Blogs | 1/13/2012 11:27:28 AM | John Gurtler
“When you step out on that floor, think championship.”
Those words were belted out by Buffalo Bandits general manager and head coach Darris Kilgour during an incredibly fierce training camp last month, held mostly on the home turf of the National Lacrosse League’s most feared team.
Everyone took note from the winningest coach in NLL history who is entering his 10th season as bench boss of the Bandits.
Welcome back to Banditland for what is billed as the most anticipated season ever. I must admit, after a restless offseason of watching, reading and listening to of all the strange things that have happened in sports, I am really excited for the 2012 season of Buffalo Bandits lacrosse. I had been watching season one of ‘Eastbound and Down’ and ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’ Now, we can get to work.
New players, new rules, and a fresh start for a league that has the most talented players in the world. And with one less team in the loop, there are a lot of good lacrosse players who will not be in the NLL this year. This is evident with the tough decisions that had to be made regarding the Bandits roster.
Training camp went quite well from my perspective. After sitting up in the seats (not to be an armchair critic), I can tell you that the 39 players that started in camp worked their tails off and busted laces. Tryouts involved newly-formatted training workouts, interwoven during the three-hour sessions by Buffalo’s new strength and conditioning coach Joe DiPietro, and precisely timed drills by the coaching staff of Darris and Rich Kilgour, Derek Graham, Ron Henry, Chuck Brown and newly-appointed offensive coach Dan Teat. The turf was so saturated from the sweat of hard work, they probably had to attach an accessory to the Zamboni to dry it.
With the current 23-man roster, Kilgour has assembled a very talented team. They will get their first taste of live action on Saturday night, when the NLL’s reigning champion Toronto Rock come to First Niagara Center. The hours of training and practice in anticipation of the season has finally arrived for the Bandits.
Six new players are a part of the Bandits complex system and many of them have the assets to assist in completing Kilgour’s objective. Not only that, 2009 NLL Defensive Player of the Year Billy Dee Smith is back after missing the entire 2011 season with a knee injury.
Fans should welcome fourth-year pro Kevin Buchanan, who used to give the Bandits fits when he played with Boston and netted a career-high 24 goals with the Blazers last year. Veteran forward Mat Giles, acquired in an offseason trade with the Minnesota Swarm, brings size (6’4”, 235 lbs.) and 15 seasons of NLL experience with him. High-scoring forward Luke Wiles, brought over from the Washington Stealth via trade this summer, is an eighth-year pro who scored 60 points (29+31) last year. Transition player Kyle Sweeney, who played with both the Philadelphia Wings and Edmonton Rush last season, enters his eighth season in the NLL.
Rookie Jeremy Thompson, Buffalo’s first selection in the second round (9th overall) of the 2011 NLL Entry Draft, was a two-time All-American at Syracuse University. The youngster’s speed makes him naturally-gifted in the transition game. Fellow rookie Jeff Cornwall, Buffalo’s other second-round Entry Draft selection (15th overall) this past September, brings speed, youth and size to team on defense.
And the heart and soul of the Bandits, John Tavares, is surrounded by an already talented and crafty roster of returning veterans.
Look for the game to move rather quickly with the new rule that gives teams only eight seconds (previously 10) to advance the ball out the defensive zone and with the new stipulation that players must drop the ball flat at their feet when there’s a whistle or expired shot clock. No flipping, tossing or rolling the ball away from the play this year. You will notice the team that wins possession will scoop up the ball on the run, which should add to the fast-paced excitement of the game.
While goaltender Mike Thompson has shed a few pounds, his equipment will be a shade smaller as well, per league-mandate. The league decided that an NLL goalie, often confused with the Michelin Man or Pillsbury Doughboy, should have a little more shape and contour with regards to their pads. Scaled-back equipment sizes will create more mobility and you’ll see a more nimble netminder with one to two inches taken off certain parts of their equipment.
Instead of the previous two-goal release from five-minute major penalties, three goals can now be scored by the team with the man advantage during a major and the penalized player must now serve the full five minutes.
Fans should also keep an eye on the bench area, where the front and back doors work with sychronization as fresh forces hop onto the field in relief of their teammates. New rules state that players must now have both feet within the boundaries of the substitution area, which is located directly in front of the team’s bench.
Another new rule is that stick lengths must now be between 40-42 inches. As for faceoffs, there is now a continued motion rule in place, which should eliminate scrums and over-clamping. Also, referees have been told to crack down on high sticks above the shoulders and checking from behind into the boards.
Okay, my pencil is down. Let’s get to work and enjoy the Bandits season. Remember, Kilgour’s rallying cry goes out to all of us. When we enter Banditland, think championship.
My broadcast partner Randy Mearns and I are returning for our ninth season in the radio booth. We will follow our standard procedure on Saturday night: our pre-game show on KB-1520 AM starts at 7 p.m., with the game’s play-by-play starting at 7:30 p.m. You can watch the game streaming live on NLL.com and it will televised live on TSN in Canada.