Photo: Bill Wippert - Bandits.com

2018 Bandits season preview

The youth movement hopes to lead the team back to postseason

Dave Buchanan
December 06, 2017 - 11:24 pm
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The 2016-17 season for the Buffalo Bandits seemed to fit the mold for Buffalo sports seasons as of late. The team failed to live up to expectations, dealt with injuries to star players and ended with no postseason which earned them a high pick in the draft. The only difference is that last year’s Bandits were not looking to end a long playoff drought, they had just come off a run to the Champions Cup Finals. They finished last season a disappointing 6-12, six games worse than the year before, and had a problem with slow starts, poor defense and inconsistent offense.

That made for an eventful offseason with General Manager Steve Dietrich overhauling his roster with younger talent. Only nine players from last year’s opening day roster are still with the team (Justin Martin started last year on the Practice Squad, Craig England was on IR).

Dietrich traded popular scorer Ryan Benesch to Colorado for Callum Crawford and goaltender Alex Buque and acquired Jordan Durston from Vancouver for Anthony Malcolm. Buffalo’s last place finish in the standings also earned them the first overall pick in the NLL Draft which Dietrich used to select reigning MLL Rookie of the Year, Josh Byrne.

Buffalo’s draft class also included forward Chase Fraser, who is drawing comparisons to Malcolm with his speed and scoring. He led Nanaimo of the Western Lacrosse Association (WLA) in scoring this summer. Fraser may also take over faceoff duties from Tim Edwards, who was cut during training camp and signed with Colorado.

The returning group of forwards includes Dhane Smith who led the team in scoring last season despite injuries. Mitch Jones is coming off his best season in the NLL as he finished second in team scoring. He also had an impressive summer in the WLA. Jones finished fourth in scoring during the regular season, and led the league in playoff scoring as he helped New Westminster to the league championship.

Pat Saunders scored 17 goals in the 10 games he played in Buffalo last year after being acquired mid-season. Craig England was one of the bright spots last season as he developed into a regular contributor on offense and not afraid to play in the dirty areas.

Mark Steenhuis returns for his 17th season in Banditland. Steenhuis will return to playing more in transition than strictly offense this season. Steenhuis will be joined in transition by Nick Weiss, Kevin Brownell, Matthew Bennett and free agent signee Ryan Wagner. Dietrich compared Wagner to his former Bandit teammate Pat McCready.

On the backend, Buffalo let veterans Dave Brock and Billy Dee Smith sign with New England and Rochester respectively during free agency. That leaves Steve Priolo as the veteran leader on defense. He’s joined by Mitch de Snoo and Justin Martin from last year’s roster. Second round draft pick Ethan Schott earned himself a spot on the roster as did free agent Reid Acton.

There was also a big change in net for the Bandits as well with the retirement of Anthony Cosmo. Cosmo will remain with the team as a goaltending coach. He will help guide the team’s goaltending tandem of Alex Buque and Davide DiRuscio. Buque was a backup to Dillon Ward in Colorado for three seasons and played with Mitch Jones in the WLA this summer where he was named MVP of the playoffs. DiRuscio has been Cosmo’s backup for the past three years, and has shown flashes of being starting goalie. Head Coach Troy Cordingley has yet to name a starter for the season as of this writing.

If the Bandits can improve by just 2-3 wins, then they can get their way back into the playoffs. I think Georgia and Toronto are locks for the postseason with their talent-laden rosters. Buffalo will be left to fight with Rochester and New England for the final playoff spot.

The Bandits open their season on Friday night at home against the Toronto Rock. All Bandit games will be broadcast on ESPN 1520 AM this season. We have expanded our home radio broadcasts with John Gurtler and Randy Mearns handling play-by-play and color commentary, and I will be between the benches as a field level reporter. 

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