12/3/2018 2:00:00 PM / John Gurtler
The first weekend of Bandits camp started off with 31 players participating in three sessions, which included the annual open practice where fans got a first-hand look of the team going through drills, five-on-fives and one-on-ones. Later in the evening, the club had an intrasquad scrimmage.
Sunday's practice included a full-blown scrimmage between the Bandits and the expansion Philadelphia Wings. The Bandits won 16-8. More on the scrimmage later.
With three sessions of training camp remaining, a lot of tough decisions will be made as the club adjusts to a talented, faster and more athletic National Lacrosse League.
"We have a very talented training camp roster, which looks great on paper," said co-head coach John Tavares. "We have a competitive team, but it's a competitive league.
"We have to get everyone on the same page and understand how to work together. With two weeks, we have to look at every player, and make the right decision."
The Bandits will have to settle on 21 players for the active roster and four practice players by Monday, Dec. 10 at 1 p.m.
One position already decided is goaltending. The Bandits will start the season with six-time Goaltender of the Year Matt Vinc, one of the best to play the game.
"Oh, it is so good to have Vinc between the pipes cleaning up the mess," said co-head coach Rich Kilgour.
That decision was made Aug. 1 at 12:01 a.m., which was the first day of NLL free agency. Bandits general manager Steve Dietrich called Vinc to inform him the Bandits were interested in his services.
"We went after him hard, but so did a lot of teams, and it was incredibly competitive," Dietrich said. “… Look, I think the best goaltender that played this game was Bob Watson. Why? Because he made timely saves at key points in games. And that’s exactly what Matt Vinc does."
Quote of the weekend came from Vinc: "I was fortunate the Bandits were looking for a goaltender at the time."
In front of Vinc will be an adjusted Bandits defense, which will continue to be tough but smarter, faster, and younger.
"It's incredibly tough to score 5-on-5 in this league," said Kilgour. "Now you have to take advantage of scoring on transition, breakaways, and 3-on-2s. Back in my day it was fore-check, back-check, pay check. Today, players dedicate their talent to the defensive and transition positions, and we are looking for guys that can be a part of that system."
Speaking of improving the transition, Chase Fraser was playing a lot on defense in Sunday's scrimmage against Philadelphia. He scored one of his four goals on transition.
Overall, Bandits captain Steve Priolo is very impressed with what he has seen so far.
"The work ethic is amazing. Everybody is working their tails off. No one is dogging it or lazy, it's great," said Priolo, who enters his 10th season with the Bandits, and is the ironman of the team having played 106 straight games.
"It was way too long of an offseason. We were itching to get back out on the floor and I'm glad it worked out for both sides. Now we are going to get going."
Another new face on the Bandits roster this season is Corey Small, who brings a blistering shot from the inside. We saw that last year when he was on the visiting Vancouver team where he scored four goals and four assists, including one on the overtime winner. Like many players, he grew up watching the Bandits and always dreamed of being on the team.
Small joins a very powerful group on offense, which includes Shawn Evans, who himself is still adjusting to his role with the Bandits.
"It's my second year here now, I'm just trying to get settled in and get a little more comfortable being here in Buffalo," said Evans, a two-time league MVP and member of the 1,000-point plus club. "We've made some great moves to get new players with fresh blood, and build on what we want to do, which is win."
Overall, there are 14 new faces on the camp roster vying for a spot.
There's also a new attitude with the team.
"It's going to be a great season,” Priolo said. “We made a lot of good moves and I have seen a lot of smiles around here, even though everyone is battling for a spot, everybody is having fun, and that’s going to carry on through.”
Sunday's scrimmage, which included a full complement of NLL referees and time keeping, was very competitive.
The Wings, with a talented offense, jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the Bandits rattled off five straight goals. In addition to the four from Fraser, Josh Byrne scored three goals and Dallas Bridle netted two.
Small, Jordan Durston, Thomas Hoggarth, Chris Boushy, Justin Martin, Matt Spanger and Ethan O'Connor also scored.
While participating in the early morning practice and warmup, Evans, Priolo, Dhane Smith, Kevin Brownell, and Nick Weiss did not participate in the scrimmage. Matthew Bennett, Jon Harnett and Alex Kedoh Hill were held out by the medical staff.
"Nobody did anything bad out there today," Dietrich said after the scrimmage. "Selecting a roster is going to be very tough."
Yes - decisions, decisions.
Camp continues this week. The Bandits will scrimmage New England on Saturday night at KeyBank Center and wrap up camp with a Sunday morning practice. Both sessions are closed to the public.
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