Features | 1/19/2012 9:52:28 AM | Chris Ryndak
| Kevin Buchanan (Photo: Bill Wippert)|
Nine months ago, Kevin Buchanan left Buffalo as the enemy. Playing with the Boston Blazers, the forward recorded a goal and four assists in the East Division Semifinal loss to the Bandits that ended his team's season. Little did Buchanan know that come 2012, the residents of Banditland would be rooting for him.
In his Bandits debut on Saturday against the Toronto Rock, Buchanan scored twice and, including a shorthanded goal late in the first half that cut the Rock's lead to one. A crowd of 16,356 cheered him and the Bandits on to a 14-10 win, a welcome change from the last time he played at First Niagara Center.
“It was so much better. You had 17,000 more people rooting for you than against you. It was awesome. I had a blast,” Buchanan said. “Just the energy in that arena is out of control, hitting the top of the charts. When you put one in and you hear the crowd roar, there's no other feeling like it.”
Buchanan also did not know at the time that that playoff game in April would be the last time any player would suit up for the Blazers. Late last summer, the franchise announced that it would cease operations for the 2012 season, leaving many players – including Buchanan – without a team. While he was disappointed to see Boston close shop, he understands that it was a business decision out of his control.
“As far as the NLL [goes], we never want to see a team fold or drop. We want to be adding teams. We want to grow the sport of lacrosse and the box game,” he said. “To see them drop was unfortunate. It was a big bummer.”
He didn't have to wait long to find a new team, however. The National Lacrosse League held a dispersal draft in early September where all of the Boston players were eligible to be selected by the nine remaining teams. Buchanan, who maintains a residence in Boston, had talked to a few coaches and had an idea of which teams might pick him, but it was no sure thing.
“It was definitely anxious from, 'Where am I going to go? Where am I going to play? Where am I going to be able to work?' You never know. Someone could pick you in Colorado or Washington or Calgary. That's a far, far travel or commute every weekend to go across the country,” he said.
The Bandits selected Buchanan with the sixth pick in the draft. Playing in Buffalo would mean that he wouldn't have to worry about a tremendously long commute, but he was still nervous about joining a new team. He had played only one season in Boston after being traded from Minnesota and felt that he was finally getting comfortable there.
“Coming into Buffalo though, I was a little hesitant at first,” he explained. “Obviously, again, you're coming into a new club. You've got new guys in the locker room, new coaches. You've got to basically make your mark, showcase what you can do.
“Having the Boston team coming back, we were going to have the same coach. I'd already kind of identified myself. The coach knows what I can do. So to basically have to reprove myself, it's sometimes a task you don't really look forward to over and over again.”
Buchanan joins two other veteran forwards in their first season with the team. Luke Wiles and Mat Giles were also acquired during the off-season and Buchanan actually shares an interesting history with Giles.
Before the start of last season, Buchanan and a fourth-round pick were traded from Minnesota to Boston for a first-round selection and Giles.
“I haven't even talked to him about it at all,” Buchanan said with a laugh. “Now we're wearing the same colored jersey.”
In three NLL seasons, Buchanan has twice scored at least 20 goals and posted the best numbers of his career last season. In 2011, he finished fourth in scoring for the Blazers with 24 goals and 33 assists in 15 games. Those numbers and his one-on-one play made him an attractive player to the Bandits.
Early on, he's already made quite an impression on his new teammates.
"[Buchanan's] going to bring a lot of athleticism, which is of much need to our offense, which I think we've been lacking the last few years," said Bandits forward John Tavares.
Having grown up in Baltimore and playing the traditional field game later on at Ohio State, Buchanan describes his game as more “American” than the system played by the Bandits.
Buchanan had four productive seasons at Ohio State and led the team in scoring during his senior year, which he also served as a team captain. That season, he earned the Great Western Lacrosse League's Player of the Year honors and was named to the United States Indoor Lacrosse Association All America Second Team. He left college as the school's second all-time leading scorer with 175 points.
Even with those college accomplishments and the success he's seen early in his professional career, he hadn't played the box game until he joined the Minnesota Swarm in 2009. With that in mind, Buchanan is eager to learn from the Bandits coaching staff to help him keep improving.
“I've been really blessed. The Bandits have welcomed me with open arms. Coach [Darris] Kilgour has been awesome with my transition and all the other coaches are phenomenal. Now, it's just the game,” he explained. “...I play a little bit of an American game so to give the hints in how they see the game is kind of giving me a little bit different of a perspective and I think that's going help me elevate my game.”
Obviously, that initial hesitation to join the Bandits didn't last long.
“I think we have a lot of different pieces. A lot of times, sometimes you may have some really, really great players, but sometimes they don't complement each other as well,” Buchanan said. “I think the Bandits this year, all of us complement each other really, really well which I think is always a key component to success.”