the National Lacrosse League’s 25th and Buffalo Bandits’ 20th. Didn’t we just shed the Sabres’ 20th anniversary logo off the shoulder blade of the once “tired” sweater? And they are 40 this year? Talk about time and space.
The 10 teams in the NLL loop have some very talented players on their rosters. Called the most competitive training camps around, what with the Titans’ ceasing of operations, trades and others taking their talents to the next “South Beach,” there will be no off night for any team this season.
Outside looking in, it’s gonna be tough to pick a winner. Look at Calgary with 11 new faces and off to a 2-0 start. The “Big Three” in Boston. The returning championship roster in Washington, new faces of former Bandits in Rochester and John Grant in Colorado. The list goes on.
But what about the personality of these teams? The Bandits, notorious for their eagerness to mix it up, are going to be very exciting to follow. And it starts with their collective personality.
Six new faces with various talents and personalities fit seamlessly.
All too fresh in my mind from last spring is the memory of crossing the border back into the U.S. from the playoff loss to the Toronto Rock. I sensed there was new enthusiasm this year at the busy crossing once the subject of Bandits lacrosse came up.
While stopped at the Canadian border last Friday and asked to explain my reason for heading up the QEW in quest for air travel out of Toronto to the land of Alberta and the hamlet of Calgary, I told the inspecting officer I was a member of the Bandits radio broadcast team. “Is the season already here?” he asked.
With a quick, positive ‘yes’ by our traveling contingent, he was delighted and was stoked with the new additions to the team and prospects of good things for the season. He directed us immediately to the next stop to see Stanley, the toll taker of cash who just happened to be personality-rich. In exchange for three U.S. dollars, we were awarded three evergreen mint Lifesavers with hearty instruction from Stanley.
“Off with you down that road and safely as you go. To Calgary, me boys, and good luck!” he told us.
It took me no time to realize that this was going to be a good trip and it started from those unsolicited responses from the border personnel. I was indeed looking forward to reconnecting with the very men who are so talented at this trade of indoor lacrosse and very proud to wear the colors of the Buffalo Bandits.
One by one as the Bandits players gathered at the departure gate, I could sense there was a new-found enthusiasm for the season ahead. Each Bandit player, veteran or newcomer, felt very comfortable with his surroundings and were respectful of each other.
Even on the four-plus-hour flight, there was a constant chatter and occasional howls from a steady game of cards. Yes, everyone was looking forward to getting the season underway with a roster rich in character and talent.
Did you see the movie Usual Suspects? When they gathered the group in a police lineup, each of them were instructed to repeat the same sentence. Each character had his own approach to reciting the sentence, giving a rich reflection of his personality.
Please, I am not comparing any of the Bandits’ character to any characters in the movie; I am extracting the colorful personalities merely as an example of how a group can work so well, even with a few verbal barbs and a push and shove now and then.
From the morning shoot-around at the Saddledome on Saturday, you could see and hear the Bandit players genuinely involved and intent on refining the system for the game ahead that night.
The pre-game warm ups were the same, with more concentration on the task before them. Yes, quite a change from the previous seasons. You’ll see what I mean when you have a chance to witness the home opener on Jan. 22.
While Saturday night’s outcome was a surprise, a 10-9 loss to Calgary, this team, once in synch, is going to be fun to watch.
There were positive spurts Saturday night, such as the Bandits’ three goal run and good hitting in the second half as they outscored the Roughnecks 4-2. They also captured 67 loose balls, with second-year player Chris Corbeil and veteran newcomer Scott Self each scooping up eight. Roger Vyse had six points, new assistant captain Tracey Kelusky had a four-point night, and Mark Steenhuis finished with three points. Three power play goals on seven attempts is also a good indication.
“We prepare for ourselves,” noted Head Coach and GM Darris Kilgore. “We want to go out there and want (opponents) to play to us. We don’t want to go out there and worry about what they’re doing; we make them play a certain way through our pressure, then that’s our advantage. And that’s the way we want to go.”
The bench expands to 18 runners and two goaltenders this year, which allows for a little mixture of policing and teams are able to break into six forwards, six transition players and six defensemen. The expanded bench also affords the ability to institute system change-ups during the four quarters.
A new NLL rule for the face-off pits the players’ sticks back eight inches, allowing quicker ball movement and not such a scrum. The League’s best face-off artist, Geoff Snider, had no problems wining the majority of the draws Saturday night, so we’ll have to see how this works.
As a sidebar to Saturday night’s game, the Roughnecks recognition of their former captain of eight seasons, Tracey Kelusky, was very nicely done. The presentation of the high-honor white cowboy hat and community award recognition says a lot about the kind of player and person the Bandits acquired over the summer.
Tracey’s impact was felt later as he scored the Bandits’ first goal of their 20th anniversary season, which was only fitting and provided closure to the floor on which he once ran.
So, don’t worry about the shrinkage of the League; it will definitely be better. Not much room for error and plenty of good personality to help pull through.
The Bandits are on the road in Philadelphia for a Saturday night game this weekend. Randy Mearns joins me on the radio, 1520 AM, with the pre-game set for 7:00 p.m. and face-off set for 7:30 p.m.