Features | 3/23/2012 2:13:10 PM | Chris Ryndak
|Mark Steenhuis (Photo: Bill Wippert)|
Mark Steenhuis has taken on more responsibility for the Buffalo Bandits on the floor this season and he’s certainly welcomed the change.
While known for his offensive ability, highlighted by a 51-goal, 101-point season in 2009, the 31-year-old transition player been used more in defensive situations in 2012.
“There were a couple years there I’ve played strictly O, so I like the O side of things but I do really enjoy playing defense and having a full range of the floor,” Steenhuis said. “It’s a nice thing. They don’t give that responsibility to a lot of people and I’ve enjoyed that they offered it to me.”
His play this season has earned the praise of head coach Darris Kilgour.
“I can’t speak enough as to the change in his game that he’s made this year and the sacrifices he’s made,” Kilgour said after the team’s win against Minnesota last week. “Mark Steenhuis is just being an unbelievable player.”
Kilgour cited a play against the Swarm that personified what Steenhuis has been able to do this year. After Jay Thorimbert left the game with an injury at the end of the third quarter, the coaching staff moved Steenhuis to more of a defensive role, having him enter the field through the defense’s door on the bench.
On his first shift after that change, he set up a two-on-one with forward Kevin Buchanan, resulting in a goal that got the Bandits’ offense going again.
“I know everyone’s talking about his numbers being down but we’re not asking him for numbers this year,” Kilgour explained. “We’re asking him to fill every hole that’s available because he can do that as a player and he’s done a great job of that. And I can’t speak enough in how much Mark Steenhuis has helped this team this year.”
Steenhuis’ numbers are down this season compared to years past. Through 10 games, he’s scored 15 goals and has recorded 19 assists. While he’s currently on pace for his lowest offensive season since 2007, he’s shown in the recent games that he’s still able to put up numbers when called upon. In the last four games, he’s scored 21 points (8+13) in his most productive stretch of the season. This past week, he was named the NLL Transition Player of Week.
“For me, I think I prefer playing offense as [opposed to] defense but I’m just happy doing what the coaches want me to do and what’s good for the team,” he explained. “If it’s working then that’s perfect. It seems like we’ve found a good little niche that last couple games.”
Finding and exploiting that niche has helped the Bandits snap out of a franchise-record six-game losing streak. With two big wins against Toronto and Minnesota last weekend, they find themselves right back in the hunt for a playoff spot and it starts again Saturday night when the Bandits travel to Calgary for a 9 p.m. EST face off.
“The whole atmosphere when you lose that many games in a row, the team’s kind of diminished. You’re wondering if you’re ever going to win one again,” Steenhuis said. “It was definitely a tough time and coming through last week with two big wins definitely turned everything around. It’s amazing what a win can do.”
Lacrosse has also become a family affair for Steenhuis. A few months after he started dating the sister of current teammate (and brother-in-law) Billy Dee Smith in high school, he got into lacrosse. He switched high schools in Grade 12 and since the teachers went on strike, there were no extra-curricular activities in the fall. His main sport at the time was basketball, but the season was ruined because of the strike. Sports didn’t start up until the spring when the teachers received new contracts and lacrosse started up.
Since Smith’s family was already heavily into lacrosse, Steenhuis had some familiarity with the sport when a friend asked him to try out for the school team.
“He gave me his second stick and I went out with no pads or anything and tried a practice out and fell in love,” Steenhuis remembers.
That he’s been able to play with Smith on the Bandits has made his lacrosse career even more special as well.
“It’s amazing. For me, it’s just like playing with a brother,” he said. “…Having such a close bond with someone and being able to share it on the field with him, it’s pretty amazing. I definitely enjoy every game that I can play with him.”
Steenhuis says that his fondest lacrosse memories come from the championship season the Bandits had in 2008. With five goals and an assist in the title game against the Portland LumberJax, he was named MVP of the Champion’s Cup.
“Playing at home in front of a sold-out packed house, it was a memory that I’ll definitely always remember for the rest of my life,” he said.
Steenhuis, a native of St. Catherine’s, Ont., has had the luxury of playing for one franchise for the majority of his career. While many players tend to switch teams almost every other year, he’s been with the Bandits since 2003 after spending his rookie season in Columbus.
The Bandits acquired Steenhuis in the summer of 2002 for goaltender Ken Montour. Buffalo had just drafted Smith in the first round of the 2002 NLL Draft and since Steenhuis was hoping to play closer to home, the news of the trade was welcome.
“I came home from working all day and I remember my sister and my wife were at home and I think they said it right there that I got traded,” Steenhuis said. “I threw my hands up, huge smile and I was exhausted from work, but it was an amazing feeling.”
One major thing Steenhuis has noticed in his time in Buffalo is the increased support from fans for the team that’s reached rabid levels in recent years.
“You can’t say enough about the fans. It’s remarkable especially the change I’ve seen since when I first got here and there were maybe 7,000 people in the stands and then now and we’re getting like 17 [thousand],” he said. “The whole atmosphere that you notice outside of the arena, when you go places, people recognize you and they’re so happy to meet you and you’re just happy to meet them. The whole experience that the city has embraced the game and the team and the sport, it’s pretty wild.”