News | 11/29/2011 1:40:07 PM | Bandits.com
| First Day of Camp (Photo: Bandits.com)|
After making an appearance at the Buffalo Sabres Tailgate Tent Party the night before, the Buffalo Bandits set up camp at First Niagara Center for the 2012 National Lacrosse League season on Sunday, Nov. 27. The team began a month-long training camp that will feature one of the most competitive tryouts in Bandits history. A total of 40 invitees, 31 of whom were on an NLL roster last season, will compete for 23 active roster spots.
“Everybody looked good,” said head coach Darris Kilgour. “It’s probably the toughest camp that we’ve ever had because we have a lot of decisions to make. We are as deep as can be. It’s just about the choices that we make. On the right side of the offense, we have eight guys that can play in this league and we will probably only keep four. Right now, it’s not about your talent level. It’s about how well you can fit in with the guys around you.”
First, the players had to prove that they were fit. The team took physicals and underwent fitness testing with strength and conditioning coaches in the morning before running team drills and a scrimmage in the afternoon.
“I’m very happy with the guys that were here,” Kilgour added. “Everybody came prepared. It’s only going to get harder from here. I hope they understand that.”
Constantly reminded about the limited roster space throughout the day, the players heard the message loud and clear.
“There are a lot of lacrosse players looking for jobs,” said Bandits forward John Tavares, who is entering his 21st season with the team. “It’s going to be very competitive, both here and everywhere else.”
The 43-year-old Tavares, the all-time leading scorer in NLL history, made the decision to return for another year by listening to his heart instead of the rest of his body.
“I still love the game,” said Tavares, who continues to sport an elastic sleeve on his leg to nurse a lingering calf injury. “Eventually, I will not be able to do it. My body has been telling me the last few years that I should probably stop. But, I still love it. Why not try to continue doing something that you love? I’m going to savor every moment possible.”
Overall, Buffalo enters the season with a clean bill of health. Transition star Mark Steenhuis seems to have fully recovered from a knee injury that nagged him in 2011. Kilgour commented on the return of goaltender Mike Thompson and 2009 NLL Defensive Player of the Year Billy Dee Smith, both of whom have made great strides in their rehabilitation of knee injuries.
“Mikey [Thompson] looked good today, made it through the practice,” he said. “I didn’t have him do the fitness testing because he could have tweaked his knee. Billy just signed his contract last night. We weren’t expecting him to be here, but he looked good.”
The team is focused on scoring more goals this season without compromising a solid defense.
“Everybody knows that our defense has been a strong point for a long time,” Kilgour said. “I don’t know what the problem was with the offense these past couple years. If we had averaged 12 goals a game, we probably win seven more games over the last two years, including playoffs.”
Eight of Buffalo’s 18 games in 2011 were decided by just one goal. Kilgour wants to improve his squad’s special teams to gain a competitive advantage in a league with a lot of parity.
“We’re going to have to bear down on special teams,” he said. “Our power play has been pretty shaky for a couple years now. We want to get that above 55 [percent]. The penalty kill has been very good, so we want to keep that right where it’s at. I think that these two areas are going to be a lot more important this year.”
All in all, the coach was confident about his team’s chances in 2012.
“I think we have a squad that can win it all,” Kilgour said confidently. “We added some offensive depth, drafted some good defensive players and already had a good base here. Hopefully everything falls into place. I definitely think that we will be contending for a championship.”
The Bandits will host an open practice at First Niagara Center on Saturday, Dec. 17 from 10 a.m. to noon. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. and an hour-long autograph session will begin at 12:30 p.m. in the 100-level concourse.
Buffalo opens their home schedule against the Toronto Rock in a rematch of the 2011 NLL East Division Final on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.
Season tickets are now on sale. Individual game tickets for all regular season home games and the 2012 NLL All-Star Game, held in Buffalo for the first time, will go on sale at 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 5. To purchase tickets, you can visit the First Niagara Center box office, call 1-888-467-2273, or visit www.bandits.com for more information.