The Buffalo Bandits are set to open their 2013 season on the road on Friday night against the Philadelphia Wings at Wells Fargo Center (7 p.m., KB1520, NLL on YouTube). The Bandits are looking to rebound from last year’s disappointing finish, going 7-9 and losing in the first round of the playoffs.
“We had a rough season last year. That’s not up to par by our standards,” Buffalo Bandits assistant coach Rich Kilgour said.
Buffalo is 12-9 all-time in season openers (6-3 on the road). However, they haven’t won an opener on the road since 2006, losing their last three. In those 21 seasons, the Bandits have opened against the Wings five times, going 4-1 (2-0 in Philadelphia).
The Bandits, under the direction of new general manager Steve Dietrich, reshaped their entire roster, getting rid of a lot of veteran players. The Bandits opted to bring in several younger, faster players.
Bandits’ first-round draft pick Dhane Smith will be particularly interesting to watch, as the coaching staff has tried him in all positions during practices. Despite playing predominately at forward, his speed and stick handling ability makes him a versatile player for the new-look Bandits.
A recent change for the Bandits is in the form of newly-named captain John Tavares. The veteran Tavares, the highest scoring player in NLL history, was named the captain after 22 years with the team, after former captain Chris White signed with the Toronto Rock.
Tavares has led the Bandits in scoring in all but four of his 21 seasons – including each of the last two years – and has scored nearly 20 percent of the franchise’s goals on his way to leading all players in franchise history in every offensive category.
“John said he was happy to take on the role,” Kilgour said. “We feel he finally deserved the ‘C.’ It’s a big honor for him and we’re happy to see him in that role.”
The Bandits will be without veteran defender Billy Dee Smith, who is currently a serving a two-game suspension as a result of a post-game slashing incident at the end of Buffalo’s playoff game in Toronto on May 5.
The Wings, coming off a similarly disappointing season (7-9, third place in the East), also made several changes to their roster in the offseason. They brought in 13 new players in an effort to improve their team, including seven through trades.
The biggest name added to the Wings’ roster was Paul Rabil, considered by many as one the sport’s biggest names. Rabil arrived in Philadelphia in July via a trade that sent Dan Dawson to Rochester. It’s a fresh start for Rabil, who was drafted second overall by Washington in 2008. The 27-year-old Rabil has 123 points (44+79) in 53 career NLL games, but only played five games last season after refusing to report to Edmonton in a trade.
“We struggled at the last part of the season. We really wanted to address having a higher goal production,” Wings head coach and general manager Johnny Mouradian said of the changes his team made.
Another new acquisition, Jordan Hall, should also help the Wings with goal scoring. Hall has 90 goals and 295 points in his 70-game NLL career.
Buffalo returns to action on Saturday when they host the Minnesota Swarm in the team's 2013 home opener at First Niagara Center. Game time is 7:30 p.m. (KB1520, NLL on YouTube). Tickets are also available at Tickets.com.