News | 12/19/2011 9:42:06 AM | Chris Ryndak
Falling one game short of reaching the championship game last season, the Buffalo Bandits are back to work and feel like they’re ready to reach that next level. The team worked out in front of their fans Saturday afternoon in an open practice at the First Niagara Center.
“Easiest coaching job I’ve had so far,” said head coach Darris Kilgour. “They come in, they’re motivated. They all work and seem to be working for the same goal, which is huge.”
After being eliminated by the eventual NLL-champion Toronto Rock in the playoffs last season, the Bandits added some new players including forwards Kevin Buchanan, Luke Wiles and Mat Giles. Forward Tracey Kelusky feels that the new players will be a big boost to both the offense and the power play.
“You look at last year – I look at everything as a whole – we weren’t producing a whole lot offensively, but it wasn’t like we weren’t getting the chances,” Kelusky said. “…We definitely have the personnel here that can bury the ball and execute the plays. It’s just a matter of doing it.”
Those new players will join veterans like Kelusky, John Tavares and Mark Steenhuis and Kilgour believes that they can push a team that came so close to reaching the finals last year over the top this season. However, he also feels that the other teams in the league improved over the summer as well.
“We were right there. We had every opportunity to take that game [against Toronto].” Kilgour explained. “…So we are definitely that close but at the same time, everyone got better, too. So even though we got better, it depends on how much better everyone else got.”
Thirty-two players participated in Saturday’s practice, meaning some tough decisions will have to be made soon to get the active roster down to 23.
“It’s a healthy competition. We’re all friends and we all get along real well. It’s just part of the business I guess,” forward Frank Resetarits said. “[It’s important to have] a good camp, if whoever’s not here hopefully will land on their feet. You don’t want to see anyone get cut. These guys are all my friends. ”
“I think this is the toughest camp,” Kilgour said. “I say it every year, but the most talented camp we’ve had. [There are going to be] really, really tough cuts this year. I’m looking at maybe three or four guys on the team from last year that was one goal from going to the championship that we’re going to improve on.”
Kilgour also said he is “very happy” with his goaltending situation as both Mike Thompson and Angus Goodleaf are back for another season. Kilgoure projects Thompson as the starter and Goodleaf as the backup, getting between 4-6 games in this year.
The biggest concern for Kilgour is his left-side defense. With Darryl Gibson out eight weeks with a high-ankle sprain and Jeff Cornwall finishing school, the Bandits are left with only three-left handed defensemen that are ready to step in and play.
One of those lefty defensemen, Billy Dee Smith, the 2009 NLL Defensive Player of the Year, missed all of last season with a knee injury and is ready to return.
“Every time I step on the floor, it seems to be better so I don’t even really notice it anymore,” Smith said. “During the summer, I might have come back probably like a month too early but I’m glad I didn’t because I feel like I’m even further ahead. It feels good.”
Kilgour emphasized that although the team won’t have any scrimmages before their first game on Jan. 14 against the Toronto Rock at home, he’s excited for this upcoming season and the championship vibe that seems to be surrounding the team.
“The team’s great and it has that feel to it. The last couple years, we knew we were a good team, but it just didn’t have that feel to it,” Kilgour said. “This year, it definitely has a different feel to it. I’m very excited and really looking forward to getting the season started.”